Earthworms help entrepreneur turn dirt into dollars
Sean Moore, owner of Green Leaf Worm Farm in Port Charlotte, has transitioned from a Merchant Marine to a merchant of green with his homegrown business producing worm tea, worm castings—undigested material, soil and bacteria deposited by worms—and microgreens.
With an eco-friendly approach to sustainability, Sean has turned dirt into dollars with natural products for recycling and food.
He practices vermicomposting—a process rooted in employing nature’s first rototillers, the earthworm.
“Earthworms—free help for gardeners—are the building blocks to every living thing, including us,” Sean says. “Without earthworms, the planet would look like the moon, barren with no sign of life.”
Fossil records show earthworm-like creatures have been around at least half-a-billion years. They survived the ice age that killed off the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.
“Worms till the soil and put nutrients back into the earth,” Sean says. “Their fertile castings both protect and boost growth. This is how man was able to stay on a piece of property for a lifetime.”
Sean is literally digging up support for sustainable living as he talks to schools and community organizations.
“It’s all about education relating to what we are putting into our bodies,” he says. “People often don’t realize what they are eating. The children are our future, and we have to teach them what their grandfathers already know. Our food comes from the earth, not a supermarket.”
It was not sustainability that called to a young Sean, but water and boats.
A native Floridian, Sean grew up on Longboat Key and Little Gasparilla Island. His father was the editor and owner of The Islander newspaper on Anna Maria Island. His mother taught English.
Throughout his high school years, Sean worked on shrimp and mullet boats and barges.
He changed course when he teamed up with a friend—a machinist returning from the Army—who decided to build stilt houses on the islands. They fabricated the necessary pile-driver from free discards.
“We had to be resourceful,” Sean says. “My buddy taught me to weld. We stuck a castoff engine on top of a derelict 48-foot Ford Army truck bed and got the business going.”
Eventually, Sean yearned to work on the water again. He went to maritime school in Piney Point, Maryland, training in the engine room and then on the deck. Soon, he was sailing the waters around Germany, France and England.
At one point, he worked on a 900-foot container ship as it journeyed to Africa.
After four years of seafaring, Sean was ready to be closer to home. A job on tugboats offered a change of venue.
However, at age 38, serious heart problems left Sean’s seafaring career shipwrecked. Reinventing his life became the challenge.
A friend from California who was in the vermicomposting business inspired Sean to try making worm tea—a natural pesticide and fungicide miracle brew successfully used on the greens of golf courses there.
In 2009, Sean started Green Leaf Worm Farm—a one-person operation. He began growing the worms in a few plastic tubs and taking his worm products to every farmers market in the area.
As the worms turned, Sean’s fortune improved.
His first batch of tea was brewed using an aerator in a 5-gallon bucket of rainwater.
Today, an 1,100-gallon cistern provides rainwater collection, and the worm tea is brewed 80 gallons at a time.
Initially, the worms were grown in peat moss. That soon changed to a natural, organic mix of mushroom compost, potting soil and cow manure.
The unique venture Sean began on his porch and carport has expanded to a 600-square-foot building and relies on a machine to separate the worms from their castings.
Using his earlier salvaging skills, Sean built a 7-foot tubular rocket ship-styled harvester from recycled junk. The worms are sifted down on one side and the castings fall beneath.
The harvester processes 300 pounds of castings an hour, taking the place of two men.
Sean has turned over the job of selling his worm products at outdoor markets to other vendors, focusing more on his educational efforts and his new enterprise: growing microgreens—tiny edible greens harvested when they have their first leaves. He sells them to restaurants and individuals.
“Microgreens are a notable source of nutrients, providing five to 10 times the nutrients of the full new-grown plant,” Sean says. “As with vermicomposting, nothing goes to waste. Greens are grown in my worm castings, and I feed the leftover greens to my worms. Thus, the cycle renews.”
Sean continues to dig up support for green living as he shares his hope for the future.
“My dream is to expand to a 5-acre farm where I can teach sustainable living and green practices,” he says.
Of course, he would take along his little rototillers.