MSU Student Housing Cooperative

The Michigan State University Student Housing Cooperative (MSU SHC) is a non-profit organization providing a low-cost housing option for students at MSU and surrounding schools. There are more than 200 members in 15 houses across the East Lansing area. Houses vary from five to 29 members, each with their own character and history. 

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Howland co-op welcomes 5,000 new housemates to help them save the earth

While 5,000 new roommates sounds a little cramped, these new additions to Howland co-op  take up less than a cubic meter of space. They are low maintenance—don’t increase their food costs, don't add to the water bill, don't use any gas or electric. They get by just fine eating their housemates leftovers. They are 5,000 red wiggler worms, and this is vermicomposting.

The red wiggler worm via Kerra Whitmill

The red wiggler worm via Kerra Whitmill

    There are a lot of problems one might face with general composting. It can be stinky, fly-infested, rotting and a lot of other generally bad characteristics when it’s not maintained properly. Howland was no exception, and they turned to the alternative of vermicomposting to solve their problems. 

Benefits of vermicomposting include:

1. no rotting food
2. no flies or other insects
3. no odor
4. generates rich soil
5. prevents methane gas from entering the atmosphere

Allison Montambeau, Environmental Studies and Sustainability junior and Howland resident, learned about vermicomposting during her freshmen year as part of the Residential Initiative on the Study of the Environment (RISE) program. Residing in Bailey Hall in Brody neighborhood, students engaged in sustainable practices and worked on the Bailey Greenhouse urban farm.

Bailey Greenhouse and Urban Farm via Kelsey Allan

Bailey Greenhouse and Urban Farm via Kelsey Allan

Rooms had a regular compost bin, which was an innovation to dorm life that Fall of 2012 semester. Then, a few students in particular kept their own "worm bins" inside their dorms after a workshop with RISE. This was a convenient and sanitary way to compost in the small space of a dorm, and the enriched soil that is generated through the worms' digestive tracts was a great resource for the greenhouse. It also reduces the amount of methane gas released into the environment when it decomposes in landfills, which is twenty times more harmful to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. 

"All you need to get started is a plastic bin, newspaper, a drill and some worms," says Montambeau. At the beginning of Fall 2014 semester, Howland only had less than 1,000 worms. Their population has increased to 5,000, allowing for more consumption and eventually more soil. 

"I'm excited to use this nutrient-rich soil in our gardens in a few months," she says.

Worm bin at Howland House via Kerra Whitmill

Worm bin at Howland House via Kerra Whitmill

MSU SHC has talked about putting on a vermicomposting workshop of its own. For details on how to start your own bin, visit this website or stop by Howland.