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It's a worm's life

In the corner of John Winters' seventh-grade technology room at Draper Middle School in Rotterdam stands a large, green cylindrical device on a pedestal. It is about the size of a home furnace. It smells slightly like soil and is filled with what looks like wet newspaper. If you look closely inside, you might see a worm or two crawling around.

The device is called a vermicomposter and it was donated to the school this past September by a group of students at the middle school called Peers for Peace. The vermicomposter is part of the seventh-grade technology curriculum and is also used by Peers for Peace.

Vermicomposting is a form of composting that involves worms. They eat raw, organic waste and then convert it into a material that is humus-like in substance. This substance is called castings. The worms then stir and aerate their castings to create vermicompost.

Such a process offers an alternative to simply throwing away food scraps or putting them down a garbage disposal. Instead of ending up in landfills and the sewage system, those scraps are turned into a material that can be added to gardens and potted plants.

Most people think that if you [throw away] garbage and food scraps, that it'll disappear first in a landfill, but when you put that garbage in a landfill and you put other waste in, the garbage doesn't decompose, said Winters.

In his classroom, Winters teaches his students how the process works and also how they can make their own home vermicomposter.

"If you were going to make [a vermicomposter] out of a coffee can, you would put bedding, like newspaper, on the bottom, and then your composting -- vegetables and food scraps -- in the middle, and then water," said seventh-grader Kala Aubery.

After the vermicompost lesson for Winters' class is over, activities in the vermicomposter (also known as a "worm wigwam") will continue. Peers for Peace, an extracurricular school group that consists of 46 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders, will take over the project. Since the worm wigwam is relatively new, they're still working out the logistics of where the food will come from and exactly what they're going to do with the compost once it's created.

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