Urban Worm Interview Series: Patrick Cartwright

I have a soft spot for serial entrepreneurs like Patrick Cartwright.  They’re restless, never content with a 9-to-5 gig, and choose to forego security to pave their own path.  As owner of Red Worms Express in Owego, NY, Patrick has established himself – and rather quickly – as an honest broker and reliable supplier of 5 species of earthworms and a slew of organic gardening products.

 

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Patrick Cartwright Owner, Red Worms Express and like, 30 other businesses

The “honest” part is key.  Earthworm farming in particular has been plagued by unscrupulous buyback schemes that promise quick success and fly-by-night scam artists who are more than happy to take money for product never delivered.

But Patrick’s efforts are helping restore the industry’s reputation as a place for ethical business practices while managing to achieve a profit, which is much more difficult than it appears on the surface.

He was gracious enough to field a few questions from me about his background, his businesses, and his advice to newbies!

The Man And His Business

UWC: Patrick, if I’ve got this right, you’re a realtor, a local politician, an emergency medical technician, AND owner of Red Worms Express.  Anything else you’d like to reveal? 🙂

PC: I am a “wearer of many hats.” I own and operate Red Worms Express and Pat’s Pilot Car & Escortred-worms-express-logo-urban-worm Service, and am also a realtor with Century 21.  I’m a New York State Notary Public/Signing Agent,  a volunteer EMT, and I’m involved in the local political arena.  I’m also an independent business owner with Amsoil Synthetic Oils, Young Living Essential Oils, and Plexus Worldwide.

I am married to my lovely wife Valerie and we have 3 children.

UWC: How did you get into vermicomposting and vermiculture?

PC: In 2011, after researching organic gardening methods, we were introduced to vermicomposting, the art of using worms to break down organic matter. It seemed like a perfect idea, so we tried it.

We now have a very active vermicomposting operation at both our home and our commercial facility. We pick up organic materials from several locations, including local eateries, schools, and farms to feed our stock of worms.

We feed a lot of coffee grounds from several local coffee bars, “waste” soybean hulls and products from the local feed mill, and all the pumpkins we can get from the area pumpkin farms.

UWC: You appear to have cracked the code on raising African Nightcrawlers, which has to be a challenge in upstate New York where you’ve got some pretty nasty winters.  Is it safe to assume you do this inside?

PC: All of our facilities are inside, climate controlled, with strict bio-security protocols in place to prevent cross breeding/contamination. The heating makes this VERY high cost.

(UWC Comment: I can attest to Patrick’s reputation for delivering as advertised. If there’s one thing I’ve heard about Red Worms Express, it’s that if you order European Nightcrawlers, you’re going to get European Nightcrawlers.)

UWC: African Nightcrawlers are at such a premium price right now that I would imagine you have some strict “regular” security protocols in place to prevent theft?

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320 square feet of grow bins for RWE’s red wigglers.

PC: Absolutely!  Our facilities are equipped with monitored alarm systems, deadbolt locks, and professional highest quality CCTV system.

UWC: Any tips you’d care to share about raising ANCs?

PC: ANC are very tricky and require a lot trial and error. The biggest issue we found was the need for constant temperature.

UWC: You’re a very busy guy and it sounds like you’re gone from home quite a bit.  Do you ever have to use drop shippers* to fulfill orders?

*Drop shipping is an arrangement where an order is fulfilled by a 3rd-party vendor, with or without the knowledge of the customer.

PC: We drop ship the worm bins that we sell.  We also dropship Canadian Nightcrawlers that are… hand-picked in Canada!  There are times when we are overwhelmed with orders when we may have to drop ship. That said, we have a partner farm that has the same strict bio-security that we use, and have pure stock of our worms that we purchase back and they drop ship.  This is a confidential agreement with that farm for security reasons.

UWC: It sounds like things are going well.  Can you give sales growth numbers year over year?

PC: We experienced 50% growth in 2015 and are on track for 80% growth in 2016.

Social Media Efforts

UWC: In 2011, you started the Vermicomposting – Worm Farming Facebook group and it’s been a huge help to all of us.  To my knowledge, this is the largest worm-related Facebook Group out there at over 14,400 members.

What motivated you to do this? 

PC: There were no groups on Facebook that were open to the public and active.  The groups I joined were inactive or my request to join was ignored, so I started my own!

I am shocked at how fast this group has grown.

UWC: Do you feel this has added to Red Worms Express in terms of sales or at least traffic to the site?

Or are the two kind of separate?

PC: I keep them separate as much as I can, to help keep things fair and honest. It has helped in a limited way as my total sales numbers from the group account for about 8% of total revenue.

The Future of Vermicomposting

UWC: I may be saying this because I’m an enthusiast, but I feel that as organic gardening techniques gain popularity, vermicomposting is going to become more mainstream as well.

Do you feel this is already happening?

PC: It is happening!!!  The shift is HUGE!  Preppers, gardeners, survivalists,  and regular families all are starting to vermicompost.  A recent local presentation drew in over a dozen folks who all were interested and got started immediately that night with orders.

UWC: Vermicomposting is not new, but the US has been slow to adopt it.  So why do you think it has finally taken a foothold in the US?

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Patrick’s worm castings separator

PC: I think that the clean living movement has helped spread the word on vermicomposting. The need for organic material for better food production steers folks to worms.

Answers for the Beginning Vermicomposter

UWC: What are the top 3 mistakes beginning vermicomposters make?

PC: 

  1. Going with the cheapest vendor thinking they are getting a great deal.
  2. Not leaving their worms alone and always getting into their bin.
  3. Thinking that their small order of worms they purchased for next to nothing are going to compost a ton right off the bat.

UWC: If someone were just starting out, what kind of bin would you recommend?

PC: The Worm Inn Mega hands down is the best worm bin on the market. (UWC Note: Here is a link to purchase the Worm Inn Mega from Patrick.)

(UWC Comment: I agree it’s the best for almost everyone. The Worm Inn Mega’s secret is its exposure to oxygen on all sides. But I have heard from a couple sources that in arid climates like Arizona, it is difficult to keep it moist enough.)

UWC: What advice would you have for anyone who wants to start their own vermicomposting or vermiculture business?

PC: Research, read, learn, and start small! There is NO fast money.  This takes time, space, and commitment.   You need to read, read, read, learn and then raise worms successfully.

Don’t expect to make a ton of money, or expect it to be easy right off the bat. Focus on one product and build that product before moving to the next.

And join the Worm Farming Alliance.

UWC: I agree! 🙂

Wrapping It Up and the Entrepreneurial View

Just like Mary Ann Smith and Heather Rinaldi, Patrick Cartwright of Red Worms Express started his business as an outgrowth of a worthwhile hobby.  And in pursuit of his own knowledge, he took the initiative to start the tremendously helpful Vermicomposting – Worm Farming Facebook group to connect newbies, experts, and the vermi-curious.

Indulge me in a little observation about the intersection of a cause and capitalism.  I suspect that Patrick would not have started Red Worms Express, the Facebook group, or any of his other business if they weren’t good for him financially.  While causes, movements, labors of love, or just plain ole’ hobbies don’t have to make money, businesses do.

This is a good thing!

It doesn’t matter whether you’re into vermiculture and vermicomposting to help Mother Earth, reduce the waste stream, or avoid using products from large agribusinesses, you benefit from Patrick’s entrepreneurialism in starting both Red Worms Express and the knowledge gained from his Facebook group.

He is promoting sustainability in a way that is sustainable financially.  And we are all better for it!

Many thanks to Patrick Cartwright for giving us all a venue in which to learn and for growing a business that continues to be the gold standard in ethical business practice!


If you would like to learn more about the business from guys like Patrick, David Murphy, Heather Rinaldi, Paul Piccirillo, or George Mingin, please consider joining Bentley Christie’s Worm Farming Alliance!  This is hands down the friendliest group of experts you’ll find anywhere.

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