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Mary Appelhof

In Memory of Mary Appelhof – The Worm Women

Mary Appelhof - The Worm WomenNow that the ground is frozen here in New England, MA my plan is to recognize and write about those who have contributed to composting. If you are not new to composting with red worms (vermicomposting) you have surely heard of Mary Appelhof. Though people have been vermicomposting for who knows how long, Mary was the first to actively educate the public.

At a Stockholm conference in 1972 Mary promoted the idea that worms could eat “tons of garbage” and produce rich worm castings. Mary had a background in biology and was a high school teacher which lead her to print a brochure about basement worm bins. She printed them using an old mimeograph machine.

Mary helped organized conferences, lectures, classes and wrote books, if there was an event on composting Mary was there.

Most of us who enjoy composting with red worms have a copy of Mary’s most well known book titled “Worms Eat My Garbage” which has sold 165,000 copies so far. Mary also published “Worms Eat My Garbage Classroom Activities” pamphlets which motivated many schools to take composting to the next level and reduce school cafeteria organic waste.

Mary even has a patented worm bin she named the Worm-a-way® and had a business contract with Goodwill Industries to give out of work folks jobs making and packing bins for sale.

Mary was proud of a National Science Foundation grant she obtained to make a videomicroscopy VHS. This educational video titled, “Wormania”, shows footage of worm cocoons hatching, babies growing. You still can purchase all these great educational resources from Mary’s website.

I had emailed Mary a few years back and was going to interview her, but when I visited her site recently it was sad to find that Mary passed away on May 4, 2005. I will never get to interview the Worm Woman who I have admired over the years so much. This post is dedicated to keeping Mary alive in our thoughts. If you read her books, see her videos or discover her classroom activity pamphlets, Mary is still here teaching us today.

Mary said:

My personal mission is to change the way the world thinks about garbage. To think of it as a resource, rather than something to throw away. Worms help me to do that.

Here is a great interview by Evy McGinness (who also is no longer with us) that had the pleasure of asking Mary about her passion.