Skip to main content

NC State Extension


Speakers for the 2019 conference will be identified during the next several months. In the meantime, you can see who gave presentations at the 2018 Vermiculture Conference.

2018 Speakers

Norman Arancon, PhD, is a professor at University of Hawaii-Hilo with extensive teaching and research programs. He was previously the lead vermicomposting researcher at the Soil Ecology Laboratory at The Ohio State University. Norman studies the effects of vermicompost and aqueous extracts on field crops and greenhouse plants. He pioneered research on the use of vermicompost to suppress plant diseases, plant parasitic nematodes, and insect pest attacks in greenhouses and in the field.

Dan Lonowski owns Michigan SoilWorks, an AgTech startup that produces commercial continuous-flow vermicomposting systems. Dan is a mechanical engineer and head of R&D at an automotive company in Detroit. He initially took an interest in the larger automated continuous-flow systems and studied their designs, drive mechanisms, breaker bars and patents. This eventually led to his designing a modern continuous flow system for mid-scale commercial vermicomposters. He began selling them in January this year and has already sold units in the US, Canada and the Middle East. Dan promotes continuous flow vermicomposting to generate alternative income streams for existing ag-based businesses. In this conference presentation, Dan will provide a glimpse into the history of continuous-flow worm bins, including the major contributors, the design challenges, things to consider in a new design, the physics of breaker bars, patents, and potential future for continuous flow technology.

Mark Purser  co-operates The Worm Farm in Durham, California, with his wife Arlita and son John Stewart. Since 1994, they have raised earthworms in 1.5 miles of outdoor windrows for harvesting and shipping throughout the continental U.S and Canada. They also supply over 4,000 tons per year of compost/casting mixes, as well as custom mixes to various farmers and other agricultural users. They ship about 250-300 pounds of worms weekly, throughout the U.S. and Canada.The Worm Farm also sells coconut coir, peat moss, bat guano, perlite, lava rock, cow and chicken manures, rice hulls, and other organic soil amendments.

Heather Rinaldi owns Texas Worm Ranch in Garland, on the northeast side of Dallas. She created a large vermi-operation with no capital loans by hand-making her worm bins and screening systems. She has separate areas for feedstock preparation, pre-composting, vermicomposting, screening, bagging, tea brewing, microbial analysis, and test gardens. Heather holds classes on vermicomposting, gardening, and soil microbiology.

Zach Brooks is the owner and founder of The Arizona Worm Farm in Phoenix, Arizona. This 10 acre, fully sustainable off-the-grid farm uses waste by-products to grow food and produce vermicompost, compost, and worm castings tea. Zach has an MBA and has completed extensive course work from Arizona State University’s School of Sustainability. He is a former management consulting partner with Accenture Consulting and is still a recognized expert in business planning, strategy, and management. Zach will be presenting “The Economics of Worm Farming.”

Francisco Niembro co-founded Aldea Verde in Queretaro, Mexico in 2005. He became CEO in 2008 and by reorganizing the vermicompost production process he helped increase 50% productivity and 70% earthworm production of Aldea Verde’s two producers. He has worked on the design, training and installation of 36 vermicomposting projects and 37 industrial composting facilities. He is collaborating with Mexico’s national environmental agency, to create national composting and vermicomposting standards. Aldea Verde has just accomplished their 62nd workshop on “Introduction to Vermiculture” where they’ve share the basic needs to start a vermicomposting project with over 1,300 attendees from many different Mexican states. Aldea Verde believes that engaging people is the most powerful tool to restore land and protect earth.

Ali S. Calikoglu, MD is a professor in pediatrics in the Division of Pediatric Endocrinology, at the Department of Pediatrics, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH). Dr. Calikoglu has been involved in all aspects of academic medicine including basic and clinical research, patient care and teaching. He has published over 90 peer-reviewed articles, books and book chapters. Ali developed an interest in biological waste reduction, specifically vermicomposting, black soldier fly farming and aquaponics. He and his five physician partners founded a company, Germina, Inc., to realize their dream of developing a model for small farmers in Turkey to establish self-sufficient, environment-friendly and sustainable farming practices.

Cristy Christie owns Black Diamond VermiCompost, located in Paso Robles, California (midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles). New to the business in 2009, she spent months learning about composting worms, their behavior and the castings they produce using a stackable worm bin and a microscope. Simultaneously, she worked with various feed stocks to understand the differences and challenges, as well as formulating marketing strategies. From the beginning, Cristy knew her preferred methodology would be continuous flow-through vermicomposters (CFTs). In 2011 she had two CFTs built and installed. She found an abandoned 1970s trommel in the front yard of a nearby neighborhood, got on the garden club speaker circuit and has never looked back. This year demand has exceeded supply capabilities…changes are on the horizon! Customers include vineyard owners and management companies, fruit and nut growers, vegetable farmers and 14 retail stores, nurseries and garden centers.

Ron Alexander is considered by many to be the nation’s most experienced compost marketing consultant. With 28 years experience in composting and organics recycling, Ron has completed more than 400 related consulting projects and worked with over 200 composting and organics recycling facilities throughout North America and the world. An accomplished writer and speaker, he has written and presented 300 papers and presentations. Trained in sales, marketing and sales management, Ron has marketed organic recycled products in all regions of the United States, including 32 states, as well as 6 Canadian Provinces, Europe and Australasia. He has extensive practical marketing experience with millions of cubic yards of compost, and recycled soil amendments, including digester by-products, dried/granulated and lime/chemically stabilized biosolids products, manure and manure-based products, paper and wood-based products, vermi-composts/worm castings.

Steve Churchill owns the Urban Worm Company, a Philadelphia-based blog and online store aimed at teaching vermicomposting and vermiculture basics to beginners. He is also a Managing Director at the Worm Farming Alliance, a group of current and aspiring worm-related business owners and entrepreneurs. WFA members share knowledge about beginner-to-large scale vermicomposting and vermiculture operations, marketing, and web development. An airline pilot and an actively-serving Air Force reservist, Steve is also the director of an elementary education non-profit called STEM Playground, where he manages a $180,000 budget and has grown STEM Playground from a 15-school pilot program to over 3,300 participating schools in the last 2 years.

Rachel Tinker-Kulberg has a PhD in Biology and over 25-years of research and teaching experience. She has a passion for using sustainable agriculture technologies to improve health outcomes and the environment. Rachel owns Floppy Hat Farms , a sustainable urban farm located at Healing with CAARE, Inc in Durham, North Carolina, that uses waste from the on-site community food pantry to operate a continuous-flow vermicomposting system. The farm also houses an aquaponic system that uses the earthworms grown on site to feed the fish and horseshoe crabs, which are currently being cultured for biomedical research. As a senior research scientist at Kepley Biosystems, Inc  in Greensboro, NC, she is also developing an innovative and cost-effective method to grow “designer” earthworms as a fish meal replacement for the aquafeed industry. 

Rhonda Sherman has given more than 1,000 presentations and written more than 65 articles on vermicomposting and other sustainability topics. Her new book, The Worm Farmer’s Handbook was published by Chelsea Green Publishing and released November 6, 2018. Rhonda has conducted workshops in Guyana, Argentina, the Dominican Republic, and throughout the United States. Since 2001, she has offered annually the nation’s only conference on large-scale vermicomposting, helping more than 1,000 people to start-up or expand earthworm farms. Rhonda developed and is the director of the two-acre Compost Learning Lab (CL2) at NC State University, which features 26 types of composting and vermicomposting bins and areas for hands-on training activities.