Worms turn waste into food
A hot new model for turning food waste into vegetables has the potential to reduce cities' food and waste problems while creating jobs and saving water and energy.
The Waste to Food project in Philippi, Cape Town, to be launched today, is as green as it gets: inedible food waste is turned into compost to be fertilised by worms and used to grow vegetables.
Last week the red cabbage, basil and other plants nourished by worm compost were roughly four times bigger than those planted at the same time next to them but fed commercial fertiliser.
Phumlani Dlongwana, co-founder of Waste to Food with Roger Jaques, said: "We are closing the recycling loop: our project creates food, jobs and looks after the environment."
The Philippi Economic Development Initiative is driving the Urban Agriculture Academy, which uses the compost and trains emerging farmers next to the Philippi Fresh Produce Market.
Now, with the only hot-rot composter in South Africa that produces compost for growing food - Grabouw has such a composter for treating sewage - food production is expanding.
Waste to Food has been running since 2012 using normal composting for fruit and vegetables but the new technology will transform operations.
The hot-rot composter's heat - the temperature inside the containers reaches 70C - accelerates decomposition.
Last week the green machine was fed chicken, stale bread and doughnuts (waste donated by Pick n Pay) and garden chips (from the City of Cape Town) and emitted no rotting odours.
Jaques said: "We will be increasing the feedstock and hope to process 3t to 4t of waste a day."
The heat-treated compost can be handled because it is sterilised and better suited to worms.
The worms live in blanket-size hammocks - a system invented by Jaques and his brother to increase the number of worms.
Jaques said: "The worm hammocks are made of recycled materials and are loaded and harvested by people. It is simple and appropriate technology."
The Urban Agriculture Academy offers training for community projects and the scaling up of subsistence gardens to small commercial gardens.
The project provides a bridging course for agriculture students, an opportunity to get hands-on experience in tunnel and open field farming, and entrepreneurial skills.
Agriculture graduate Zodidi Meke said she hopes to become a trainer.
"I like the planting, the feeding and weed control. There is no culture like agriculture," she said.
Darryl Jacobs, the Western Cape's deputy director for agriculture, said: "We need to stimulate urban agriculture and this initiative is an excellent project."
Thulani Mangwengwe, doing his practical training on the project, said: "I am achieving my dream of becoming a farmer. I never expected this could happen in Philippi."
HOW WASTE FOOD WORKS
Waste and garden chips go into a hot-rot-in-vessel-compost machine, which produces sterile compost.
The pathogen-free compost goes into worm hammocks. Worm guts are like a factory for beneficial bacteria.
Vermicompost and recycled water feed fast-growing, pesticide-free and organic vegetables.