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Speakers at 2022 Vermiculture Conference

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Dr. Mac Callaham is the Project Leader (Acting)/Research Ecologist on the Restoration and Invasive Species Team at the Center for Forest Disturbance Science, USDA Forest Service. Mac specializes in the ecology of invasive earthworms; land management approaches to the restoration of southern soils and forest ecosystems; land-use legacy effects on soil characteristics, particularly soil biotic community composition and function; functional roles of microbes and invertebrates in nutrient and energy cycling; and population- and community-level responses of invertebrates to natural and anthropogenic disturbances. 

Dr. Kristin Hicks is a North Carolina native with an M.S. in Soil Science from North Carolina State University and a Ph.D. in Soils and Biogeochemistry from the University of California at Davis. Dr. Hicks is Section Chief of the Plant/ Waste/ Solutions/ Media Lab in the Agronomic Division of the North Carolina Department of Agriculture since 2015. One of her primary job responsibilities is advising growers on fertility management using agricultural testing. Her laboratories analyze organic feedstocks, vermicompost, and compost. She will address vermicompost fertility and how to interpret test results. The title of her presentation is Chemical Characteristics of Vermicompost and Its Application to Soil Fertility

Dr. Jacob Parnell received his Ph.D. from Michigan State University studying soil microbial ecology. He has spent the past 15 years using microbiomes to study complex ecosystems in academic, government research projects, and industry. He is currently a technical agronomy lead for Biome Makers and a senior researcher at North Carolina State University. At Biome Makers, he uses next-generation sequencing technology in the form of BeCrop tests and trials to monitor microbial health and the function of soils. The title of Jacob’s presentation is Biological Characterization of Vermicompost and Its Application to Soil Fertility. He will present information on the microbiome of vermicompost and its functional potential as well as how it changes the biology in field trials.

Dr. Zackary Jones
 is a microbial ecologist with a passion for science and sharing information. He graduated from the Colorado School of Mines in 2017 with a Ph.D. in Environmental Science and Engineering. His graduate studies primarily focused on exploring microbial communities and nutrient cycling in wetlands to optimize water treatment processes. For the past two years, he led the Vermi-Microbiome Project to investigate the microbial communities of vermicompost from around the country using DNA sequencing. His current plans are to start a small company, Aggrego Data, to provide DNA sequencing and microbial community interpretation and expand the Vermi-Microbiome Project to vermiteas and extracts. 

The title of Zack’s presentation is “Community Science: The Vermi-Microbiome Project.” Description: The Vermi-Microbiome Project had the goal of bringing modern microbial ecology to the vermicomposting world through DNA sequencing. This presentation will follow the project from sample collection from over 25 participants to final results and conclusions. Result highlights include diversity comparison of all samples, a national vermicompost core microbiome, and preliminary vermitea results.

Troy Hinke began his career with soils and compost at Rodale Institute in Kutztown, PA. Serving as Rodale’s Compost Specialist, Troy performed experiments on large and small-scale agricultural production. He went on to start and co-manage an organic farm as well as serve as Compost Specialist for a large-scale windrow composting facility. Troy is the owner of Living Roots Compost Tea consulting with growers and composters worldwide. He also works for Urban Worm Company as their Chief Soil Biologist helping to provide educational content about soil biology, worms, and all things compost. He is the host of “What’s Brewing? A Compost Podcast”.

Troy will present All You Need To Know To Set Up, Brew, and Use Compost Tea.” This session will teach you everything you need to be able to brew and apply compost tea on any scale. You will learn how to set up a brewer, from a simple five-gallon bucket to a 1000-gallon unit. You will gain the skills to brew quality compost tea with a focus on proper biology contained within. You will also learn how and when to apply compost tea to any plant you may grow.

Maximillian van Praag is the founder of Pluvr, an urban vermicompost company. Pluvr collects food waste and other organic residuals from Washington D.C.-based restaurants. Pluvr processes that organic material at its urban facility in two stages; first via pre-composting with an in-vessel composter before then feeding that composted material to its red wigglers in continuous flow-through reactors. Pluvr harvests its vermicompost and sells it as a core ingredient in its catalogue of soil mixes to meet the needs of local plant shops, landscapers, organic farmers, and hemp cultivators. 

Samantha Flowers owns and runs Memes Worms LLC. In 2018 she started vermicomposting and eventually added mortar trays, windrows, barrels, 4×4 plastic bins, crates, super bags, and feed troughs in two hoop houses. Today she raises worms in a 22,000-square-foot climate-controlled indoor facility. Samantha sells red wigglers, African nightcrawlers, European nightcrawlers, and vermicompost. She blogs, makes videos, and does live interviews on YouTube.

Sean Barton is the Operations Supervisor for the Michigan State University Surplus Store and Recycling Center. He and his team are responsible for managing MSU’s waste as a resource by processing over 7 million pounds of recycling and hundreds of thousands of pounds of food waste through vermicomposting year-round in a passive solar hoop house. Diverting material from the landfill, maintaining a healthy worm population in a cold climate, supporting research, packaging & sales, and developing soil blends are all part of their recently upgraded facility’s daily operations. Sean started vermicomposting at home in 2009 with a small Rubbermaid bin and in 2020, successfully transformed a research vermicomposting project into a mid-scale operational facility that closes a portion of MSU’s food loop.
Sean’s session will share the development of Michigan State University’s vermicomposting operations and will cover strategies to achieve success in maintaining a healthy worm population in cold climates, without a climate-controlled facility.  Participants will learn strategies to maintain conditions favorable for worms both to keep warm in the winter and cool in the summer by utilizing low-cost and low-input techniques.

Josh Walker
and his brother and father have a vermicomposting operation called Life Cycle Organics located in the mountains of North Carolina. They designed and built a 28-feet by 5-feet continuous flow-through reactor with a drive chain on both sides for harvesting vermicompost. They feed their worms OMRI-listed compost. They will describe their operation and some of the challenges they have faced.

Matt Ball
operates NC State University’s Compost Facility and Research Cooperative. The facility processes 1,600 tons of organic materials annually, including food scraps, animal bedding, wood chips, paper towels, pizza boxes, and greenhouse residuals that are all generated on campus. An Aerated Static Pile composting system is used to process the materials. Matt is also a certified Soil Food Web Laboratory Professional and operates Red Mountain Soil Ecology, where he analyzes and reports on the functional biology in soil, compost, worm castings, liquid extracts, and potting mediums. Matt will describe thermophilic composting to destroy pathogens and seeds before feeding the compost to worms.

Rhonda Sherman
has given more than 1,000 presentations and written more than 65 articles on vermicomposting and other sustainability topics. Her latest book, The Worm Farmer’s Handbook was published by Chelsea Green Publishing. Rhonda has conducted workshops in Guyana, Argentina, Chile, the Dominican Republic, Canada, Mexico, and throughout the United States. For 21 years, she has annually offered a conference on large-scale vermicomposting, helping more than 1,000 people to start up or expand earthworm farms. Rhonda is the Director of the Compost Learning Lab (CL2) at NC State University. The lab features 25 types of composting and vermicomposting bins.