Sunday, February 26, 2012

Manure Happens

On our farm, manure is a way of life.  Pretty much everything that moves out here (including us) poops.  The horses do the most, but the chickens are really trying hard to do their part.  The dogs lay logs, the cats do their thing, and it's all natural . . .except for the human part.

I've just finished reading a very thought-provoking book called The Humanure Handbook by Joseph Jenkins.  I know, most of you are gagging by now.  WHY?  Why is human poo any different than dog poo, or horse poo, or chicken poo?  When you compost manure from any animal, it returns the nutrients taken from the soil TO the soil.  Heck, people pay big bucks for manure from animals they've never even MET, thousands of miles away.

What about the smell, you're probably thinking.  Well, I'm thinking the same thing.  I just had to wash out a pair of underwear with a pretty hefty skidmark in it.  What did I use to wash it?  DRINKING WATER.  Chew on that for a second.  Every time you sit on a toilet, you're putting your urine and feces into perfectly good DRINKING WATER.  (mind you, drinking water is one of the most priceless resources on the planet.)  Then you flush and it goes to a "treatment plant" that produces anaerobic (read:  unhealthy) sludge that some farmers pour on their fields without composting.  Yep, the food you eat is sometimes fertilized with unprocessed human feces.  I guess it does beat petroleum-based fertilizers, but still . . .we could do better.

Let's start back with composting.  In a thermophilic (heat-loving) compost, the interior gets hot enough to kill not only most bacteria, but most parasites as well (depending on heat and duration), and not produce a stench.  So, not only can you dump your kitchen scraps on your compost pile along with your yard clippings, you can safely compost your pet manure and yours as well. 

Oh stop it.  I hear you gagging again.  So tell me, are you healthy?  Yes?  Do you have worms?  Do your pets have worms?  My guess is no.  Have you suffered from a bout of E. Coli or Salmonella recently?  What about your pets?  Again, I'm thinking no.  Folks, the fact of the matter is that if you add healthy fecal material (regardless of the source) to compost and process it properly, your compost is healthy too.  Granted, managing a compost pile takes a little more than just forking it over now and then, but compared to your taxpayer dollars going to a water treatment facility?  It's cheaper than you ever thought it could be, and you'll be able to support your family on the garden you grow with it.  Then you can start the compost cycle all over again and build up your soil instead of constantly draining it.

Here's an easy "out" for those of you that are still creeped out about human feces and sawdust toilets.  Use chickens to help you process your compost.  What they don't eat, they'll till into the soil and fertilize it for you, plus giving you the most wonderful eggs you've ever seen.  Heck, run some broilers and not only do you have tillers, you'll have MEAT.  That is, unless you're creeped out about killing things too.  Just remember that every time you flush that huge poo down the toilet, you're creating waste somewhere . . .and wasting valuable drinking water as well.  If you're a Vegan, fine.  Ask me about it.

In this current climate of "recycle, reduce, reuse" we all need to think about what kind of impact we're REALLY having on the environment.  Composting NEEDS to happen--do you know how many tons of kitchen scraps fill landfills every day?  We MUST start giving more natural material back to the land and end our dependence on petroleum based "fertilizers" and start reclaiming our food supply.  Come on, I dare ya.  Read the book and comment. 

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