Scientific worm farming
Chapman has spent years building and refining the production of worms and worm fertilizer.
"We developed a process," he said. "We started with a certain size and age worm. We know what we have in costs. We know how much labor it will take to produce the worm to full size. . . . It's a manufacturing process."
The process is refined right down to the thickness of the metal strands that make up the wire mesh used on machines that sort the worms, the worm eggs and the worm castings.
"There's a lot more science to it than putting a bunch of worms in a container," Chapman said. "There are controls that you have to maintain."
Worms that are comfortable and well-fed produce more and better castings.
Unco, which also developed its own machinery, employs 12 people. Chapman expects to be hiring later this year.
That can be a challenge.
He once had a candidate for an office job turn around and walk out of the building when she realized Unco is in the worm wrangling business.
"It's dirt, and it's not glamorous," he said.
Growers say raising worms is just like any other kind of farming where attention to the critters has to be paid daily.
"You have to have somebody watching them, especially during the wintertime," Luedtke said. "If the power goes out or you lose heat, you're up a creek."
Worms are generally well-behaved.
"They don't bite. They don't bark. They don't howl at the moon," Corbin said.
They will eat any soft organic matter.
"If it was once living and is now dead, the worms will consume it," Corbin said.
That includes wastepaper. "They love cardboard," he said.