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Maria Rodriguez

Rather than turn to the world's newest technology, Byoearth's founder Maria Rodriguez is utilizing some of Earth's oldest residents to work towards poverty eradication in vulnerable rural areas. She believes the lowly worm can have the highest impact.

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Maria Rodriguez
“It's a once in a lifetime investment... I will never have to buy worms again.”

‚ÄčVermicomposting. It's something that overly enthusiastic kombucha drinkers try to get you roped into when you're passing through the farmers market to pick up your CSA. And you understand that it makes sense as a way to handle all those coffee grinds, banana peels, and carrot tops that you otherwise let stink up your trash or pile over your countertop compost bucket -- but you also know that it takes constant care, and ultimately will produce more compost than your four houseplants or small backyard garden really need. At least, that's been my experience.

What I've never considered is that it could also be a vehicle for economic development in rural areas of Guatemala. It's a leap that seems effortless for Unreasonable Institute finalist and worm-champion Maria Rodriguez, who is working with several other organizations in the country and in nearby Oaxaca, Mexico, to spread the idea. By building massive composting units on-site of coffee farms and other organic-waste creating facilities, her organization Byoearth demonstrates the simplicity and beauty of worm-based enterprise. Their only fuel is also their food, and the byproduct is nutrient-rich fertilizer that holds a high value in struggling faming communities. To top it off, the very problem that stumps a back-yard vermiculturist is the greatest asset on a venture-scale operation: redworms reproduce at a startling rate, doubling their population every 90 days.

Not surprisingly, "most people respond with a weird look, almost grossed out," Maria admits, but she is true believer. "I came back to Guatemala from an international program where I was exposed to so many experiences and where everything looked shiny and new," she remembers. "On my way back, I questioned if vermicomposting in slum areas, transforming waste, was something that I would do forever. But when I felt the warmth of my people and the love of my family, I understood how important my business was and never again have I been close on giving up." 

It seems Maria can also overlook that 'ick' factor: "Worms, I love them, they have a beautiful red body and the cutest yellow tail."