This is a reading comprehension exercise for children. It is written by Susan Fineman, a reading specialist in the New Haven, Conn., school district.
A few times each day, Kay Ihnat grabs a paintbrush, scrapes away the top layer of dirt from a pile and uncovers what looks like a handful of fettuccine in red sauce.
Fettuccine that moves, that is.
Ihnat and her husband, John, keep 2 million red worms in wooden boxes and pickup truck beds in an old dairy barn near the small southwestern Pennsylvania village of Rea.
The red worms -- Lumbricus rubellus to scientists -- are shipped across the country for bait at $10 to $18 a pound and in worm recycling boxes that sell for $35 to $2,289.50. The biggest kits are for schools, where worms are a fun science project.
"Worm farming is the kind of thing you can do in your back yard," Jayson Harper, a farm economics professor at Penn State University, said recently. "It's very low tech -- something even a kid could do."
The kid would have to work pretty hard, however.
It takes about 45 minutes just to get a few pounds of worms out of a shovelful of dirt on a plywood production line. A bright light the worms dislike is aimed at the pile, forcing them down slowly. The top layer of dirt is then swept off, and the process starts over.
It could be a good investment. The Ihnats are about to add their fourth roomful of worm-raising beds to complement the 42 beds they have now. Kay Ihnat said she is thinking about getting a chair instead of a couch for their den so she can have more room to store outgoing worms and worm kits.
The biggest challenge in running a worm farm is marketing, John Ihnat said. The growth area for the worm business is recycling boxes. They come in designer colors and can sit underneath someone's sink.
"Half of the people just don't want worms in their house, and there is nothing you can say to them," said Kay Ihnat, who speaks at schools as the "Worm Lady."
What's yummy for the family dog -- meats and cheeses -- is bad for worms. So are oranges, but not grapefruit, strangely enough. Everything else that will decompose in nature is good -- including newspaper, eggshells and coffee grounds.
True or False?
1. John and Kay Ihnat earn a living by selling worms.
2. Lumbricus rubellus (redworms) are used for bait and in recycling boxes.
3. The Pennsylvania couple produce worm kits that can be bought by schools for fun science projects.
4. Some garbage-eating worms cost as much as $18.
5. Farm economics professor Jayson Harper states that the most successful worm businesses are run by children.
6. Every day Kay Ihnat feeds the redworms handfuls of fettuccine with red sauce.
7. It takes about 45 minutes to uncover a few pounds of worms living within a pile of dirt.
8. When a bright light is directed at a mound of dirt, the small creatures move closer to the top of the pile.
9. The Ihnats store the crawling creatures in 2 million wooden beds in their four-room house.
10. The "Worm Lady" finds that most people want to buy worms that will eat their garbage.
Answer Key: 1. True, 2. True, 3. True, 4. False, 5. False, 6. False, 7. True, 8. False, 9. False, 10. False