“IT all starts with the soil.” That is what Will Allen, CEO of Growing Power in Milwaukee, believes. Mr. Allen continues, “Without good soil, crops don’t get enough of the nutrients they need to survive, and when plants are stressed, they are more prone to disease and pest problems.” That is also what Hillview believes, and it is the first component of “Who We Are.”

Boys & Girls Club Mathy Center participants visit Hillview’s vermicompost facility. Zack Gaugush (not shown), vermicompost consultant, explains to them how vermicompost (a.k.a. worm poop) is made.
Boys and Girls Club Mathy Center participants visit Hillview’s vermicompost facility.
Zack Gaugush (not shown), vermicompost consultant, explains to them how vermicompost (a.k.a. worm poop) is made.

In December 2010, as the result of a grant received from UW-La Crosse, Hillview and UW-La Crosse signed an agreement on a joint vermicompost project. The vermicomposter, housed at Z’s Lawn & Landscaping in La Crosse until fall 2014, is one of the largest vermicomposters of its kind in the Midwest. At peak production it has the capability of turning 400 pounds of food waste per week into rich worm castings fertilizer.

Turning garbage into gold

During the school year vegetable waste is taken from UW-La Crosse food services, and during the summer months veggie waste—along with coffee grounds—is taken from Mayo Clinic Health System—Franciscan Healthcare cafeteria’s kitchen. Both are used to produce the worm castings fertilizer.

The rich worm castings are harvested, packaged as VermiGold and sold at local retailers, including Ace of La Crosse and the People’s Food Co-op. Sales of VermiGold help support Hillview programs. The vermicompost is also donated to local school gardens, the Boys & Girls Club Mathy Center garden, the Kane Street Community Garden and Washburn Community Garden.

Seven year-old Riley Mathison (left) attended a Make & Take vermicompost class with her mom and dad at Western Technical College, taught by Zack Gaugush, vermicompost consultant, and assisted by former Hillview board member Jenny Nustad.
Seven year-old Riley Mathison (left) attended a Make and Take vermicompost class with her mom and dad at Western Technical College, taught by Zack Gaugush, vermicompost consultant, and assisted by former Hillview board member Jenny Nustad.

The vermicompost project serves as the cornerstone for vermiculture education and community outreach programs, including tours of the vermicompost facility for local schools and Boys & Girls Club participants; Make & Take vermicompost-making classes held at Western Technical College; and participation in library programs and local events such as the Washburn Garden Expo and Earth Fair, teaching adults and children the importance of enriching the soil with vermicompost.

The vermicompost project has received support for the past four years from the City of La Crosse and HUD’s Community Development Block Grant program.

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