City dwellers visiting working farms are often overpowered by the sights and sounds generated by the sheer volume of muck involved when humans and livestock live in close proximity to each other. So if the thought of picking up after your dog makes you feel squeamish, then this book might not be the book for you. If not, read on.
The provocatively titled "Holy Sh*t: Managing Manure to Mankind" may be the number one book on the number two business. It is told from the perspective of an author who’s spent much of his professional life covering farm-related issues for the likes of Rodale Press and Farm Journal.
In the era of “Peak Oil,” author Gene Logsdon provides the lowdown on poop with a healthy does of barnyard humor. Going by the moniker “The Contrary Farmer,” Logsdon contends that manure is a precious resource too valuable to waste when the true cost of industrial farming and the toll it takes on rural farm communities is taken into account.
The prospect of rising prices for synthetic fertilizers and dwindling resources ought to be a compelling reason for changing farming practices in the Unites States. The food system, Logsdon argues, is too reliant on cheap and readily available supplies of energy-intensive manufactured fertilizers to be sustainable long-term.
His thesis: The future lies in manure and plenty of it. As one might expect, Logsdon dedicates much of this book to all manner of fecal material, both animal and human. He enumerates, chapter by chapter, the benefits and liabilities of various kinds of excrement in sufficient detail to raise the roof on Congress.
Subtitled “Managing Manure to Save Mankind,” he posits that sound manure management is tied to humane animal husbandry. The diligent care and housing of livestock is critical. Logsdon gives DIY instruction on bedding material, shed design and diet to ensure livestock stay content and healthy.
Focused as he is on sustainability, it should come as no surprise that Logsdon saves much of his ire for factory farming and feedlots. Penning animals in tightly confined spaces and sequestering acres of crap in large ponds leads to fouled watersheds and degraded farm communities, he argues.
Nor does he avoid the cruddy realities of farm life. Too much emphasis, he argues, is placed on consumption to consider the earthier aspects of food production. A fair amount of what we might call filth is essential to sustainable farming.
The organic food movement’s admonitions on sludge may also be misplaced when it comes to growing crops and raising animals destined for the nation’s table, since many of the calls for overhauling the food system, he contends, overlook the basic fact that the nitrogen cycle is just as important to life as the carbon cycle. Without death, corruption and decay, rebirth and revival would not be possible.
One of the impediments toward using more manure in crop production is the prevailing attitude toward waste. Crap is to be isolated, contained or flushed. Logsdon considers such behavior as irrational at best, if not a moral lapse in the allocation of resources.
So why should people care? Living, active soil relies on microbial activity that requires abundant nutrients in order to be productive. Although not completely understood, plant growth relies on a complex set of interactions between root ball systems and thousands of microorganisms working furiously just beneath the surface. Composted manure, as every avid gardener knows, is magic.
Logsdon understands that when it comes to dirt, it’s the little things that really matter: “Our most important livestock, in fact, are invisible to the naked eye.” In a world of grand design and elaborate prescriptions to solve major issues, such as food security, “Holy Sh*t” reveals the answers may lie squished beneath our feet.
MNN homepage photo: kwerfeldein/Flickr