Earth Day gift

From left, Jeremy Shimetz, UWL senior and vermicomposting intern; UWL Alumna Andrea Schaefer, vermicomposting coordinator for Hillview Urban Agriculture Center; UWL Chancellor Joe Gow and Chris Schneider, president of Honda Motorwerks. The group took the “Worm Mobile” for a test drive on Tuesday during an announcement of the vehicle donation to a community vermicomposting project.

‘Worm Mobile’ will transport food waste across the city

Just days before Earth Day, a UW-La Crosse community partnership that has kept 47,000 pounds of food waste from going to the landfill is getting a big boost.

Honda Motorwerks donated a Neighborhood Electrical Vehicle (NEV) to a community vermicomposting project, which includes UW-La Crosse. The vermicomposter harnesses the power of tens of thousands of worms to turn food waste into fertilizer using an industrial-sized, flow-through composter.

The new vehicle — dubbed the “Worm Mobile” — will be used to transport the compostable waste from UW-La Crosse and Mayo Clinic Health System–Franciscan Healthcare, or any other place that provides compostable material to the vermicomposter, located on Ferry Street.

Previously, UWL senior and vermicomposting intern Jeremy Shimetz used his personal vehicle to transport the food waste. The vehicle donation solves the challenge of relying on student vehicles, says UWL alumna Andrea Schaefer, vermicomposting coordinator for Hillview Urban Agriculture Center, one of the partner organizations.

Jeremy Shimetz, UWL senior and vermicomposting intern, was using his personal vehicle to transport food waste across the city for the community vermicomposting project. He now will be driving a neighborhood electronic vehicle, a donation from Honda Motorwerks.

Also, the new vehicle “falls in line with Hillview’s values” — as it runs on electric power instead of gasoline, notes Shimetz.

The vermicomposter continues through a partnership among UW-La Crosse, Mayo Clinic Health System – Franciscan Healthcare and Hillview Urban Agriculture Center. While Hillview operates the composter, it is housed on Mayo Clinic’s La Crosse campus. Both UWL and Mayo Clinic contribute food waste. Western Technical College, People’s Food Co-op, and Cool Beans Coffee Shop also contribute food waste and coffee grounds for the composter.

UWL Chancellor Joe Gow called the project a great partnership for UWL, which is “a campus very interested in sustainability.” Gow pointed to the recent news of UWL’s green efforts related to building construction. UWL’s new Student Union is the third UWL building to receive LEED Gold Certification, a national green building certification system that provides third-party verification that a building was designed and built using strategies aimed at increasing performance, reducing waste and improving quality of life.

Composting keeps waste from landfill

Since the vermicomposter was purchased in 2010, about 47,000 pounds of food waste have been diverted from the landfill while creating about 10,000 pounds of worm castings, which are a sustainable and nutrient-dense fertilizer. This fertilizer, available for sale as “VermiGold,” is great for growing food. VermiGold is sold at several area locations and donated to community gardens, school gardens and other nonprofit growing places.

“Honda Motorwerks is proud to be involved in a local and organic movement,” says Chris Schneider, president of Honda Motorwerks.

The NEV is a used Columbia Summit SMT-4 valued at about $6,000. It was donated to the UWL Foundation, which transferred the vehicle to the university for use with the vermicomposting project.

The vehicle fills a need for the vermicomposting project partnership in a sustainable way. An electric truck was used for the purpose a couple of years ago until it quit working. Since then, UWL, which is responsible for transporting the compost, has been looking for a replacement vehicle. A gas vehicle would impact the carbon footprint of the project, but using an electric vehicle is a sustainable move, notes Larry Ringgenberg, UWL director of University Centers.