Feeding Neighbors by Day and Worms by Night: Luis Chen Does It All
Luis Chen is hard at work in Grand Rapids, feeding his community locally sourced produce through the YMCA Veggie Van as the Operations Manager, as well as running his own composting company, Wormies. He enjoys connecting with local farmers and bringing their produce to communities in need, as well as learning about growing healthy food and producing less waste.
The YMCA Veggie Van is West Michigan’s first and only mobile farmers market. With two vehicles running year round, they make daily stops in urban neighborhoods throughout Grand Rapids and Muskegon, ensuring that fruits and vegetables are available to people who otherwise have limited access to fresh produce. The program grows, purchases, and sells their fruits and veggies from local farmers and supplements their supply by partnering with local grocery stores. At the Mary Free Bed YMCA, they grow their own produce in their greenhouse and raised farm beds to sell in the Grand Rapids van. Additionally, it accepts SNAP, Senior Project Fresh/Market FRESH, and W.I.C. Project Fresh benefits.
Growing organic fruits and vegetables is not possible without good soil health. Being a core practice in organic farming, composting creates a valuable byproduct that helps boost soil fertility and plant health. It also helps reduce waste on the farm, which is a key driver for Luis’s vision of Wormies. The amount of waste going to Grand Rapids landfills has nearly doubled from 2012 to 2018. At least 30% of that waste is organic material that could be composted and turned into an economic opportunity. Wormies is a composting business specializing in vermicomposting (composting with worms) serving the city of Grand Rapids. It began in 2017 with the collective effort of family, friends and volunteers. Now, the organization collects about 500 pounds of food waste a week from local residents and business establishments to then compost the waste with leaves in aerated static piles. Wormies offers a variety of products and services, including a food scrap pick-up service. At the core of their operation is the production of castings for farm and garden use.
Wormies has a mission of changing the way our community manages organic waste by achieving a 100% diversion from landfills. Its vision is to see Wormies composting in every neighborhood and for Grand Rapids to set the standard nation-wide for responsible waste management. Luis believes that anyone wanting to grow organic plants with higher yields and better health will benefit. Plus, compost is an invaluable soil amendment as well as being a powerful tool in combating climate change.
Luis was recently announced as one of the Start Garden 100 winners – an entrepreneur competition in Michigan with 100 business ideas chosen to compete. Only 10 were chosen to receive $20,000 to help keep their businesses running, and from every neighborhood in West Michigan to every city in the state, Wormies made it to the top 10.
Rebecca Henderson is the West Michigan Local Food Coordinator. She also works at Green Wagon Farm in Ada, MI. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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