Vinland Vinland first graders described the 2,000 worms in their compost bin as "exciting," "special," "neat" and "slimy."
With 13 first graders huddled around a giant plywood box, Ann Van Nest -- a.k.a. "Worm Lady" -- spent Friday afternoon explaining the latest in recycling technology offered by the city of Lawrence.
Instead of calling the process by its formal name -- vermicomposting -- the city's waste reduction specialist preferred to educate the Vinland-area children in terms they could understand.
"It's actually worm poop," she said. "That's what you're getting. But it doesn't stink, and it's such good quality, it really works out well."
The composting method introduced Friday at Vinland Elementary School -- mixing worms, shredded newspapers and food waste inside a plywood box -- is among a handful of similar test projects digging in this summer in the Lawrence area. The idea is to raise public awareness about the benefits of vermicomposting.
Even 6-year-old Kelsey Mallon saw the logic in using slimy, wiggly worms for munching up food waste.
"They're going to make plant food," she said.
Karen Arnold, who teaches the class, invited Van Nest to bring her composting program to Vinland to expose her students to responsible activities at an early age.
The compost generated during the next six months will be used in the school's greenhouse, where students will grow spinach, marigolds and tomatoes. But the lessons learned should last a lifetime.
"It makes people become better citizens, doing responsible things to help the environment," Arnold said. "And this is hands-on. They love creepy-crawly things."
Other worm boxes will be placed with several volunteers in Lawrence, including a class at Hillcrest School, a young couple and a 12-year-old, for her science project. Van Nest is still looking for a vegetarian willing to take a box and record results for later analysis.
In the end, Van Nest said, the program could cut into the city's disposal of food waste, which accounts for about 7 percent of all city trash heading to the landfill.
"Our goal is to help educate people in becoming responsible for their own waste," Van Nest said.
For more information about worm bins, call the city's recycling office at 832-3030.