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Luckily, Business Is Crawling

July 08, 1999|LESLEE KOMAIKO | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Welcome to Malibu, home to countless celebrities, wealthy entertainment executives and Chris Wilson, a.k.a. the Worm Lady.

It's a little-known fact that this ritzy beach town also has an enormous worm population, thanks to Wilson, who cultivates them and their "castings" (excrement), later selling them to local farmers markets through her company, Simply Worms.

Wilson, who has millions of worms on her property, acknowledges that these critters aren't for all people. But, she says, "everyone should have an understanding of what worms are capable of--the potential to put an end to landfills. I really believe this is why mother nature put worms on Earth. And in the next five to 10 years, worms are going to be a common thing."

Tell this to the farmers market customers who won't go near her table.

"Some people can't get past squiggly wiggly things," Wilson says. But if you think she's referring to women only, think again. About 60% of Wilson's customers are female.

Wilson founded her business roughly two years ago after a friend, who had read an article on the subject, tipped her off. She bought 50 pounds of worms from a vendor in the Valley, and her worm farm was born.

Before that, Wilson spent 15 years in the gardening and landscaping field but was "burned out," she says. "I didn't like the pressure. When I heard about worms, I thought, 'Oh how cool, just to raise one product. And the worms do the work. . . .' I really believe worms are the way."

Not surprisingly, it wasn't easy for Wilson, 42, to convince her parents that worms were her calling.

"My mother said, 'I didn't send you to college for four years to be a worm farmer.' But now my parents have totally come around. They have a kit and everything."

You need not live on a farm or have a huge yard to enjoy the worm lifestyle. Many of Wilson's customers are apartment dwellers who store their $45 worm kits either under the sink or in the laundry room. (Hey, Ma, there's worms in my knickers!)

The kits contain about 2 pounds of (or 2,000) worms, a screen, bedding (in which to place garbage for the worms to eat) and a fork, to turn the compost.

There are no problems with nasty odors, as long as you keep your worms on a vegetarian diet. The mixture of organic compost and peat moss Wilson includes in each kit does a fine job of absorbing unwelcome smells.

Worms don't have teeth, but they'll eat just about anything, except for metal, glass, plastic, rubber and Styrofoam.

"They love newspaper," says Wilson, "because the ink is made from soybeans."

Other worm favorites are avocados--pit and all--and watermelon and cantaloupe rinds. The worms on Wilson's Malibu worm-only farm, who live in custom-built, shallow wood boxes that look like oversized coffins, are spoiled. They get high-protein egg shells from Kitchen Fresh, a Culver City bakery, and plenty of coffee filters and grounds from Starbucks.

"They're yuppie worms," jokes Wilson.

Why would anyone spend their hard-earned money on worms and their droppings? Because the worms go through garbage like, well, worms--and their castings make a terrific all-natural, organic plant fertilizer.

Or, as Wilson prefers to say, "It's basically black gold."

Simply Worms can be reached at (310) 398-1214.

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