Microenterprise of the Year

“Worming” your way into a successful small business ss the saying goes, “necessity is the mother of invention” or, in the case of Nancy Ellen Hatch Warner, it’s a worm farm. Nancy, a 77 year old grandmother of four, owns and operates The Worm Ladies of Charlestown, which sell red wiggler worms, their castings, and other supplies to people interested in turning their food scrap into a soil enhancer – in other words, composting. The Worm Ladies also runs workshops and clinics and provides consulting services for individuals and businesses interested in using worms for organic waste management.

How did someone with a master’s degree, working in art education and therapy, end up with a worm farm? In Nancy’s own words, “it was a hobby that got out of hand.” A fiber artist, Nancy raised angora rabbits, whose hair she sheared, spun, wove, and knitted into her creations, which were exhibited locally and in galleries in Maryland and Washington, D.C. These rabbits, however, presented a challenge with how to manage the manure and flies under their cages. An avid gardener, Nancy had come across worm composting and, in the early 1990s, decided to see if it would help. It did. The worms ate the manure, the flies disappeared, and her problem was solved, “showing her how much good the worms did.”
Several years later, after reuniting with a long-lost childhood friend and giving her a bucket of worms for her garden, Nancy decided to turn her hobby into a money-making venture. They began The Worm Ladies. Nancy has since taken over sole operation of the business, along with the help of volunteers and an independent contractor.

Sensing both the educational and entrepreneurial potential of her discovery, Nancy worked with three U.S. Small Business Administration partners to move her business forward. Nine years ago, as a result of attending classes at the Center for Women & Enterprise, Nancy hired a lawyer and incorporated. With the help of a SCORE business counselor with whom she worked for more than 5 years, Nancy completed a business plan that positioned her to obtain a $30,000 microloan from Community Investment Corporation. Nancy also won SCORE’s 2017 American Small Business Championship.

Last year Nancy used that microloan money to buy equipment and expand operations from her backyard into a hoop house at Schartner Farms in North Kingstown. This expansion from a seasonal to a year-round operation ensures an uninterrupted revenue stream and increased production. The Worm Ladies will be selling to schools, nurseries, farmers, growers, and offices, and it will be enriching the soil of a 22 acre farm at a compost training facility being launched on Exeter Road in North Kingstown. Because of this growth, she also hopes to soon hire her first employee, and the help of interns who can earn college credit.
For her demonstrated success and potential for future growth, the U.S. Small Business
Administration is pleased to honor Nancy Hatch Warner, owner of The Worm Ladies of Charlestown, as the 2018 Rhode Island Microenterprise of the Year.

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