We worm farmers will risk all for success

Worm farming is classified as a high risk business under the Government's health and safety...
Worm farming is classified as a high risk business under the Government's health and safety reforms. Photo from ODT files.
Dear Michael, The recent furore over the dangers of worm farming has been disconcerting for me.

I do my best to be one of those endlessly cheerful glass half full types, and if that half full glass is supporting big booze, so much the better.

Perhaps it affects my health and safety, but I know Parliament wants me to be able to knock back a few any time I choose to do so. That's the New Zealand way.

As you National politicians know, life is all about choice and the more choice we have the better.

I love the way you want to allow workers to choose whether to work on Easter Sunday. Workers are already overwhelmed by choice, particularly in the low waged retail sector, where most of them choose not to be in unions.

As the zero hours contracts fiasco showed, many have a choice about their working hours - take it or leave it.

Now if they choose to tell the boss they do not want to work on Easter Sunday and somehow they find the energy (and money if they want representation) to lay a personal grievance if they are pressured to work, everything will be hunky dory.

Perhaps Michael, having worked in a highly unionised sector, you could choose to get out of the office more and get a better understanding of what life is like for many workers these days.

Sorry, I chose to digress there. Some years ago, in the days when I was involved with the organisation of the Portobello Plant Fair, I chose to have a go at worm farming.

It was necessarily a small scale business, limited by the number of fizz bottles I could find to house the farms and how many worms I could be bothered to dig up from my garden.

It makes me want to reach for the bottle (and I'm not talking fizz) when I look back at it now and reflect on how dangerous it was. First, the fizz had to be consumed. The health toll of that is yet to be realised.

Next, I prepared the plastic bottles by cutting the tops off them with a craft knife. Did I wear a stainless steel mesh cut resistant safety glove? I did not.

Then I exposed myself to who knows what by gathering dirt and food scraps to put in the bottles. Gloves and breathing apparatus were not present.

I also had to dig up some worms. Since it was before the advent of my current steel capped gumboots, I risked slicing off my toes with the spade.

After that there was the worm wrangling involved to get the little darlings into the bottles.

Sharp instruments were not involved, but the language may have re-traumatised the offspring who were already suffering from post traumatic swearing disorder due to my frequent assaults on their tender eardrums.

As I recall, the offspring helped paint the heavy paper sleeves and little roofs which fitted over the farms to ensure the worms were kept in the dark. (You were supposed to remove them from time to time in order to gasp at the population explosion within the bottle and observe the multitude of worm tunnels.)

When they tired of it, I painted some too - a traumatic business in itself, given my artistic ability. Did I poke myself in the eye with a paintbrush, adding to the pain? It was hard to tell from the finished product.

The saddest thing about my worm farms was the worms' lack of gratitude for this five star designer decorated accommodation, and in the days leading up to the plant fair I would find them slithering along the kitchen bench trying to escape.

Perhaps they were obligingly trying to hurl themselves towards a frying pan. If I remember correctly, the information booklet I produced to go with the farms included the possibility of using them to whip up a cheap and tasty high protein treat.

It is possible those who bought the worm farms would have demanded their money back, had I not been selling them at a school fundraiser.

Complaints could have been many, including the worms' lack of house training, their penchant for escaping, their failure to procreate, and the visual assault of my paint job.

All this came flooding back when I read about worm farming being classified as a high risk business in the regulations proposed for the health and safety reforms.

The glass half full person within wanted to insist I was a woman ahead of my time - recognising the risk and wisely getting out of the business before I got injured.

But the glass half empty one lurking beneath was pointing the finger screaming: ''Another chapter in the litany of loserdom, you risk averse failure!''It's not healthy Michael, and it's certainly not safe.

Elspeth McLean is a Dunedin writer.

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