Getting worm farming going in Palestine could be the start of better soil and rainfall management, better yields from exhausted fields and a renewed connection between people and their land. No bad thing. And, if we heal the land, might we not stand a better chance of healing some of the strained relationships between people?
In 2013, I was invited to visit Palestine with my colleague Julien Troussier and we quickly saw that people were leaving their land in search of work in Israel. The soil that was being farmed didn’t have a lot of organic matter which after so many thousands of years of farming wasn’t so surprising, especially given the rise in the use of chemical pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers.
At the same time, we learned that global warming is already having an impact there. Temperatures are rising and annual rainfall, never high in the first place, is falling and becoming more intermittent. When rains do come, they come in intense storms that wash away precious soil.
People asked us for funding to build cisterns to catch the water. The snag was that we didn’t have money and building cisterns is hugely expensive. They fill up with silt after a while too and farmers need permission from the Israeli authorities to build them, and that’s often withheld.
It occurred to me that the best way to catch water and retain it for agricultural use is to keep it on the land where it falls. There’s a critical need to increase the organic matter in the soils. If we can do that, when rain falls, the organic matter will soak it up, like a sponge, holding the water for crop roots. There’s no need for expensive and actually inefficient cisterns and no need for permission. I asked folk what they did with their organic waste. We learned that it’s all gathered up and taken out into the desert and dumped in a big hole along with all other waste where it rots and burns.
What if folk used the organic waste from their kitchens and fields and got it back into the soil? There are animal manures available too, though not in huge quantities. From this came the idea of composting and alongside that, worm farming. What if every household or at least every community had a worm farm where their kitchen and ag waste could be converted by worms into rich organic matter for their home gardens and fields? Worm castings are full of beneficial mico-organisms and nutrients that alongside traditional composting, could really accelerate water retention and the amelioration of some of these growing water related issues.
After a few false starts including visits to Palestine in the second half of 2014 when I established two worm farms which ultimately failed, we’re now on the threshold of getting a serious project up and running.
Julien has recently been back to Palestine and Sara Moledor, a vermicomposting specialist who ran a similar project to introduce worm farming to Lebanon, joined him. I spoke to Sara after her visit and recorded a Cooee! podcast. Have a listen to learn more about the project. Sara is excited about it and so am I. Julien is actually back there this week and we hope to kick off the project in September.
From Palestine, where might the program spread? There is of course a load of worm farming happening all over the world, but I think there are some places where it isn’t happening that could really do with it. We have great partners in Israel and while there is worm farming there already, we feel we might be able to support it to grow further. And if, at the Karama Centre (as Sara explains in her podcast), we can get Palestinian and Israeli kids’ hands in dirt created from Palestinian and Israeli kitchens, what else might the worms achieve?
Sara calls it “Global Worming” and I’m all for it. Worms are such important creatures and after generations spraying and killing them with chemicals, it might be time to have a look again at how we can use them to revitalise our soils but more importantly, our own damaged human relationships.
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If you'd like to learn more about my work with worm farming, you might enjoy this discussion and Cooee! podcast with Briony Taylor.
And, if you fancy some poetry and thoughts, Julien has recently launched his own website. The White Shadow is worth a read.