BioCycle Trailblazer: Mary Appelhof, Earthworm Educator

BioCycle August 2019, Vol. 60 No. 6, p. 21

Mary Appelhof (1936-2005), Earthworm Educator

BioCycle Trailblazers

Mary Appelhof

Mary Appelhof

Mary Applehof “had a special interest in communicating the wonders of worms to children when we first met her in her Kalamazoo (MI) kitchen more than 35 years ago,” wrote Jerry Goldstein in his May 2005 tribute to Applehof, who died that year. “Two years ago, when she published a book called Compost by Gosh!, authored by Michelle Portman, here’s what Mary wrote: ‘I have wanted a good children’s book on vermicomposting for a long time, a book that tells the magical story of a bin full of redworms turning food waste into dark rich humus that makes plants grow ever so much better. I wanted a book that I could read aloud to children and capture their attention in the unique way that only worms can.’”

Applehof self-published her seminal work, Worms Eat My Garbage, in 1972. She made her decision to self-publish “because I can use all my creative abilities in a variety of ways. I do it because I can get direct feedback from the people whose lives are changed by the content and spirit of my books.” That “spirit” infected many a vermi-entrepreneur. Wrote Jack Chambers of Sonoma Valley Worm Farm in California in 2002, “I first learned about earthworms and vermicomposting when reading Worms Eat My Garbage. I was intrigued. The thought that worms could eat half their weight every day was simply amazing.”

In an August 2005 BioCycle article, several people who knew Applehof well wrote tributes to her memory. Among them is Michele Young of San Jose who wrote: “When I first met Mary, she had one arm in a vermicompost windrow nearly as tall as she was at the American Resource Recovery facility, quite possibly the largest vermicomposting facility in the world. Each time she pulled her hand out of the pile full of healthy, working worms, she would giggle and exclaim with the unbridled enthusiasm that created her reputation. …. While attending a Vermco workshop in Orlando, a group of us went to Disney’s Epcot Center. When we came to the agricultural demonstration village, our group switched into high gear. At the composting demonstration site, bins were open, worms were extracted and many recommendations were made. The cast members, in their Colonial costumes, were a bit flustered until I pointed out Mary’s book on their resource shelf. They had the book autographed, and asked to be photographed with Mary. It takes a rare character to create competition for a photo with Cinderella — Mary is our own princess of putrescibles.”

— Edited by Nora Goldstein, BioCycle

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