The Wormz Organic Scam & The Ugly Face of Worm Farming

Earlier this summer, I was disheartened to learn that “Wormz Organic” had turned out to be a worm business scam operation. I certainly viewed the enterprise with healthy skepticism – their repeated requests (sent to me and multiple worm farming friends) for quotes on HUGE quantities of worms, along with the overall ‘feel’ of their site – were definitely red flags. But I felt it was important to give them the benefit of the doubt.

In all honesty, I (naively) believed we were past all this. With the level of social connection online, and the speed at which news (especially bad news) travels, I figured there was NO way a snake oil operation like this could even gain a foothold.

In hindsight, I realize I shouldn’t have been surprised at all. It’s not as though scammers, in general, have become a dying breed in this modern world. They always manage to find ways to adapt, and groups of people who are easy to exploit.


More than a decade ago – fairly early on in my own vermicomposting journey – I immersed myself in two of the major worm composting publications at the time: “Castings Call” and “Worm Digest” (including ALL the back issues). It not only provided me with a fantastic education on the topic, but also a fascinating look at the history of the worm farming industry.

As I quickly learned, it is an industry with a pretty ugly past – certainly a stark contrast to all the positive attributes and advancements I also learned about. The early years of worm biz were actually quite benign – according to “The History of Vermiculture” (an article in Worm Digest #14, p.3), the first known worm supplier was the Shur-Bite Bait Company, established in 1901. It wasn’t until the early 70’s that things started to go downhill.

It was around this time that Ronald Gaddie – a well known worm farming book author (and business owner) – came up with a concept that became known as the “buy back” business model. It’s unlikely that Gaddie had unscrupulous motives himself – he was simply looking for a way to expand an already-booming worm farming operation – but nevertheless, it was indeed this business model that resulted in a HUGE surge in shady worm farming pyramid schemes, and ultimately, a massive crack-down by the Securities Exchange Commission during the mid-to-late 70’s (along with a scathing expose published in the Wall Street Journal in 1978). Countless innocent, honest people were scammed out of millions of dollars, left with no way to get it back – and the industry as a whole was left in serious need of a facelift.

Related Aside – The fallout from all this may have been a little slower to reach us up in Canada. In the early 80’s, when I was still a young lad, a business called “The Wiggly Worm Company” set up shop in an old factory just down the street from where I lived. Although my memory is a little hazy all these years later, I clearly remember taking a tour of the operation. It was basically a huge room filled with quite a few large worm beds. I seem to recall being shown some sort of “Jumper” worm (likely an Alabama Jumper), but can’t remember if any other worms were being grown there.

Interestingly enough, not all that long after the business was established, the factory burned to the ground in a mysterious fire. Looking back now, it is easy to speculate that this might have been a case of someone trying to recoup (via insurance) their investment. But it’s hard to say for sure.

Naturally, the “boom and bust” period of the 70’s left a lot of people feeling cynical of all things vermicomposting/vermiculture-related by the early 80’s, but it can be argued that it ultimately resulted in the stronger growth of the industry as a whole. Thanks to the efforts of worm composting proponents such as Mary Appelhof (a tireless educator in the field, until her sad passing in 2005), and Dr Clive Edwards (academic researcher), the environmental and agricultural benefits of worms started to overshadow the “bad press” as the years passed.

If ever there was a period I would call the “golden era” of vermicomposting, it would have been during the 1990’s (give or take a couple of years on either end). The collective activities of some key industry leaders, important publications (namely, the aforementioned “Castings Call” and “Worm Digest”), and a variety of conferences and important meetings helped to bring together huge numbers of vermicomposting professionals, amateurs and academics like no other time before or (sadly) since. One such leader, Peter Bogdanov, who was responsible for “Castings Call”, and various conferences, referred (in an RWC interview) to Mary Appelhof’s “Vermillenium” – which took place in September 2000 – as “an international watershed event of historic consequence”.

Interestingly enough that was the very same year I got into vermicomposting. Oddly enough, things have kinda gone slowly down hill ever since!
πŸ˜†

OK, I’m mostly joking…but there is no doubt that quite a few of the key players did start to move on, or (sadly) pass on – as in the case of Mary Appelhof. Bogdanov himself decided to stop publishing “Casting Call” in 2006, and became less and less active in the industry as a whole. He seemed to get back into it a bit more in recent years, but even just the title of his most recent blog post (on his Vermico website) – “FAILURE IN VERMICOMPOSTING“, posted more than a year ago at the time of this writing – kinda says it all in terms of his overall feelings about the industry.

I myself go through periods of doubt and skepticism from time to time, but all in all I’m very optimistic about the future of vermicomposting! While it’s difficult to determine HOW MUCH interest there has been in the field from year to year, I can’t help but feel like we are on a gradual upward trend. With the long-term success of businesses like Worm Power, Sonoma Valley Worm Farm, and Vermitechnology Unlimited (not to mention many other newer businesses), and the tireless, continued efforts of people like Rhonda Sherman (a key player since the “Golden Era”), I can’t help but feel like we’re headed in a positive direction.


My heart goes out not only to the victims of the Wormz Organic scam, but also to all the hard-working, honest folks who are attempting build legitimate worm farming businesses. It’s not easy to “make a living” in this biz at the best of times – it involves a lot of dedication, and a lot of EDUcation. Sadly, all it takes is a few bad apples putting on a public show of idiocy to make it that much harder for the rest of us to thrive.

On a more positive note, I learned that one of our (WFA) members, Matthew Wilson (Worms ETC) has actually been purchasing a lot of worms from Wormz Organic victims. Hopefully this has at least provided them with some encouragement about the possibility of establishing a legitimate business in this industry, and a demonstration of the fact that there are honest, hardworking worm farming pros who have a genuine desire to help others succeed with this type of business!
😎

Leave A Reply (9 comments so far)


  1. Lee Peach
    3 years ago

    Hi Bentley,What Mathew is doing sounds great, but it seem you and the other worm farmers here are missing out on trying to help these people. If there is one set price that we all pay without anyone of us making money from each other I’m sure a lot more worm farmers here would be eager to lend a helping hand to these unfortunate people.
    How do we go about it Bentley.
    It would make your website and the websites of the other wormsites here look good which is what everybody wants to see ” good honest worm farmers ”

    All the best

    Lee from wormsite.com


  2. Ty Jolliffe
    3 years ago

    I love reading everything about worms and how to raise them. I hope to take my meager start and turn it into a profitable one.


  3. Allen Bizjak
    3 years ago

    I almost got into this with wormz organic. I have started this basically to have worms to go fishing with. However, I really enjoy growing the worms and have done some home work but I still dont know some of the basics. I.E. such as is there anyone out there looking to buy our organic fertilizer such as what organic wormz was gonna do? Or do we have to do it the old fashioned way and go seek businesses to help us grow our business. I have many questions like how much should we build up as back stock before we look for a buyer? How to know when it is ready? Nothing really teaches this or I have not found it yet. Any suggestions? Thanks for your help.
    Sincerely,
    Allen Bizjak


  4. Bentley
    3 years ago

    LEE – I’m not sure I follow what you are saying. I am definitely hoping to get more Wormz Organic people connected with WFAers and just generally to help out in any way I can, but in all honesty I am not connected to that group at all . Perhaps this blog post will help me cross paths with more of them.

    TY – Sounds great, Ty!

    ALLEN – I’m glad you avoided Wormz Organic! To answer your main question – YES, there is absolutely a legitimate demand for vermicompost and for composting worms! How much demand will depend on your location (certainly can vary a fair bit) and the time of year. Feel free to email me directly (via contact us page) and I can help to get you pointed in the right direction.


  5. Lee Peach
    3 years ago

    Hi Bentley, let me try to explain.
    The are a lot of Wormz Organic victims out there who are trying to get out of there scam business, and are still putting money into there worm farms to just keep the worms alive and not having the customers to sell too. Time is running out
    As you know it takes years to build up a worm business that can sell enough worms or compost to make a profit. The are also Wormz Organic victims that would like to stay and try to make it work.
    For all those that would like to sell up, you have on your private site the WFA worm farmers that would like to buy worms and equipment. For those that would like to stay and try to make a success of there business you could give then an option to sell trade price worms per pound or in bulk or inform them how to set up and make a profit, and as I said this could take many years. I may be mistaken, but by mentioning Matthew Wilson (Worms ETC) who has been purchasing a lot of worms from Wormz Victims and also mentioning that farming pros like us have a genuine desire to help others. I understand that you have no connection to the victims, but I thought you mite be implying that some in the WFA private site may be able to help out just like Matthew which I’m sure they could and would if given the chance.
    I have tried to get a list of these people and have failed, but I’m sure you maybe able to form a link between your site and these victims with all your contacts. If not I am sorry that only one man can help and we all cannot as a collective.
    Making contacts in the worm world is not easy, and a lot who start off with good intensions will fail as in all businesses, but with a little help and understanding you, and the members on your private WFA site may be able to help out those who have been caught fowl of this scam.
    I hope this clears up what I meant in the first message I sent you. If not you could always give me a ring. My phones always on when I’m in this country πŸ™‚

    Lee


  6. Mary Ann Smith
    3 years ago

    Bentley, thanks for your comprehensive article. I am, unfortunately one of the people who were in the WormzOrganic scam. I wish I had as much insight into their shady business practices as you did, but quite honestly, the business front was pretty convincing. About 150-250 people were fooled, so I was not alone. Be that as it may, the good thing is that there are a lot of people in NC now hooked on worms! Many of us are still connected in various ways and working together on avenues to go forward. I have just gotten some excellent numbers on my vermicompost, making it very marketable, and the last time I harvested, my worms quadrupled! I am looking forward to continuing to learn about the worm business. All of your articles and websites are so informative. Thank you for being such an encouragement! Thanks also to Lee Peach for being so concerned and supportive. I have learned that true worm-heads are really great people! πŸ™‚


  7. Gavin Newton
    3 years ago

    Hi all,

    I’m in need of equipment. Anyone know if any of the scam victims are still looking for buyers? I need worms, harvester and anything else that might be useful.

    Gavin


  8. Michael Dunn
    2 years ago

    First, Bentley, very nice site, I got your info and recommendation from a conversation with Jack Chambers this week. Nice to see someone (again) offering a place for interested people to refer to. I can now refer my customers to your site AND wormwoman.com! I haven’t seen anything like that since the late 90’s when I started up our little business. I believe that I have the smallest mechanized worm farm in the world. I can agree with all of your observations after 17 years of operation. This started as a retirement project (now retired about 7 years) and a supplemental income. At 65, when someone my age entertains the idea of starting a worm farm I don’t discourage them, but I do tell them how much work it IS. I run around 300 to 400′ of ricks and do put about 25 hours per month dedicated to the farm. I enjoy it but my wife says she is a “worm widow”! I think I still have plenty of time to help her with her landscape though. Lee made some very good points and I encourage Mary Ann to continue in the business. She can go to Rhoda’s workshop to reassure herself that she isn’t crazy. There are not enough producers to fill the needs of agriculture. Yes there are people to buy your castings. And your worms. The biggest part of the business (and most fun for me) is education. It’s not for everyone, but I spend time with my customers to make sure they get off to a good start (home bins, backyard compost piles or commercial start ups) with worms or have the latest info on using castings. We produce 50 or more yards of castings a year on our farm and have sold everything we’ve made over the past 17 years. And yes, it is a long road to take to make a living. But I’ve met many who are in the large scale arena and a successful worm operation can provide an income for more than a few people. I too believe that the industry is taking off right now. Most of my customers are home gardeners who want better food and are aware of the lack of commitment of our elected leaders to provide the public with safe and healthy food; rather than protect big business interests. Everyone should watch Farmageddon at least once if you want to be informed about the state of the nation! I do very little mail order and prefer customers come and tour the farm and get questions answered and encourage them to call with that question they forgot to ask. I know that some farmers would rather not have people traipsing around their place. That’s OK. I host master gardener class’, garden groups, home schoolers, college classes and do a fair amount of classroom presentations. I haven’t done a website yet (Paula says ‘do you really want to work THAT hard’?) but have done OK with the old fashioned Yellow Pages and now my daughter started me with a facebook page. PJ Dunn Working Red Worms. So keep up the good things you are doing for the worming community. I know the majority of the worm farmers I’ve met are very helpful and a warm group of people. I remember the scams when I started and just couldn’t believe what they were selling. When Zorba Frankle edited Worm Digest, I too, looked forward to every issue, and yes, I have to admit that I, too, bought all the back issues when they offered them… My wife again said ‘Michael, are you crazy? You’re spending MORE money?” Yes I did, and very glad for all of the investment I’ve made into this crazy retirement project. Happy worming to all and a quote from a very old worm forum ‘luck in the bins’.


  9. Scotty
    3 months ago

    Precisely what I was searching for, thanks for posting.

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