CEDAR CITY – Worm poop. That’s the secret to what Tim Ferguson and Kelton Wood, owners of Nature’s Way Recycling in Cedar City, hope will be their success. Not necessarily just for their own sake but, more importantly they said, for the sake of Southern Utah. And maybe even the world.

For $5 a month, Nature’s Way Recycling will pick up your food waste, cardboard, paper and landscape trimmings, feed it to some worms and produce a fertilizer with up to 50 percent better water-retention rates than regular soil.

Besides the water retention, Ferguson said, compared to regular soil, the growth rate of the plants is 33 percent faster at all stages when using the fertilizer, and the yield is 30 percent higher.

And that’s just the beginning. Nature’s Way Recycling has also set its sights on recycling other products either currently not being recycled at all in Cedar City, including glass, or only being handled by the recycling drop-off binnies.

We really want to be building a sustainable future

“We really want to be building a sustainable future,” Ferguson said. “Yes, this is a business, but realistically, when we can process every type of material, we can start eliminating dumps completely. And that’s a better world for everybody.”

According to the Consumer Reports article “Spoiler Alert: You’re Wasting 1 in 4 Bags of Groceries,” food waste is the biggest component of landfills, and the majority of it doesn’t come from grocery stores or restaurants but rather individuals. In addition to money lost to tossed food – an estimated $1,500 annually for a family of four – there is a bigger global concern. Food waste produces methane gas as it decomposes.

earthship compost gardening

This issue already fit into the mission of Nature’s Way Recycling to “make landfills slow, shrink and eventually …disappear.” However, the article also discusses the amount of wasted energy, labor and water it takes to produce, package and deliver this food.

Both of the founders having a background in farming or ranching, and since they currently live in the already water-taxed region of Southern Utah, Ferguson and Wood thought starting Nature’s Way Recycling was a step in the right direction.

Given the high water-retention rate of their product, Ferguson said, if their fertilizer starts getting added into the agricultural process, it would significantly reduce the water needed to produce the same crop.

We can be part of Utah’s water solution
“If we can reduce the amount of water needing to be used every year,” Ferguson said, “we can be part of Utah’s water solution. And (with the faster growth rate), we can also turn Utah from a 3 1/2 crop per year to a four crop per year rotation.”

How to make worm poop
The process for making the fertilizer is something many gardeners have been doing for years. Once a customer is signed up with Nature’s Way Recycling, they will get a sealable bucket for their food waste and a bin for their paper, cardboard and yard trimmings.

Every two weeks, Ferguson and Wood will collect the material, either shred it or blend it, mix it all together in a large container, dump the worms in and wait.

compost worms

The process takes approximately two to three months, Ferguson said, with 20 pounds of garbage coming out to roughly 15 pounds of fertilizer.

The end product, officially called “worm castings,” is fibrous and balanced. Ferguson and Wood monitor the pH levels to make sure it doesn’t get too acidic.

“It’s impossible to overfertilize,” Ferguson said. “If you just take cow or pig manure and spread it over your fields, you have no control over the phosphates, which is what tends to burn plants frequently …. But this is time released, no matter what.”

In the beginning, Ferguson and Wood did some test runs on the fertilizer.

It shocks me every time I see how amazing it works
“It shocks me every time I see how amazing it works.”

In one instance, someone Ferguson worked with who is very picky about what they put on their garden used it in an attempt to bring back struggling peppers and watermelons.

“They all came back to life in like a week,” Ferguson said. “Leaf damage repair. They turned from that dull, fading yellowish-green to a vibrant green. And that was all within a week.”

Nature’s Way Recycling currently sells the fertilizer in bags from 1-5 pounds, with plans on offering up to 50-pound bags. Ferguson said they want to keep it cost-efficient for both them and their customers.

Nature’s Way Recycling has only been offering the service since April; however, as the business continues to get more customers on board, Ferguson and Wood plan to move into higher volume. In the immediate, Ferguson said, they have been contacted by Dixie National Forest representatives, who want to meet with them to discuss partnering with local schools.

“They’re looking into us as a sustainable answer,” Ferguson said.

In the longer term, Ferguson said, they want to move into clean recycling for all recyclables, something they would like to see within five years.

“We’ve already got all the organics covered,” Ferguson said, “and within five years, as we grow, it should reasonably be where we can handle typical recyclables: the glass, the plastic, the metal.”

However, as their website says, they can’t do it alone.

“If you find yourself rolling your eyes and waiting for the catch here it is … here it is. You actually have to recycle. This doesn’t work off of hopes and dreams.”

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