INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) - Linda Proffitt is an urban farmer.
"I'm like a sharecropper," she said.
And she calls her farm Peaceful Grounds.
Proffitt took an abandoned concrete factory in Southport and now grows livestock on the land — red wigglers.
She's a worm farmer. She grows them for what the worms leave behind.
"We create a very healthy, nutritious soil."
There's a fancy name for what she does. And, she'll tell you, there's an important reason she does it.
Soil contamination is Proffitt's concern.
Years of exposure to lead from car exhaust has built up in our yards. Lead that was once a paint additive has fallen from our homes into the ground, into land where some of us plant our vegetable gardens.
It's a "soil crisis," Proffitt told 24-Hour News 8.
People tend to assume their soil is safe. She did. Proffitt said she didn't test the soil in her first garden. She "just grew food." Now, she will tell you, "you need to do better than that."
She starts by doing "something that everyone needs to be doing."
At Peaceful Grounds, she creates 6-foot tall compost piles that become pastures for her worms. They graze on the waste she mixes for them.
"Worms are the best composters you could possibly have. What goes in a worm could be toxic. What goes out a worm is perfectly organic."
"In order to compost correctly," Proffitt said, "you need to bring heat and you also need to have nitrogen, and you need to have a high pile because pressure is another aspect of that."
WASTE BECOMES A RESOURCE:
Proffitt's worms get what the Ram, Rock Bottom and Black Acre breweries don't want any more.
Every afternoon, she collects big barrels of beer mash, the leftovers of the brewing process. It is grain that comes to her looking a little like brown rice. She alternates beer mash with layers of mulch.
The combination rises into a pile that's 6 feet tall. Proffitt said the weight of that mixture creates pressure that helps transform the mulch and mash into new soil.
Proffitt also relies on heat generated within the pile. She wants a temperature sufficient to kill bacteria in the mixture and enough to kill weed seeds that might be in the mulch.
It's science – and it's manual labor.
"The most important thing for people to realize is that there's hard work invested in making gardens grow good food – and it all starts with good soil," Proffitt said.
What Proffitt does can't be done in many neighborhoods. With some zoning rules, she said, "people are not allowed to do this kind of thing."
She said she would like to see some flexibility in the rules so it's easier to grow your own food.
Until then, you can compost in smaller areas, creating smaller piles. But, without the 6-foot piles, she said it will take longer.
You probably won't have access to beer mash for your compost pile. But, you can learn from the worms. They like it because "the mash fits in their mouth," Proffitt said. "That is very attractive to them."
She suggests putting your vegetable waste in a blender before putting it in the compost heap. That will make it easier for the worms to eat. Proffitt also suggests adding a little dog food. When rain hits it, or it gets a good dousing from a hose, the dog food will release nitrogen that promotes the composting process.
And, judge your success by the pile's aroma. "When you compost correctly, you do not have a smell," Proffitt said.
WHY DO IT?
Proffitt's urban farm lets her "create a resource that's going to allow me to help people have fresh soils on their properties."
Homeowners are "becoming more conscious that the chemicals that we're using are harming us and they're wanting to find a more natural way. And this is certainly a more natural way," Proffitt said.
Proffitt said people who turn to worm castings and compost can reduce their reliance on common lawn chemicals.
The result, she said, is "you actually have a healthier plant when it grows in this medium."
Proffitt's Peaceful Grounds is part of another enterprise she calls Global Peace Initiatives. You can find out more about the urban farm, vermiculture and lessons in composting here.
For those extra eager, Proffitt welcomes volunteers interested in learning by doing.
5 P.M. UPDATE: The Johnson County Sheriff's Office says deputies were working multiple accidents, including slide-offs, property damages and personal injury crashes all over the county.
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