Human Manure Shops Are A Hot Business In North Korea


From GENE LOGSDON

Remember last week when I said that everywhere I turn these days I seem to run into manure?  It keeps on happening. The latest example comes from  www.minyanville.com, which is a serious financial and business website, no gaming around here with male bovine excretory droppings. A story by Justin Rohrlick on Dec. 29 reports that Kim Young-soo at Seoul’s Sogang University in South Korea has been interviewing recent defectors from North Korea. One of the questions he asks them is about the hottest new consumer products in their country. Among several commodities at the top of the North Korean want list is human excrement, available at “human manure shops.”  Now this is not April 1, even in Korea, and that is just too far out to be made up. Human manure shops (I can imagine what I call them) are in fact quite logical. Fertilizer is in short supply in North Korea where people are starving in alarming numbers, and survival means saving every scrap of crap possible to make food plants grow better and faster. Entrepreneurs (rhymes with manures) have turned the human excretory process into what amounts to cash and carry public toilets. The story is not clear as to  just how the transactions are made— too delicate for polite conversation, I presume— but I suppose that for a fee you can take home your latest contribution to the environment and for maybe a little bit more, take home the contributions of other people not into farming or gardening.

As I said in my book on this topic, this would all have made perfect sense to F.H. King, whose remarkable 1911 book, Farmers of Forty Centuries, goes into great detail about how Asians at that time produced more food per acre than we do now with all our modern and very expensive fertilizers except maybe on our best raised beds. Manure, animal and human, was their main fertilizer. Chinese farmers had to lock and guard their vats of manure to keep it from being stolen. The polite thing to do after dining at a friend’s house was to go to the bathroom before you left. Manure was money in the bank. Actually a lot better than money in the bank. If you composted all the paper money that the Bank of America generates in a year it would not make as much good compost as what comes from my chicken coop in that amount of time.

But there’s good news. I had a call from Clint Elston, who heads up the Equaris Corporation in Minnesota last week. He had just read Holy Shit and wanted to fill me in on the exciting things happening out on the frontiers of manure science (www.equaris.com). Apparently my concerns about managing human manure from American bathrooms are not as serious as I had thought. I don’t want to steal Mr. Elson’s thunder, but his company is making very striking progress in reducing wastewater and wastewater hazards from the household bathroom. There are ways to handle flush toilet fertilizer safely, including all the non-excretory crap that people want to throw down the toilet. Actually, as Mr. Elston pointed out, the bigger challenge is not the stuff emptied out of the medicine cabinet but the stuff emptied out of the human colon that came from the medicine cabinet, and he has methods to solve that.

So there is hope. Especially in recycling urine which is richer in plant nutrients than feces. If we separate the two at the source, in the bathroom, the reduction in waste and waste cost is significant and not too difficult. What a crazy sentence. THERE IS HOPE IN URINE!  How I never thought I’d ever write that sentence.  Meanwhile, I just found a statistic in the Equaris Corporation information that was new to me. Of the water on earth, 97% is salt water and 2% is frozen glaciers. We have 1% of the water on earth to play with.
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23 Comments

Bill, Joe Jenkins (and his publisher) is extraordinarily generous in making his book available, but I would encourage people to pay for a printed copy, or contribute for the download copy, to help support Joe in this important work: http://humanurehandbook.com/store/THE-HUMANURE-HANDBOOK.html

Just a head-up folks. The entire text of Jenkins, Humanure Handbook (2nd Edition) is available online for free at: http://www.weblife.org/humanure/

I read Holy Shit a month ago and I really enjoyed it. I will have a hard time adapting those ideas to my current operations. I keep 30 animals on pasture year round . I feed out all winter long and try to spread the manure that way. I do haul manure in and compost it for a year and then spread it on my hayfields. I also have a few folks that send me dump truck loads from their places. I do most of my spreading with draft horses. One of my hayfields has very poor soil and has really improved with the manure.Years ago the city would come out and spray a sewage sludge on your hayfields for free and it seemed to work very well.They no longer do this . If I could feed out on my hayfields ,I would have no fertility problems but there is no water or a way to keep it unfrozen. I live at 7300 ft in Colorado so I have snow on the ground from Oct to May

Hi Gene,
Here’s a humanure link for you. http://www.new-ag.info/developments/devItem.php?a=588 It is a disappointment to me that the organic community has rejected J.I. Rodale’s interest in this important source of nutrients.

Thanks again Mr. Logsdon for a fascinating read. I’ve just finished “The last of the Husbandmen” and I was about to dive into “Lords of Folly”. But after reading this I’m going to dive head first into “Holy Shit”.

Beth,
Like you, I’ve done some reading and thinking about terra preta and have come to the conclusion that the char is a sponge for the innumerable good things in soil – nutrients, water and lots of surface area for mycorrhizae. Unlike you, I haven’t been able to set up a good experiment with char.

One piece of advice that I’ve found is that the char needs to be pre-loaded (i.e. mixed in with compost during composting) or it will suck nutrients out of the soil for a year or two. Another is that char particles should be in the 1-3 mm (1/16″ – 1/8″) chunks. Also, char created at a lower, uneven temperature seems to work better because there is a larger variety of surfaces and chemicals still in the char than char created at high temperatures.

Lastly – I’ve wondered about how to get char into the soil on a widespread basis. Most of the carbon that builds the cellulose in plants comes from the air and, if this carbon is put into the soil as char – it stays there for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Since creating char also creates heat – that heat can be used for multiple things. So – heat and improved soil fertility can help farmers. As a final inducement, I’m thinking that a government program, similar to CRP, could pay for carbon (as char) that gets turned into the soil. I know that, as a taxpayer, I would support such a program – as long as it wasn’t turned into something industrial farms could abuse.

    Eric, thanks for the information–that’s what I love about the readers on Gene’s blog, they’re always willing to help each other out. Sadly, while your idea for the carbon program sounds intriguing, I bet the industrial farmers would snap it up in a minute.

There is a type of composting toilet made for marine use that keeps urine separate from the rest. It’s called the “Air Head Dry Toilet”, and is manufactured in Mt. Vernon, Ohio. I’ve used it, and it works very well. Solid ‘manure’ moisture is controlled by a small application of peat moss after every use.

Sal, not to steal Gene’s thunder here, but for the humanure perspective, see Joe Jenkin’s “Humanure Handbook.”

This is a practical book full of wit… and words that rhyme… lots of information to assuage squeamishness and fears of disease.

We just got a load of mill slabs, a load of sawdust, and a half-dozen buckets, and are planning a half-dozen indoor and outdoor sawdust toilets and a composting facility. Between residents, interns, visitors, and education events, we have some 3,000 person-days worth of “nutrient contributions” to harvest here!

Forgot. Sal, yes I talk about human manure in my book, but my main focus is on animal manure. For the real nitty gritty how to on human manure I recommend two books Humanure and the other Toilet Papers. Gene

You all have me laughing all over the place. urine the money now, pious piss, jet poop. Yes, Beth 1491 is a fascinating book one of my recent favorites. Jan Steinman, I am embarrassed in that I have never looked at Facebook. The publisher put me on. I would have to ask eomeone how to get on, that’s how neanderthal I am.
Russ, thank you for asking and I thank you for giving me an excuse to mention Pope Mary. The novel is out now and yes I will be at OEFFA on Saturday Feb. 19 to sell and sign it and talk with all of you all day. I will be writing a post or two one of these days about “Pope Mary and the Church of Almighty Good Food.” Hopefully I won’t piss too many people off with it and if so that it will be Pious Piss. Gene

I think I detect the possibility of a sequel – “Pious Piss” perhaps? Speaking of book titles, is Pope Mary going to be available to meet at the OEFFA book signing. We are registered for Saturday and look forward to seeing you and Carol there.

Gene, I am looking forward to reading “Holy Shit”, and I am hoping that you talk about how to use human manure in your book. I am admittedly a bit squeamish about using it on food crops, even though I have read “Farmers of Forty Centuries”. Urine, no problem. I dilute it with water for great results. I think, though, I will read your book before I empty out my outhouse….

great stuff! i totally laughed… and i was gonna say.. golly the Farmers of 40 Centuries were way ahead of their time.. but you already knew that.

I just read another blogger’s interesting thoughts on using urine as a fertiliser over here:

http://waldeneffect.org/blog/What_is_in_urine__63__/

Something’s got everyone thinking about it!

Gene,

The stuff is showing up everywhere these days–even in the friendly skies. Not long ago a friend was over w/ her youngest. As we were kibitzing about goats and sheep and rain and the price of whatever, the boy butted in with a rather demanding “Look, mom”. He had his young face and finger pointed skyward, but I saw nothing more than the contrail of a passing aircraft. “What is that, Luke?” his mom inquired. “JET POOP”. My notion of lacy, wispy, even artistic streaks through the sky were of course dashed by this child of less than 10 years. But I had to admit it. Maybe you couldn’t compost it and put it on the tomatoes, but that stuff was shit. Yessiree, that was REAL SHIT. Not manure, but the kind of shit you take pains not to step in.

…now if I can only get the wife to let me break ground on that new Thunderbox.

Gene–I’ve been reading your work for 30 years. Once again you’ve taught me something and made me laugh. Thank you so much!

How did we get so far away from the basic biological processes of life? It’s not just manure–human and otherwise–but death, regeneration and (dare I say?) sex. I’ve just been reading a fascinating book: “1491” by Charles Mann, about the Americas before Columbus. While the whole book is a great read and I learned a lot, one thing really caught my attention. Seems people living in Amazonia thousands of years ago discovered that by mixing charcoal into their gardens, it improved fertility to the point that some of the soils, dubbed terra preta, are still extremely fertile after literally thousands of years of cultivation. I’m sure they used other sources of fertility, including their own excrement, but the charcoal was the critical component. In experiments after discovering this situation, researchers found an increase of over 800% fertility! I’m going to try it in some test plots and I’ll let you know what happens. My point is that by paying close attention to what was going on in their environments–all of the interwoven life cycles–these ancient folks were able to make tremendous improvements. We have a lot more to learn!

Thanks so much for taking up this important topic! We’re currently reading “Holy Shit” and enjoying it greatly — fits into our library right next to Joe Jenkin’s book!

I recently posted your Holy Shit link on FaceBook, and my aunt replied with something about “being icky.” That’s the zeitgeist that must be changed if we’re going to feed people as fossil fuel declines, and with folks like you and Jenkins spreading the word, it just may work…

I can hear the song now: “Urine the money, honey, urine right now!”

Gene
I have not purchased your latest book but it is on my list and I think this blog has opened the discussion on one of the greatest concerns to using modern day man’s excrement and that is pharmaceutical waste. We are no longer organic. I am vegetarian by practice and also do my best to eat a simple diet but I know my wife uses birth control as well as others who use pharmaceuticals that could have a negative effect on the use of waste(correction, human fertilizer) when it comes out the other ends. This is part of the process I am glad to find you are working on.
I have a friend that believes as a creationist we were not born with a butt hole. Shit is waste. He has not made the paradigm shift into the understanding that God does not create waste. God is a closed loop permaculturalist. He has created the perfect system, we simply have lost our way. Shit is not a dirty word when it is used to create healthy food and if we start to think of how he created man to be directly involved in the process of growing food we would not have such a distorted point of view. Please remember that God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden to work and enjoy the process of growing our food and with it came our personal contribution of shit. There is nothing like a good crap. It feels good, and after the fact I feel like running around in circles of freedom, lightness and happiness ,just like a dog I once had. Every day my body relieves itself of the God given fertilizer we call shit and I can once again start the day with a glow.
Am I revealing to much? Maybe, but it is time for the ones who care to speak out about this subject to take away the stigma of the word and its process for humanity.

Pretty soon pay toilets will pay by the pound.

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