The Brainerd Farmers Market returns to Grace Episcopal Church April 2, when local produce farmers will be joined by purveyors of everything from jerky to worms.
Thompson Worm Farm owner Matt Thompson will sell his composting worms and worm "inns" for the nutrient-rich casings they produce.
"It's a very tangible cycle," said Thompson, who operates out of his Standifer Gap-area home.
He said most people don't know who processes their recycled bottles or what those bottles become later. With his system food scraps become worm food, which becomes natural plant food. Then the whole process starts again.
"It's a very closed-loop type of situation," he said.
Thompson said he was lured to the Brainerd Farmers Market this year as a vendor because he can still taste peaches he bought there last year.
"They were amazing. You could tell they had just been picked, at just the right time. It was perfect," he said. "That made me want to come back in and of itself. I could tell it hadn't been shipped from halfway around the world. It's that type of experience that I think makes the connection with people."
Thompson said he began gardening to do something with his worm casings, but many farmers- market patrons already grow their own produce and cook with it. He said recycling those scraps in a worm bin is a step beyond traditional recycling - food waste doesn't breathe and break down properly in landfills, emitting greenhouse gasses.
The good bacteria and microbes his worms produce keep the scraps from stinking up an inside bin, and unlike common, traveling earthworms, Thompson's red wigglers are content to live on top of each other in the bin. They make their way up, eating scraps and leaving their casings behind, and they won't try to escape.
"That's not a pleasant thing by anybody's standards," Thompson said.
He does offer a compost tumbler for people who could never live in harmony with worms.
"There are some people for whom the worm thing has too much of the ick factor," he said.
As a fisherman, an unlimited supply of fat and happy worms at his fingertips is Thompson's idea of a perk. He takes his three children fishing at Harrison Bay State Park, Wolftever Creek and Tennessee Riverpark and travels to classrooms to teach about his worm farms.
His daughter, Katlyn, said having a dad who raises worms at home is "weird and cool" at the same time.
"When I told the kids at school I have, like, 50,000 worms in my backyard they kind of started to freak out," Katlyn said.
Thompson also offers a worm composting workshop, the next of which he'll give at the Crabtree Farms spring plant sale April 16.
Thompson works in the safety and environmental department of a gas pipeline company, so he said waste and compliance with environmental standards are "near and dear to my heart."
One day, he said he may work full time with his worms, but until then he's happy rubbing shoulders when he can with area like-minded people.
Brad Smrcina and his beef, buffalo and turkey jerky will be regulars at the Brainerd Farmers Market.
Smrcina has been making jerky since his mom gave him a food dehydrator for Christmas 15 years ago. He uses only turkey breast and the top round roast cut for his jerky, made at his Eastgate Town Center factory.
"The jerky sells itself," said Smrcina, who gives free samples. "No one is used to eating steak jerky."
Smrcina said the market's good location and friendly atmosphere made him a return vendor to the Brainerd market. He also attends the Saturday Market at the Tennessee Aquarium and the Sunday Chattanooga Market.