Search & Replace S02E04: Cathy Nesbitt

Have you ever viewed squirming worms as majestic creatures? Cathy Nesbitt does. She sought to solve Toronto, Canada’s smelly garbage problem—by indoor composting with worms at scale. Founding Cathy’s Crawley Composters in 2002, Cathy is responsible for more than 75,000 people seeing her presentations on composting with worms. Find out how you can start using worms in your compost for a more sustainable lifestyle on Search and Replace. 

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[00:00:00] Announcer: Support for the following podcast is provided by the user experience specialist at Johns and Taylor. More information follows this episode. 

[00:00:09] Joe Taylor, Jr.: What if you find yourself facing a big, smelly problem and the best solution for that problem, squirms around? I’m Joe Taylor, Jr. This is Search and Replace. 

Here in the United States we enjoy a perception, maybe even a stereotype, that our neighbors to the north in Canada have a very clean country. Canadian Cathy Nesbitt told us about a problem that threatened her community’s reputation and its health. 

[00:00:40] Cathy Nesbitt: I’m located just north of Toronto, largest city in Canada. 6 million people and our landfill closed. So when the landfill for the largest city and a country closes, it’s a big problem; a big smelly problem. And we started exporting garbage to the US. And I had a solution. This is – are you ready? – indoor composting with worms. 

[00:01:02] Joe Taylor, Jr.: Let’s back up. What would give Cathy the impression that worms solved Toronto’s trash problem.

[00:01:10] Cathy Nesbitt: I grew up in Toronto and then I moved out of Toronto, and as an avid gardener and compost, I had the opportunity to garden. And so when you compost, the more you put in, the more you get out, the better your garden grows. So I was aware of composting and the value of it.

And then I looked after a teacher’s worm bin. So that was the first idea about worms. And it was a horrible experience and I had fruit flies and I was like, I’m never doing worm composting again. Okay. But it was an experience and I kept the worms alive and. I got the black gold. 

[00:01:42] Joe Taylor, Jr.: Where have I heard the phrase black gold before? (music) Black gold, Texas Tea. (music)

Okay, so not the same black gold that Jed Clampett found in the woods that time. This black gold, Toronto tea, is a lot more sustainable. But it wasn’t until working at a job a few years later that Cathy realized she could get composting to work at scale. 

[00:02:07] Cathy Nesbitt: I got a job at a group home working with challenge folks, 10 homes and a farm, and they didn’t compost. And I realized, wow, people don’t connect what they do. I was seeing this organic matter everywhere. And as an avid gardener, I know it’s valuable. It’s a resource. It’s how we call things. When we say it’s garbage or it’s trash, that’s what we said. We throw it away. 

So composting is a way to turn those resources, food scraps and paper, into something that we can put back in the garden. It’s plant food. So then we add it back to the garden and as the garden grows, the nutrients come out of the soil into the plant. Add the back in. It’s like the infinity sign and it closes the loop. Imagine if we didn’t have to transport all this organic matter?

[00:02:53] Joe Taylor, Jr.: Now, even Cathy understands her idea is a tough sell. She went from not liking those worms to cultivating her own worm composting process, to teaching other people how to do the same. 

[00:03:05] Cathy Nesbitt: I think that we all are given indications of what our path might be in the future, if we noticed. And I didn’t at the time, I was like, I took it on and then said, Nope, not for me. But then saw, Hey, wait a minute.

So at that group home, I spoke to them about composting and the greenhouse manager said, Hey, why don’t we do worm composting? 

[00:03:26] Joe Taylor, Jr.: And from that point on those red wiggler worms stole Cathy’s heart – and a bunch of her food waste. 

[00:03:33] Cathy Nesbitt: The worms, they eat half their weight in food scraps. They turned garbage into gold. They have five hearts each. And I heard that a pound of worms and their descendants could transform a ton of organic waste in a year. And that the average Canadian city – slash – American produces a ton of organic waste in a year. And I was like, oh, every family needs a pound of worm. I’m just the one to put a pound of worm in their house.

[00:04:01] Joe Taylor, Jr.: So, in 60 seconds or less, how does someone get started with composting? 

[00:04:06] Cathy Nesbitt: If anyone’s familiar with outdoor composting, or composting in general, I’ll just give a quick composting 101 demo. It’s your browns and green. So outside, it would be your leaves, straw clippings, whatever. And then your food waste. You mix that in and you don’t really have to do anything outside.

So indoor- and so this is a great solution for everywhere. And I can talk about other places, but just a container it’s aerobic process, meaning with oxygen. So it doesn’t smell like rotting food, because that rotting smell food is gas. It’s methane. We can’t breathe methane, the worm can’t breathe methane. We need oxygen. So it’s just that the oxygen has been converted to methane. It’s a great science project. 

[00:04:47] Joe Taylor, Jr.: Cathy says her favorite worms aren’t just a fix for overwhelmed landfills. They can also help us battle climate change. 

[00:04:54] Cathy Nesbitt: Managing our food waste is one of the top ways that we can help mitigate climate change. That one simple thing. We all eat. We all have food scraps. We can feed them to rabbits or chickens. And then, but even that poop, like there’s still, like, if we take down, everything gets broken down and then take that broken downness and spread it back on. And then we go grow more nutrient. You know, it’s, that’s beautiful.

I feel incredibly humbled by the work that I’ve done. It’s over 75,000 people have seen my presentation. I’m very animated. I love it when someone’s passionate. It’s so fun watching somebody, whatever it is, you know, just talking about what they love so much. And when it makes a big impact. I have personally diverted several tons from landfill and all of my customers are diverting from landfills. So it has a huge impact. 

It’s a project; people feel good. When we’re growing food we don’t throw it away because we worked hard to grow that tomato or whatever. So we don’t waste it. We’re more likely to use it. So we’re just reducing the impact that we’re having on the planet. And that transmutes to other areas in our life. When we feel good about doing good, then we do wanna do gooder. We wanna do more do gooder things. 

[00:06:18] Joe Taylor, Jr.: That’s professional do-gooder Cathy Nesbitt, the owner of Cathy’s Crawley Composters in Bradford, Ontario. We’ve got links to Cathy’s website, to her TEDx Talk and to all her tips and tricks for composting in our show notes and over on our website at

And you don’t have to just take Cathy’s word for it. Also in our show notes, we’ve got guidance from the United States Environmental Protection Agency about how you can safely start composting at your own home and why it’s important. And the experts there agree if you do it right, it isn’t going to smell bad. All that and more on our website at 

Today’s episode was produced by Nicole Hubbard with help from the entire Podcast Taxi team. I’m Joe Taylor, Jr. 

[00:07:05] Announcer: This has been a Podcast Taxi radio production. 

Support for Search and Replace is provided by Johns and Taylor. User experience specialists, serving media and technology companies that want their websites to work. Learn more about how top performing businesses eliminate barriers between customers and their goals at

Joe Taylor Jr. has produced stories about media, technology, entertainment, and personal finance for over 25 years. His work has been featured on NPR, CNBC, Financial Times Television, and ABC News. After launching one of public radio's first successful digital platforms, Joe helped dozens of client companies launch or migrate their online content libraries. Today, Joe serves as a user experience consultant for a variety of Fortune 500 and Inc. 5000 businesses. Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

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