Worm Wrangling and the Good Life

A Laramie entrepreneur’s life is enriched by agriculture.

Erika Babbitt-Rogers carefully maneuvers the truck down the rutted road leading to her family’s farm. Here, north of Laramie, Wyoming, a chafing wind blows grit into your teeth. It whips your hair into your eyes and threatens to send you sprawling face-first into the dirt.

The road cuts across a sea of sagebrush. The sky is empty, save for the occasional eagle soaring in the thermals. To some, the landscape may seem harsh or even forbidding. But Babbitt-Rogers smiles as she surveys the surrounding plains and distant mountains. She’s an entrepreneur, and this is what you might call her workplace.

Babbitt-Rogers does many things. She trains horses. She raises chickens for eggs and French Angora rabbits for wool that she wants to learn how to spin herself. She hitches and braids horsehair into intricate bracelets, barrettes, hat bands, key fobs and other curios. And, she wrangles worms.

As the owner and operator of Wyoming Worm Wrangler, she sells the slimy wrigglers and the compost they create. She sells an average of 10 pounds of composting worms a year and roughly 100 dozen cups of worm bait annually. Of the worms, she said, “It fascinates me how they work. They can take what we consider trash and turn it into something so valuable for us.”

Babbitt-Rogers believes there are valuable lessons to be learned from the lowly worm. Worms are resilient creatures. Their egg capsules can withstand drought and hatch when moisture returns. The worms can endure Laramie’s cold winters if buried deep enough. Even if a worm bed looks dead, it’s usually not. In most cases, it can be restored. “It will come back,” she said. “It might take a little while, but it will come back.”

Like the worms she tends, Babbitt-Rogers has learned to thrive in lean conditions. She grew up around LaGrange, Wyoming, a town of about 450 people that sits near the Nebraska state line. Earthworms were a part of her life even at a young age. As a child, she and her mother would don headlamps after dusk and gather nightcrawlers, which they’d then sell as bait. Later, Babbitt-Rogers moved to Laramie. Here, at roughly 7,200 feet in elevation, the soil is less fertile, and the cold, dry climate makes it difficult to compost.

Babbitt-Rogers has always enjoyed gardening, yet the less-than-ideal conditions in Laramie posed a challenge. Then, she read about a man who had started compositing with red wriggler worms. He composted everything he could, including his old blue jeans. The worms ate the jeans down to the rivets. The farmer, in turn, used the compost on his garden.

Intrigued, Babbitt-Rogers bought a pound of worms and tried her hand at composting. The first barrel of worms died. So, she bought another pound of worms and tried again. Eventually, word of her new hobby spread. She was invited to speak at local elementary schools. She eventually decided to sell compost worms at the local farmers’ market. The latter endeavor required a sales tax license. At that point, she decided to officially go into business as a worm wrangler.

That was roughly seven years ago. Now, worms are one of several profit sources that help support her family, which includes her husband, Casey, and daughter, Brayden. The family cares for roughly 60 chickens, four French Angora rabbits and eight dogs. Their farm is also home to between 20 and 25 horses. The sustainability of her work is enriching. So, too, is the self-reliance it affords to her family.

The diverse endeavors that make up her work are interconnected, and even somewhat dependent, on each other. “The rabbit manure feeds the worms, which in turn feeds the garden, which in turn feeds us and the rabbits and the chickens and anybody else,” she said.

Babbitt-Rogers isn’t done growing her business, either. She’s in the middle of building a greenhouse, and she hopes to eventually grow and sell her own produce. She’d also like to learn how to spin and weave the wool produced by her rabbits.

Babbitt-Rogers has spent most of her working life in small-scale agriculture. In this lifestyle, “You don’t do it for the money. You do it because you enjoy it.” And although her line of work may not make her financially rich, “my life is rich by doing it,” she said. I asked Babbitt-Rogers if she’d ever consider working a 9-to-5 job. She would if she had to, she said. Still, she added, you don’t always need what you think you need. “You can live with a lot less than you think you can.”

Outside the barn, the wind scours the snow-crusted plains. It’s an unforgiving landscape, but there is beauty in its barrenness. Here, in the sagebrush flats, you’re reminded of the hearty folk that thrive on scarcity. The land not only gives them sustenance. It also gives them joy.

When asked what she plans to do when she retires, Babbitt-Rogers’ reply is simple. She’s already doing it.

“This is what I want to do when I retire,” she said. “When you find what you enjoy, you never work a day in your life. Isn’t that the saying?”

 

Bridget Manley is a freelance writer and educator in Laramie, Wyoming. She is a former newspaper reporter and editor whose work won awards from the Colorado Press Association.

bridgetmanley.com | twitter @bdrmanley | facebook.com/bridgetmanleywrites/

Photo courtesy of Erika Babbitt-Rogers.

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