Logsdon Shouts “Manure” From The Mountaintops
Contrary Farmer Gene Logsdon’s most-recent title Holy Shit: Managing Manure To Save Mankind (Chelsea Green, 2010) may sound a bit irreverent at first blush, but nothing could be farther from the truth. With characteristic wit and humor, Logsdon draws extensively from his wide and varied background as a farmer, scholar of anthropology and archeology, agricultural journalist and longtime BioCycle contributor to make a solid case for not flushing and forgetting about one of the world’s most precious resources. “Most people, even farmers, do not have really good grasp of the food chain,” says Logsdon, whose book offers chapters on such varied but complementary topics as pitchforks and their proper use, maintaining and operating a small manure spreader, animal husbandry and manure management, recycling grey water for irrigation, and composting cat, dog and human waste.
“Nothing prepared me better for writing this book more than working for BioCycle,” says Logsdon. “Before that, I never thought about waste at all — most of us don’t.” Logsdon says what was initially planned as a small volume on handling barn manure soon took on a life of its own. “I realized all the stuff I learned at BioCycle fits into this book,” he adds. Logsdon, who grew up on a farm, contends that Western civilization is consumed with an unnatural paranoia about excrement and thus goes to great expense and folly to keep it out of site and out of mind. This includes expending an estimated 58,400 gallons of water a year per household to flush it away. Meanwhile, the author points out, synthetic fertilizer costs skyrocket while farms are left devoid of organic material and the beneficial microbiology — or as Logsdon put it, “livestock” — that comes with it.
Logsdon’s historical and personal anecdotes are equal parts entertaining and informative. For instance, the author informs us not far into Chapter 1 that once upon a time in China, “The polite thing to do after enjoying a meal at a friend’s house was to go to the bathroom before you departed. I am not making that up,” he promises. “Manure was treated like a precious gem because it was a precious gem.” When Logsdon reveals over polite dinner party conversation with some “Very Nice People” that he “manures” his garden ever year, the reader can almost hear the gentrified jaw drop.
No subject is taboo for Logsdon including his exploration of applying treated biosolids to agricultural lands. “Humans discharge from their bodies something approaching 50 million tons of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium per year,” he writes. “We’re talking $50 billion a year in biosolids fertilizer that we are mostly throwing away, after spending incalculable amounts of money to do the throwing.”
Whether you keep a couple of backyard chickens, run a small truck patch, operate a dairy or sometimes just get the urge to sit and think deeply about things, you will no doubt find many nuggets of wisdom between the covers of Holy Shit: Managing Manure to Save Mankind.