I got worms

Larry Royal

Photo By Tom Angel

After finding the Earthworm Soil Factory in the Yellow Pages I thought, “Alright, here’s some guy who raises worms for the local bait and tackle shops—kinda quirky, right?” So I made the trip out to Neal Road, right across from the landfill, and checked out the operation. Owner Larry Royal emerged from a giant tin building. He greeted me and assured me that there was far more to his business than I probably imagined. He was right. Royal and his family started the company in 2001 and now have millions of worms working for them. These red worms break down green waste into castings, or worm manure, which goes into creating a nutrient-rich soil that produces healthier crops. Royal explains that the process ultimately leads to people eating healthier food. Vermicomposting is an enormous industry and Royal’s business model is being used all over the United States and even in countries like Austria, Jordan and New Zealand.

I know there’s a worm farm in Durham. How do you deal with the competition?

We don’t believe there is competition because what I found was that this was very fragmented and it was a lot of cottage industries and there was nobody really putting together a total business plan. There were guys that would raise worms for the sake of reselling worms. There were others that would do it for fish bait and different things of that nature. Mark Purser over at the Worm Farm, we get along great. He has a little different operation than we do. He does a lot with some of the landscapers. We do work with landscapers, but it’s not our target market. Again, we’re trying for healthy people.

How did you go about getting all of these worms?

They reproduce very rapidly. It took a sizeable investment. Earthworms cost as much as good steak, actually more by the pound. Earthworms will run from say $12 on a wholesale level to $25 or $30 on a retail level per pound. But they’ll actually double in quantity every 60 days and it takes another 30 days to reach maturity. So they’ll double in poundage every 90 days.

How long are the worms’ lifespan?

That has to do with the conditions and feed stock and care—they’re just like us, they like water and food. They’re temperature sensitive.

Do you keep things cool?

Actually they like it like we do—about 70 degrees is wonderful. So if it gets too cold, they slow down—reproductive, everything slows down. If it gets too hot, they get a little panicky. We just try to be sensitive to what their needs are because they’re great workers. They don’t call in sick, no workman’s comp. They recruit their little ones, so they’re great workers.