PhilanthroFest: Hey, There's Poop in My Tea

When I came across the plastic water bottles filled with a hazy light-brown liquid labeled "Worm Tea" at this past Saturday's PhilanthroFest in midtown, I thought it was a new line of organic tea with a quirky invertebrate name -- for human consumption.
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Seconds later, I asked the vendor from Fertile Earth "How much?" and nearly twisted off the cap to guzzle this foreign beverage. (Hey, I'll try anything once; plus it was hot outside.) Then I saw bold red letters on the back of one of the labels: "Do Not Drink." What I thought was funky iced tea was actually a liquid fertilizer: worm poop "tea."

Fertile Earth was one of eight environmental vendors at this year's PhilanthroFest, which brought approximately 75 organizations to the Midtown Miami Greenspace. The event showcased Miami's various volunteer-based community programs as an interactive portfolio for getting future volunteers to learn and sign up for a multitude of nonprofit organizations.

These "castings," as Fertile Earth's executive director, Lanette Sobel, prefers to call them, are a nutrient-rich organic fertilizer and natural pest repellant for plants. "The worms' castings bring balance back to the system. It improves the immune system of plants and builds and strengthens their cells' walls -- and it's a natural fungicide."

Sobel says you have to keep worms happy, because the happier they are, the more they eat and the more they poop -- providing more fertilizer and turning it into a resource rather than waste. She should know -- she has 3,000 worms living under her kitchen sink. "Worms have the same basic needs as humans: food, water, and shelter."

She and her team are in the process of restarting a program that involves Miami restaurants donating their leftovers to Fertile Earth. They've worked with Perricone's Marketplace and the Mandarin Oriental in the past for food donations, which are turned into compost as a soil conditioner for the worms to thrive in -- because Florida's soil sucks.

She also hopes to spread awareness among restaurant owners and managers because many businesses are afraid that if they donate, they might be liable for any illness claims. But "Good Samaritan" food donation laws protect a business "that donates in good faith to a nonprofit organization for ultimate distribution for needy individuals."

Sobel contacts local organizations to feed hungry humans in need of a meal. "It's like a domino effect," she says. "If I can pass this message on to hotels and restaurants about the law that alleviates them of any liability when it comes to food donations, my hope is that they'll spread the message to other restaurants so that there can be more giving."

For now I'll stick to Arizona iced tea, but if your garden needs some TLC, check out Fertile Earth Foundation's website for prices and sizes of Worm Tea concentrate.

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