Holy Shit: a book review

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What is most intriguing to me about this little book is that, once again, good writing has allowed me to re-discover a subject that I thought I had it together on.

I mean, we farm naturally at Milkwood. We know and we love and we dig manures. Regularly, even. Yet, reading this really excellent book, I’m reminded again of just how important and essential it is to cycle manures as part of replenishing what we take from the earth. And how completely we’ve forgotten that in the last 100 years.

And how urgently we need to get our shit together on this subject, quicksmart…

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Gene Logsdon is one of my regenerative agriculture writerly heroes – he’s the Contrary Farmer with a casual way of nailing his chosen subject while charming you with farming anecdotes. But Holy Shit: Managing Manure to Save Mankind is a step up from everything else of his that I’ve read – it really is quite a special little book.

To cut to the chase, in Holy Shit Logsdon nails the importance of integrated nutrient cycling to creating regenerative small farm systems. That sounds reasonably simple and not too world-shattering, I know.

But it is, it really is. The development of chemical fertilisers and their substitution for holistic nutrient cycling on our farm lands has given us the industrial food complex we all live in today. And that, my dear friends, is an Extremely Big Deal.

It is so big a deal, in fact, that the issue of fertiliser is the central issue at the heart of the ‘Can the World Feed Itself‘ debate. Because in order to grow enough food for a growing planet, we need to magic more and more nutrients to put into the soil, so we can then harvest those nutrients in the form of annual vegetables and grains, each and every year.*

Yes! I know that you probably also consider this Big Deal a very obvious one. You’re informed. You know this stuff. We’ve all grown enough veggies to know that the fairies don’t bring the nutrients to the garden and that if we want good organic veggies to come out of our gardens we have to put effort, energy and composted manures into our gardens.

Thus, Holy Shit is not focussed on bludgeoning you with facts about chemical fertilisers. Nor is it focussed on pointing out that various reports have consistently been released explaining that small scale, organic agriculture can likely feed the world better than chemical-driven industrial ag.

What Holy Shit is, in essence, is a delightfully quirky, enjoyable and above all bloody useful conversation. Which just happens to be about manure. Chicken, cow, pig, sheep, human, horse, dog, cat and bat.

The conversation ranges from different animal bedding techniques and the benefits of deep litter systems to thoughts on cow urine collection, bat-attracting towers (for guano collection), dung beetles and of course the vast and mostly ignored (in the west) world of humanure applications. It considers the probable rise of factory farms whose primary product is manure, with a by-product of beef or eggs.

Above all, however, Holy Shit is about farming well. It’s a stealthily upfront argument for the far-reaching benefits of keeping food production systems small and human-scale (as opposed to large and robotic), and to keep the nutrients on an integrated farm constantly cycling.

For the benefit of all aspects of that farming system, and the communities and foodsheds that intersect with that farm.

And that is the Big Deal of this little book. It’s not a How-To. It is a Why-To. Why to farm and grow food this way, all over our precious planet. Why it’s entirely possible, and why we should get a move on, right now.

If I wasn’t already involved in a farm that operated this way, I would be, after reading this.

Holy Shit: Managing Manure to Save Mankind by Gene Logsdon

Published by Chelsea Green

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>> More posts on nutrient cycling at Milkwood.net

*Moving over to focusing on perennial crops and foods could help this issue of nutrient mining with annual crops a lot, it must be said, but we still need to transition to that point, and we still need to replace nutrients that we remove at harvest regardless if we’re to feed the number of peeps we need to feed. Just before anyone goes into a tirade about tree-crops vs annuals. I’m with you.

9 Comments

  1. Cheryle Grundy
    Posted June 24, 2013 at 8:36 am | Permalink | Reply

    On your farm do you have any septic system at all? The reason why I’m asking is I wonder if the council has a say in it as I want to have a toilet system like yours when I move… Also do you do anything about farmstayers who are on medications or is the material composted long enough that this isn’t a problem?

    • Posted June 24, 2013 at 9:06 am | Permalink | Reply

      Hi Cheryle, dry composting toilets are able to get thru council in most cases. In the balance of volume, we aren’t really concerned about folks on medications doing the occasional poop as most of it does break down over a 6 month period and our humanure is used after composting to the 12 month mark.

      We all have far more cause to be concerned about eating the stuff in conventionally farmed veggies and most meats than in what might remain in 12 month aged humanure… :)

  2. Posted June 24, 2013 at 12:03 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I’ll have to add this to my collection, along with the book: “Liquid Gold: the lore and logic of using urine to grow plants”.

  3. Posted June 24, 2013 at 2:17 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Thanks again Kirsten

  4. Posted June 24, 2013 at 3:08 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I’ve got some concerns about hormones entering the food system as in people taking contraceptives etc and this leaching into the water, I’ve read reports about these hormones particularly affecting fish life. We have a dry compost toilet we are about to set up, but I’m thinking the waste are most suited for orchard, perennial conditions for re-using the waste (after six months of composting).

    • Posted June 24, 2013 at 4:33 pm | Permalink | Reply

      We’d agree with you on that one, and that’s where our humanure goes – tree plantings…

  5. Posted June 25, 2013 at 8:55 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I’ve been dying to read this book and keep forgetting to do so. I’ve just added it to my list – thanks for the fabulous review! I’m just reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle now as a “novel” – it gives me such hope for our future. Thanks, Kirsten!

  6. Posted June 26, 2013 at 5:03 am | Permalink | Reply

    Reblogged this on Vegan Comfort and commented:
    Every household should understand this concept of using kitchen scraps to remineralize and revitalize our soil even if they don’t have a garden or want one.

  7. Posted June 26, 2013 at 11:35 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Reblogged this on Laura Bruno's Blog and commented:
    I’ve been intrigued by this concept for awhile, seriously wondering “why doesn’t all new construction automatically come with composting toilets?” In a world with massively depleted soil, overly polluted water (with less and less clean water available), and the “need” for poisonous fertilizers, aren’t we missing the obvious? I’ve not read this book yet, but it’s on my list, along with the Humanure Handbook. Shit is the ultimate Shadow … almost no one wants to talk about it, but if we don’t find ways to bless it, we’ll be living in a world with all the downsides of waste and none of the upsides of nutrients. Even the book review will get you thinking!

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