OAK HARBOR - When visitors walk into Riverview Industries, Inc., they see a setup much like other work training areas for people with physical and mental disabilities. A man operates a fork-lift in the center of the room, several people stuff envelopes at a table, and one worker assembles piles of cardboard boxes.
But in the rear of the facility, tucked away in an old greenhouse, are about 15,000 dormant night crawlers being raised in the area's only worm farm.
Some of Riverview's 130 employees have spent 11/2 years helping to feed and water the worms, which receive only purified water and are housed in a room where the temperature is kept at 60 to 65 degrees.
Organizers said the Rivervieworm Farm is being viewed primarily as another learning project for clients, many of whom have severe disabilities.
Once the worms begin to multiply, officials said they'll begin marketing them to the bait shops that are plentiful in Ottawa County because of Lake Erie. Currently, the facility provides worms to just one bait shop in Castalia.
“The main thing is, we don't want to deplete ourselves,” said Dale Blount, a spokesman for Riverview Industries. “If we deplete, it would be like starting over.”
Mr. Blount said he and other facility managers built the farm after reading about how to do so in books. He said the start-up cost was minimal.
Maintenance is inexpensive as well because the worms have a diet that consists largely of coffee grounds, leaves, some store-bought worm food, and shredded newspaper.
Tom Welco, a client at Riverview, typically spends his days assembling cardboard kits. But yesterday, he helped two supervisors move the worms for the first time from a small, wooden crate into a larger bin. The worms eventually will go into containers, separating the younger worms from the more mature ones.
Mr. Welco said he enjoyed working with the night crawlers as a change of pace.
Though he fishes in his spare time, Mr. Welco still gets a bit jittery when he has to bait a fishing hook. “I'm not too fond of the worms, but I can do it,” he said.
Jan Meinke, production coordinator at Riverview, said the worm farm has been a good addition to the facility.
She said clients seem to enjoy the work, which includes packaging worms into small containers for use at the bait shop.
“It's therapy, playing in the dirt,” she said.
It has piqued the interest at similar facilities that employ people with disabilities, said Brenda Smith, executive director of Riverview.
She mentioned the worm farm recently at a directors' meeting and received several telephone calls later from people who wanted more information about it.
Riverview, in business for more than 20 years in Ottawa County, is different from most other area facilities because it's a private, nonprofit company that the county doesn't manage.
The facility provides sheltered employment, transitional work, and outside jobs for people with disabilities. Many of its clients eventually leave the facility for full-time jobs.