Thanks to Karen from Independence Gardens for this guest post.
In a few short weeks, one of my favorite days of the year rolls around. You might think, given my business’s focus on growing (and eating) good food, that this exciting day is Thanksgiving. But no, that’s not it. The day I am talking about is World Toilet Day!
As an edible gardener, especially in the slow season, I get a chance to think beyond the immediate benefits of my own garden. When I do, the issues that come up get really big, really fast, and it’s easy to veer into un-comfy territory. Following those trains of thoughts around and around (and around) can get scary, which makes it feel especially comforting to go back out to the garden, reminding myself about the ways in which growing my own food contributes to a better community and a better world.
Right before our trip back out to the garden, I often find myself making the connection between the input side of gardening and the output. This is a two-fer: 1. input amendments to the soil, and output food to the table; 2. input food to your body, and output…amendments for your soil?
Oh, it would be fantastic indeed to complete the nutrient cycle in our gardens this tidily. But human doo, without proper processing, poses a rather large risk to other people; therefore, for most of us in present-day Portland and environs, digging humanure into our gardens is not a good idea.
Indeed, the presently acceptable method of doo disposal is an astonishing flushable porcelain device that takes all those nutrients and delivers them to a distant location…which turns out to be not all that distant–if you’ve never taken a tour of your local wastewater processing facility, it is highly recommended! In any case, hygiene and culture make the cycle of nutrient return to our gardens not so simple.
What is fairly simple, though, is use of animal manure as an amendment. It is presently unacceptable to dispose of humanure via the garden…but perfectly acceptable to incorporate certain properly processed animal manures into our gardens. Unless you raise the chickens (/goats/cows/etc.), this does not make a closed loop on the scale of your own garden; however, it does close loops on a larger scale by accomplishing the twin goals of returning nutrients and organic matter to the soil and diverting a waste stream to serve a useful function. Yay!
So, on World Toilet Day, we remind ourselves that the potable-water-flushing toilet is not a sane solution to our own Western waste management problems, but/and toilets (ideally self-contained composting or energy generating models) are an extremely necessary intervention in many, many other places in the world. On this day, we can both advocate for managing our own waste without fouling our water, and also help find ways for people who have no toilets to gain access.
Toilet picture courtesy flickr user jenshurley