(wk. of Oct 24-30, 16)
“It's not necessary to raise worms, but this is the avenue God has given me to do what I need to do.”
Loving God, raising worms
For ‘Uncle Jim' Shaw, raising European night crawlers and red wigglers is no small calling
J.C. Derrick, World Magazine
Drive through southern Pennsylvania reveals sprawling farmland that never seems to end: Rolling hills give way to breathtaking views of cornfields, orchards, and vineyards speckled with barns, silos, and farmhouses featuring carefully manicured lawns.
Take a turn down a private lane, and you'll find tucked under a grove of trees a more unusual agriculture operation: Uncle Jim's Worm Farm. On this 13-acre plot Jim and Patricia Shaw have raised eight children and millions of worms—all for the glory of God.
“I enjoy what I do, and I thank God,” said Shaw, a 6-foot-6, 268-pound former college football player, as we sat in his laboratory. “It's not necessary to raise worms, but this is the avenue God has given me to do what I need to do.”
You might call Jim Shaw the Phil Robertson of vermiculture. Shaw doesn't have a hit TV show, but he's got a flowing beard, big family, and booming business to rival the Duck Dynasty patriarch, with the personality and Christian faith to match.
Shaw, 56, started selling worms on his father's suggestion to make extra money in grade school more than four decades ago. He went on to graduate from Colgate University, where he played football, but he continued raising worms even after he married, became a father, and worked in the trucking industry.
The early years featured endless tinkering with the best recipes, feeding methods, and growing temperatures to promote worm health and reproduction. It was backbreaking work, especially since he started with only a pitchfork and a shovel: “To get a pound of worms you probably have to go through 200 pounds of soil. During those days it was just chronic shoveling, sifting, shoveling, and maneuvering.”
The business expanded with the advent of the internet, but it remained a part-time enterprise until 2008, when Shaw—who professed faith in Christ in 1987—says an extraordinary thing happened.
‘I almost fell over—it was like God's word just came over me and said, “I'm going to take this silly business [of] raising worms, and I'm going to promote you.”'
One morning he woke up at 2 o'clock with an urge to read his Bible. He flipped to Psalm 75 , which says not to self-promote, because promotion comes from God. For a few minutes Shaw resisted the urge to look up the word promotion, thinking he knew what it meant. When he finally dug out his Strong's Concordance, he made a surprising discovery: The last definition of the Hebrew word translated promotion is “ breed worms .”
“I almost fell over—it was like God's word just came over me and said, ‘I'm going to take this silly business [of] raising worms, and I'm going to promote you,'” Shaw said. “When the Lord does a miracle and shows me things, I don't just yawn and say, ‘Pass the pizza.'”
Uncle Jim's Worm Farm has since become a vermiculture juggernaut—likely the largest such operation in the country. It includes two farms supporting the Shaws, several of their adult children (including 13 grandchildren), and a half-dozen part-time workers.
STEP INSIDE SHAW'S LAB , and you'll find a detail-oriented operation clearly decades in the making. Hundreds of halved, open-faced 55-gallon drums line the walls from floor to ceiling. The contents look like dirt, but Shaw plunges his hands downward to reveal each one contains 20,000 to 30,000 worms.
The quiet, temperature-controlled building is well-lit. Two tiny strands of Christmas lights hang above each layer of blue drums—just enough to deter the worms (their thin membrane leaves them very sensitive to light). Shaw has generators to back up the power after past outages sent millions of European night crawlers and Eisenia fetida red worms slithering all over the place: “It's a real nightmare.”
A large rat scampered along the wall as Shaw talked. “Ya know, I don't like those rats,” he said, calling it a “constant tug of war” to keep them from eating his worms. “Sometimes they look like they're the size of raccoons.”
Shaw hoisted a drum over his shoulder, carried it to an empty wheelbarrow, and plopped it down near a long, round tumbler. He flipped a switch and the tumbler—an apparatus 16 feet long and 3 feet in diameter—hummed to life while he began dumping in large scoops from the barrel.
The tumbler acts as a sifter: As it spins, gaps in the screening grow progressively larger along the length of the tumbler, so the soil first trickles below to plastic containers, eggs and baby worms trickle into subsequent containers, and the adult wigglers gather into a mound of spaghetti at the end. Within six minutes, the process separates from the worms some 90 percent of the soil—nutrient-rich material that organic gardeners prize and Shaw sells separately: “I call it black gold. The educated type call it worm castings.”
Shaw scrapes away the remaining soil to create bags of pure, bug-free worms (manure is not involved). His shipping methods—which help ensure his worms arrive alive—are one of several trade secrets he cites as competitive advantages. His competitors know it: They've tried to sneak onto Shaw's property to record his methods, and one hacked his website.
Worms can live several years, but Shaw generally maintains a two- to three-month turnover rate. He mostly caters to gardeners and likens pricing to the stock market: lower when supply is up, and higher when supply is down.
Shaw says he's reaped significant financial benefit from the business only in the last few years, and he's used the increase to spread the gospel. He records the sermons he preaches at the house church in which his family participates, and pays some $100,000 per year to air them five days per week on 20 area radio stations—all of it paid for with worm proceeds.
“My friends can't believe it,” Patricia said as we stood in the kitchen of the Shaws' 18th-century farmhouse.
The business has produced more than financial rewards. Patricia said it has built camaraderie within the family, and the property is always bustling with activity. The Shaws homeschooled their three sons (the girls homeschooled and later went to public school), an arrangement that gave them more time to work on the farm.
The boys lifted, hauled, and dug their way to becoming football linemen: All grew nearly as tall as their father and featured playing weights around 300 pounds. The oldest two, Jimmy and John, started for the Penn State Nittany Lions, and 21-year-old David currently plays for the Maryland Terrapins.
Shaw thoroughly enjoys the many benefits of his low-stress job. He's stayed in touch with many of his college friends, who are now in banking and other white-collar jobs: “They're actually jealous of me.?… They see me laughing and smiling, and I see them losing their hair.”
He said the key is working for a higher purpose: “I don't care whether you're a dry-waller, a garbage-picker, [or] a greeter at Walmart—I don't care who you are—you do it for the glory of God. He is no respecter of people.”
“I hope men will push back against this anti-male tide...”
The war on men
College students discuss the ‘harmful' effects of masculinity
La Shawn Barber, World Magazine
Imagine that a group of students at a college wrote this to advertise an event:
“Femininity can be extremely toxic to our mental health, both to the people who are pressured to perform it and the people who are inevitably influenced by it. We would like to encourage discussion on how to openly talk about our emotions and our wellbeing, and how to engage in feminine identities in a healthy way. Relevant to this discussion is how femininity can harm our relationships with people and one's ability to cope when relationships are difficult or end. We want to create a safe and open space where we can talk about femininity and its various intersections with our identities and experiences.”
How do you think the general student body and leftists outside the school would react? You'd see the word “misogyny” tossed around. You'd hear dire warnings about the “war on women.” Replace the word “femininity” with “masculinity” and you have an actual gathering of students at the Claremont Colleges in California who discussed why men being men is a bad thing.
One student described the group as mostly women (surprise!). Another student said there was a “common consensus” at the event that masculinity “is harmful both to those who express it and those affected by it.” What harm are they referring to, exactly?
We all know, even feminists, that men are, for the most part, stronger than women. Generally, they take more risks, speak less, and are less emotional. Men and women have observable physical and behavioral differences. Despite the feminist line, men are the builders and providers. And thank God for all those differences. These aren't societal constructs—they are based in biology, and they complement and compensate for the physical and mental aspects of women.
Every man, woman, and child is a sinner. There is nothing inherently “toxic” about masculinity or femininity. We sinners sometimes use these distinctions to our advantage for evil and for good. Despite the transgender nonsense, people know—they know —that we remain the sex assigned to us, no matter how much secularists and leftists lobby the government to penalize us for having the nerve to contradict them.
A man's masculine characteristics are God's design for His male creatures.
A man's masculine characteristics are God's design for His male creatures. God made two sexes for different roles and functions in the world and in relationships. And the marital relationship reflects Christ's relationship with His church. A husband, the head of his family, is to love his wife as Christ loves His church. That is a powerful parallel that stresses how important these roles are and how much we rely on Christ to love as He loves. But a husband, like his wife, is a sinner and can abuse his authority. Our desperately wicked hearts are the problem, not God's created order.
I hope men will push back against this anti-male tide, just as Christians have to push back against our diminishing freedom to live as Christians in all aspects of our lives.
“....a thought flashed in my mind: The doctor was in worse shape than I was.”
A small-town kid on campus
Studying life at the liberal University of Texas of the 1960s
John R. Erickson, World Magazine
Pigeons and rats
My first year at the University of Texas wasn't fun or easy. I had always been a slow reader and a lazy student, and I spent most of my first semester in cold fear that I was going to flunk Spanish and algebra. It didn't help that UT was an enormous, impersonal campus with a student population more than 10 times the size of my hometown.
That first semester, I had little social life. After class, I went to Batts Hall, checked out tapes in the language lab, and spent hours listening to Spanish conversations. When the lab closed at 10 o'clock, I walked back to my dingy little apartment to resume my war with algebra, or to read bleak short stories for my course in American literature.
I had tried dating, but it hadn't gone well. Surely, in a student population of 40,000, there must have been a few young ladies who weren't odd, but I hadn't found them. In 1963, oddness seemed epidemic in the College of Arts and Sciences, maybe even a requirement. (This was decades before anyone had heard the cry “Keep Austin Weird!”)
About halfway through the semester, I awoke to the fact that I was unhappy, not a normal condition for me. I had heard that the Student Health Center kept psychologists on staff, so I made an appointment with one of them.
At my first session, the doctor tapped his pencil, stared at me for an hour, and said nothing. The most obvious and helpful advice he might have given (“Why don't you join a church and meet some people?”), he didn't offer.
He expected me to talk, so I talked. I was a small-town kid, adrift in a huge university, living in fear of failing two courses and needing some female companionship—all of which I had known without any help from him.
This pattern persisted through five sessions, and I began to realize he was never going to say anything. At that point, a thought flashed in my mind: The doctor was in worse shape than I was..
I stopped going to counseling and didn't set foot in the Student Health Center until a month later, when, early one Sunday morning, I had to deliver a friend to the emergency room. Like me, he was a small-town guy and was having his own kind of girl problems. He had found a girlfriend, but they had just broken up, and Bill had tried to drown himself in a bottle of gin.
He almost succeeded. Bill had been raised Southern Baptist and had never spent any time thinking about the chemical properties of a Tom Collins. All he knew was it tasted good and helped numb the ache of his broken heart.
As I was lugging him into the emergency room, he muttered something I couldn't hear. I asked him to repeat it.
“I'm suppose to sing a solo at University Baptist Church.”
“This morning? The 11 o'clock service?”
He nodded. I began to wonder if that was going to happen.
At 9 o'clock, his eyes were crooked and his chin rested on the rim of a Health Center commode. At 10, he was stretched out on a gurney, ash-faced and clammy of skin, wondering why nobody back in Louisiana had told him that, when taken in large quantities, gin is a toxic substance.
The nurse gave him a shot of something (not gin) and sent him home. He missed the service, and I doubt that church officials ever heard the real story. And he didn't get his girlfriend back.
Bill and I didn't have much luck at the Student Health Center, but it occurred to me that a course in psychology might give me some valuable insights. Perhaps a young blade's best hope of finding a girl at this huge place was to broaden his understanding of human behavior.
I enrolled in a course that sounded promising: Introduction to Psychology. The professor was a delightful man: alert, intelligent, cynical, and funny. I enjoyed his lectures, and if I had been dating pigeons or white rats, I might have put his knowledge to good use.
To my amazement, he had nothing to say about human beings, only rodents and birds, and how they responded to food pellets and electrical shocks.
So I trudged on with my university career. The years passed. Then, in the middle of my senior year, I met Kris. She just showed up, like wildflowers after a spring rain, and she wasn't odd, angry, or unhappy. I found her without counseling, food pellets, or gin, and she was such a delight, I married her.
That was 49 years ago, and it must be true: God really does look after country boys and fools. I hope things turned out as well for Bill.
Website design by Digital Edge LLC