Thursday, September 22, 2011

Book Review: The Humanure Handbook

 

Now let's just dive in to the topic that is sitting right in front of us.  The topic no one wants to talk about, ever.  Poop.  Crap.  Stool.  Whatever you want to call it, everyone does it.  But no one ever wants to discuss it.  The Western world is very fecophobic.  No, I did not make up that word.  But the fear of our own poop, or someone else's, makes this a topic that most people would rather avoid.  Let's avoid, rather, the verbal constipation of this subject.  As a Family Medicine physician, I talk about bowel movements all the time, so this is not uncomfortable to me at all.

A quick definition for those who are a bit slow:  Humanure = Human Manure

Where to begin... I guess I'll start off with my impression of this book.  It was fantastic.  Never would I have thought that a book, a whole book, about composting human manure would be such a great read, and yet it was.  I kid you not.  Joseph Jenkins has given us a very well written book.  It combines history with biology with agriculture with up to date science, all in an interesting and fun to read format.

I firmly believe everyone should read this book.  Even if you have no desire to ever compost your own crap, this book will break down a lot of misconceptions about this normal body function.

For those who are ecologically minded, you may be shocked at the amount of environmental damage and waste of water we commit to by pooping in drinking water and flushing it away to be chemically treated and released.

For those who are interested in the concept, either out of curiosity or out of a desire to actually implement this, but who are fearful of disease and contamination, you will be delighted to know how safe and easy building and maintaining a humanure compost pile really can be.  You will read in the book who building a thermophilic compost pile will reach temperatures of over 160 F (71 C), and this is hot enough to kill all known human pathogens (diseases) within 24 hours.  But to ensure safety, the recommendation is to let the pile stand for a year before using it.  For those who are really paranoid, he recommends letting the pile stand for two years.  By the time you actually use the compost, the material is really just like a high fertility soil.  Another point to ponder for those who are fearful that they will die from some deadly disease because they composted their poop... if you are healthy (i.e. NOT SICK), then where are the deadly bacteria that will kill you going to come from?

For those who are just freaked out by the gross factor, this book causes you to challenge your personal biases against a normal human process.  I find it humorous that most gardeners jump at the chance to pay good money for composted, or even fresh, horse and cow manure, yet will stare at you as if you had a third arm growing out of your head when you mention composted humanure.

I will probably talk more about this topic in the future, since I truly think it will be a growing trend across the world, especially when the world starts to realize how little fresh water we have left on the Earth.  But I will save that for another day...

Let me end this post by listing some of the reviews about this book:


"This is a cult classic which might strike those without an outhouse as disgusting. But the methods outlined within have the potential to change the ecological fate of the world."
- New Yorker Magazine, May 22, 2009

"The handbook contains a lot of hard information taken from the author's humanure composting experience." "Jenkins provides a convincing case that human waste can and should be a safe composting material." 
- Mother Earth News

"We think the Humanure [Hand]Book ranks right up there with Rachel Carson's Silent Spring as one of the most important environmental exposes of all time." 
- HortIdeas

"...outrageous humor and brilliant, diligent research." "This is one book that could save the world!"
- Permaculture Drylands Journal

"...almost certain to become a classic in its field." "This book should be required reading...and not only for homesteaders." 
- Countryside Journal

"...a good read for anyone who is ready to entertain the possibility of more fully integrating him or herself into the ecosystem." "Replete with bad jokes, provocative queries, and practical suggestions."
- The Natural Farmer


2 comments:

  1. I agree it's interesting that people freak out about human manure more than cow manure. It's also interesting how long that's been going on. Ezekiel (in the Bible) freaked out about cooking over it, so God relented and let him use cow dung. lol Seems there has always been an extra level of repulsion for human excrement, for whatever reason.

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