Antuan Jackson, the Worm Whisperer
Antuan Jackson is Sacramento’s Worm Whisperer. He sells worms, worm bins and other garden services. Doesn’t sound like a business with high demand? Think again. As a one-man operation, Jackson breeds and ships out up to 100 pounds of worms every month to as far as Alaska and New York. Locally, he straddles the worlds of green waste management and the farm-to-fork movement, which he says need to go hand-in-hand for Sacramento to really be an agricultural leader. He also provides necessary vermicompost, essentially super-soil. It contains five times more nitrogen, seven times more phosphorus and 11 times more potassium than regular soil, which results in a higher yield of better tasting produce. No chemicals. Just regular old composting stuff—cardboard, food waste, poop—and earthworms, doing their earthworm business. Jackson sat down with SN&R to talk the food system, guerrilla worm farming and eating bugs.
Do people ever think you’re actually a worm psychic?
Yeah. Absolutely. But once they start realizing what we do and what these worms do, they start getting an idea of what I mean about being the Worm Whisperer. Because intrinsically it sounds easy—you feed 'em manure and cardboard—but to do it on a large-scale basis, anyone will tell you it's gonna be a trick.
How’d you come up with the name, anyway?
Playing around, trying to get something catchy. I was gonna go with the Worm King, but someone already took that. Then I was thinking about how many different whisperers there were. I said, “Would it be dumb to call it the Worm Whisperer?” I mean, essentially, it's a pretty quiet business. (Laughs.)
Why should the average person care about vermicomposting?
In terms of land, God ain't making no more. We need to try to preserve it. So if the farms are getting sick and getting the supermarkets sick and getting you sick, there's gotta be a better way. Something is going wrong in our ecosystem. You need a way to clean your waste, to keep that stuff out of the landfill, and then you need a way to know where your food is coming from. Essentially you're gonna get a combination of all those things using the worm.
How’d you first come to worm farming?
For bait. I'm an avid hunter and fisherman, and I went back to my roots. My family has always gotten rid of their waste in some form or fashion, either using pigs and chickens or using worms. I was growing bait for myself to go fishing in creeks around here, Tahoe and whatnot. It was a no-brainer to go and get some Red Wigglers too. … I haven't made any profit on bait in five years, if you can believe that. Everything is about the composting.
What’s your workspace like?
We grow on patches. I'll grow my my bait worms in a garage system, but the actual Red Wigglers—the fruit of the business—I grow them everywhere: your friend's backyard; my backyard. We've got a little patch of land. I've got patches of land in Southern California. Any of my friends who know my business will open up areas for me. We're trying to find one consistent farm now, but for the most part in the past five years, I've grown them in various backyards and places that you would not believe. Little empty lots around [Del Paso Boulevard], I'll grow worms. I've started a lot of guerrilla gardens around here.
Are there any useless insects?
No such thing. Even those little roly-polies, they're really useful. Even the gnats and the flies. The maggots play an essential role in anything. They make a decent casting as well. Plus, the worm will eat that poop.
Let’s say you’re in your house and a fly is pissing you off. Do you kill it?
When it comes to flies, I find them fairly disgusting like anything else, but I'll give it a chance because I know its life cycle is so short anyway. As long as it's not in my daughters' bedrooms, it has a chance of getting outside.
The U.N. recommends we eat more insects for eco-friendly protein. Thoughts?
I think that's cool. If you see an insect's life cycle, you know they stick to what they eat. Don't get me wrong, I'm not rushing to have a maggot taco, but I've had them in Mexico. … They make good snacks. I used to dip them in chocolate and peanut butter just to freak friends out.