Every big idea starts with a small beginning.
During a time when mood rings, bellbottoms, Disco, Pet Rocks, Atari Breakout, and Peter Frampton was "groovy" and "far out," a young boy had a dream: to raise a few dollars for microscopes and Chicago hot dogs (a growing boy has gotta eat!).
Ed Hubbard began his career as a worm farmer when his dad told him to get a job. Since not many jobs were available to 12 year olds, he went to the Chicago Public Library for inspiration. There, he checked out a book on how to raise worms for profit, and soon thereafter he was selling them from North Avenue Beach to Montrose Harbor every morning before dawn to the fishermen hoping to get a bite. The cost? Six worms for a dime. This endeavor was short lived, having lasted only two years before Ed gave it up in high school because "no girls wanted to date the worm guy." (Unfortunately, and perhaps ironically, it also turned out that "no girls wanted to date the broke guy.")
Years later, when seeking out a meaningful pursuit, Ed returned to his childhood business and decided to make it bigger and take it to the next level. Enter The Plant, America's first vertical farm, and the birthplace of Nature's Little Recyclers.
"Wiggling" on Up
The business started in October 2012 with a couple of orange Home Depot buckets neatly lined up in the basement of The Plant. Family and friends, in utter disbelief about what Ed was up to, would come tour the space and say hello to the worms. After seeing the worms up close and realizing how much they could eat, Dale Hubbard saw their potential and became their second biggest fan (after Ed, of course). Joining Ed, Dale managed the day-to-day operations and helped streamline the composting process to scale it up and make it more efficient.
In February of 2014, after a year and a half at The Plant, Nature's Little Recyclers outgrew the space and moved to their own facility a few blocks away at 1111 W. 48th Street with the help of the Back of the Yards Council and the City of Chicago. With a new facility came new challenges, but Ed and Dale were ready to tackle them head on. Chicago was facing it's harshest winter in many years, and the worms struggled to stay warm. Ed and Dale worked around the clock to keep the worms warm, and eventually the winter produced it's last frost and spring was sprung.
From there, rhythm picked up. The community began taking notice of the worms. Newspapers stopped by to interview Ed. Many events were booked. Operations had also tripled from a couple hundred pounds of food waste a week to one ton a week. In addition, the worms were doubling every 90 days and living happily in their paradise.
Fast forward to the summer 2015, a summer to equal the harsh winter of 2014. As the temperature rose outside, so did the temperature inside. Most of the adult worms died in the heat, leaving only a few young worms and eggs. Fortunately, worm eggs can withstand extreme temperatures, and so they survived. As fall approached, many hatchlings were born, and the worms were well on their way to creating a paradise for themselves once more.
Phase 3: Change The World
Now, Ed and Dale continue to pave the way to change the world in more ways than just sustainability. While no longer at 1111 W. 48th Street, Nature's Little Recyclers has set up shop at multiple locations, including Bronzeville, Englewood, and Lynwood. Ed and Dale are committed to working with local communities to provide clean dirt, fresh produce, and local jobs.
In addition to supporting local Chicago communities, Nature's Little Recyclers works with Mark "Garlic" Brown of Gateway Garlic Farms in St. Louis, Missouri, having recently participated in the St. Louis Garlic Fest and Seeding Frenzy Seed Swap.