In the forties, Tacoma fishermen, gardeners, and sporting goods stores didn’t have to look too far for high-quality worms. Western Worms, also called Western Earthworm Hatchery, was the only large-scale worm farm west of the Mississippi, and the only women-owned one at that.
Foster sisters Harriet Kennedy and Lee Mason opened Western Worms for operation in 1941. Together they purchased property on E. 93rd Street for $25 dollars, cleared the land, and built a home. The worm farm would remain in operation until the mid-fifties before becoming an organic fertilizer company. Their farm was known as the home of the “easy earthworm method” because of the worm’s special diet and care.
Kennedy was born in South Dakota, and suffered from polio as a child. Eventually, she moved to Tacoma and became a long-term resident, spending her last days in the city. Before getting into the worm business, Kennedy was an artist, freelance writer, and retired co-owner of a potting mix company. She attended the Fern Hill United Methodist Church and was an active member of the community. A few of her memberships included Tacoma Organic Garden Club, Larchmont Senior Citizen Club, and Pierce County Republican Women’s Club.
Less is known about Mason. For several years, she worked as a physical therapist in San Francisco, did some singing with local radio stations in Tacoma, and worked as a writer with a local paper. She and Kennedy bonded over their shared interests including organic gardening which would eventually lead them into the worm business.
“We found that the more we went into gardening, the more worms entered the picture, and we decided to go into worm production. The worms make the soil healthy, and better crops result, the more nutritious foods are grown,” Lee said.
At one point, Western Worms was estimated to be home to several million worms. The worms were sold at two dozen for forty cents or five hundred worms for ten dollars. While Western Worms was the place to go for anyone looking for quality worms, Kennedy and Mason said gardeners were their favorite customers.
“When we sell worms to gardeners, we know they’ll have a chance to do some really constructive work,” said Kennedy in an article from the Tacoma Times, 1947.
“Worms are nature’s plow,” Mason had added.
While Western Worms eventually closed, there’s something to say about two women with an entrepreneurial spirit who were willing to get their hands dirty, and then some.
Photos courtesy of Tacoma Public Library’s Northwest Room.