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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

A Wriggly Business

Air Date: Week of July 14, 2006

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Maggie shows off the worm beds of The Cape Cod Worm Farm. She's been raising and selling worms from her home in Buzzards Bay, MA since 1974. (Photo: Ian Gray)

Maggie Pipkins is a self-employed octogenarian in an unusual line of work. Her business? Growing and selling garden worms. Ian Gray has our portrait.

Transcript

CURWOOD: Some people have an unusual ability to improvise. Necessity seems to only make them more creative. Today we bring you the story of one such woman. Maggie Pipkins is 86. Although her husband served in the Air Force, money was always tight. So Mrs. Pipkins, who prefers to be called "Maggie," started a business: a worm farm. These days, she ships out these natural tillers – garden worms – and their castings, by the ton. They go to customers in Europe, Africa, and other parts of the world. From Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Producer Ian Gray has this profile.

[HOEING]

GRAY: That’s the sound of Maggie Pipkins, turning over piles of rotting apples with a hoe.

[FARM WIND SOUNDS]

PIPKINS: That’s where the money comes from. I grew up in Louisiana, and I’d had a lot of experience with farm work.

[MUSIC: Bela Fleck “Arkansas Traveler” from ‘Tales from the Acoustic Planet’ (Warner Bros. - 1995)]

PIPKINS: The farm belonged to my parents, and they grew a lot of cotton. And my dad grew everything: turnips, mustards, cabbage, watermelon cantaloupes, beets, you name it and he grew it.

[MUSIC: Bela Fleck “Cheeseballs in Cowtown” from ‘Tales from the Acoustic Planet’ (Warner Bros. – 1995)]


Maggie shows off the worm beds of The Cape Cod Worm Farm. She's been raising and selling worms from her home in Buzzards Bay, MA since 1974. (Photo: Ian Gray)

PIPKINS: My husband was in the military, and we were in Japan and he got assigned to a base in the United States and they sent him to Otis, and that’s why we wound up at Otis.

[MUSIC: Bela Fleck “Cheeseballs in Cowtown” from ‘Tales from the Acoustic Planet’ (Warner Bros. – 1995)]

PIPKINS: My husband’s income wasn’t enough to put the children through the type of school that I wanted them to be educated from. So, I read this article in the newspaper about the people selling worms to people who would raise them and they would buy them back. But I didn’t go for that because I’d had a lot of experience with that kind of work.

GRAY: To Maggie, raising worms for somebody else seemed too much like raising cotton for somebody else.

PIPKINS: So I decided to try on my own.

[MUSIC: Bela Fleck “Cheeseballs in Cowtown” from ‘Tales from the Acoustic Planet’ (Warner Bros. – 1995)]

GRAY: She began her business, The Cape Cod Worm Farm, with a handful of leftovers.

PIPKINS: My husband at the time was at Otis, and they do a lot of fishing, the Southern guys that was out there, so he joined the gang. So he had to have earthworms. He bought some.

[MUSIC: Bela Fleck “Cheeseballs in Cowtown” from ‘Tales from the Acoustic Planet’ (Warner Bros. – 1995)]

PIPKINS: When it was over I took those that were left and began to experiment. And it was a very few worms in there, but it doesn’t take a lot of worms. You put maybe a half a dozen worms together in a container and they do their thing. You know they eat, they mate, they lay eggs and they hatch, and before you know it you have a lot of worms.

[MUSIC: Bela Fleck “Cheeseballs in Cowtown” from ‘Tales from the Acoustic Planet’ (Warner Bros. – 1995)]

PIPKINS: I tried newspaper, cardboards, coffee grinds, banana peelings, eggshells. All of those things. Not in one container, but in different containers as I went along.

[STORAGE ROOM SOUNDS]

PIPKINS: This is a storage, but this is where…go right on in…should be a light here…if I can find the light, thank you…and I had worms everywhere, I had my bathtub was in here, there’s a lot of junk in there now, but I had a bathtub, a coffee pot, and all kind of containers and buckets, and my boat was right across here, a big boat was right across there.

GRAY: A ten-foot dinghy, full of worms. At one point I made the mistake of referring to the soil the worms were in as dirt.

PIPKINS: No, there’s no dirt, no dirt because they’re eating it and making fertilizer out of it. The soil is three things that you mix together, peat moss…okay…leaf mold, cow manure or horse manure. And they eat that over and over and over along with other food that you put in there. I sell more than three tons of casting at a time.

GRAY: How long does it take to make three tons?

PIPKINS: You leave the worms in it 3 months at the most, and it depends how many worms you have. They’re just eating it and it’s going through them and they’re eating it over and over again.

[MUSIC: Bela Fleck “Cheeseballs in Cowtown” from ‘Tales from the Acoustic Planet’ (Warner Bros. – 1995)]

PIPKINS: Life has been very good to me. And all of my kids went to college. Yeah!

GRAY: And you sent your husband to college too?

PIPKINS: Yes, he went. And if I wasn’t working then he wouldn’t been able because he would have had to spend more time trying to keep us going.

Being self-employed really help you to be free and to take care of the things you need to take care of the things that you need with your family. So either you are there to help them do what they have to do and give them support, or you’re away working for somebody else. And I don’t know anybody that I would rather work for than to work for Maggie…I really like working for her!

CURWOOD: Our profile of Maggie Pipkins was produced by Ian Gray. To learn more about Maggie and her worm business, visit a website designed by her great-granddaughter, Rotiche. You can get there by way of the Living on Earth website: Living on Earth dot org.

 

Links

Cape Cod Worm Farm

 

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