Farm to Table Festival introduces worm composting to attendees

Saturday, June 12, 2010 | 4:52 p.m. CDT
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The festival provided sustainability workshops, including one about worm composting, which uses almost any kind of box to compost worms.

COLUMBIA — Chefs, farmers and foodies broke bread — herb bread, to be specific — at the first Farm to Table Festival this weekend.

Cooking demonstrations, a farmer's market stroll and sustainability workshopswere all part of the two-day festival at the Reynolds Alumni Center at MU on Saturday and Sunday.

The workshops let people meet with those who grow and cook their food, but it also introduced them to a little gardening component that is a big deal — worms.

Bobby Johnson and Edwina King of the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture hosted a vermiculture, or worm composting, workshop as the first event of the festival. Worm composting is simple and convenient because it doesn't take up a lot of space, Johnson said. At once point, Johnson had 15 tubs of worms in the back room of his house. It didn't get him many dates, he said.

Nearly any kind of box can be used to compost worms, and it can be as small as a coffee container. In this case, Johnson and King used a plastic tub and drilled holes in the sides and lid. They then filled the tub with half-inch strips of paper.

From there, it's a matter of supplying the right amount of moisture and food. One pound of red wigglers, the preferred type of worm for composting, can eat one pound of food scraps a day. However, Johnson said he was using night crawlers for this demonstration.

Carol Duermeyer, a guest at the festival, already composts for her garden, but is thinking of making the switch to vermiculture.

"That would be simple enough to do, especially with a smaller bin," she said.

At the festival, simplicity was key. Judy Gibson of Millsite Meadows, a cattle farm, raises Highland cattle from Scotland because their DNA is untouched by science, unlike the beef one finds in a regular supermarket. Numerous vendors sold pesticide-free vegetables straight from their own gardens, and former White House chef Walter Scheib told lunchtime diners how they could simplify the line between farms and their own tables by demanding local food at their grocery stores.

"Great food is driven by great ingredients," Scheib said.

Conversations among the tables at the dining tent seemed to agree with him. Guest Jeanne Murphy was incredibly impressed by lunch, which spotlighted Missouri beef.

"I hope that it will grow next year, and they'll attract more people from the community," Murphy said.

The event organizers did not know what to expect from attendance, said festival organizer John LaRocca, general manager of the University Club. By mid-afternoon Saturday, 250 people had pre-registered, 150 registered on-site, and there were an additional 450 people from corporate sponsors.

Plans for next year's Farm to Table started three weeks ago, LaRocca said. Nothing is concrete, but it's possible that next time will be later in the year, right before school starts.

Until then, LaRocca is focusing on obtaining more local food for the upscale meals at University Club.

"Local food is the highest cuisine," said Caroline Todd, festival organizer and Columbia Farmers' Market manager.

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