in her March article "Manure Happens," she investigates the source of the E. coli outbreak, pointing out that
Across the country, operators of large conventional dairies, poultry farms
and feedlots face an emerging patchwork of state guidelines and regulations
aimed at minimizing the escape of manure into ground and surface water. But
only the nation’s certified organic farmers and livestock producers are held to
a set of standards that promote the safe and ecologically sound handling of
and raising some interesting points about how industrial agriculture has changed how we deal with manure:
"Historically, cultures have figured out how to recycle nutrients with
manure, and they’ve done it without killing themselves," said Deanne Meyer, a
livestock waste-management specialist at UC Davis.
"The two things in our industrial nation that have altered how well we
deal with nutrient loads are the advent of the railroad — which allowed us
to shift things from point A to point B far beyond what a horse and a cart
could do — and the discovery of the nitrogen-fixation process, which allows
us to literally fix nitrogen out of thin air and to transport it where someone
needs it. An energy-intensive process, to be sure, but that’s scarcely mattered
These two events eliminated the need for farmers to couple crop production
with animal husbandry. Farmers began to specialize in one or the other
activity. Feed crops could be shipped to distant livestock facilities, while
synthetic nitrogen, after its widespread commercialization in the 1950s, could
stand in for animal manure back on the farm.
She also provided advice for handling manure in the garden and profiles a company that composts dairy manure, tests it for heavy metals and pathogens, then ships it off to nearby farms who use it instead of synthetic fertilizers. What a concept.
And finally, her latest story, "Questioning the Compost Supply Chain," asks some interesting questions about exactly what’s in that stuff. A few tidbits:
Yard trimmings, wood waste from construction, animal manure, agricultural
byproducts and biosolids from sewage treatment plants are the primary feedstock
for the roughly 170 composters and waste processors that operate in California.
Yum! Construction waste!
Often these feedstock materials enter the composting process still laden
with chemicals. Yet standards for finished compost, which vary from state to
state, generally require regular testing only for heavy metals and pathogen
indicators. Seldom do states ask that producers test their compost for residual
pesticide or pharmaceutical compounds.
"Compost," says William Brinton, founder and president of Woods End
Laboratories in Maine and a pioneer of modern compost production and testing
systems in the United States, "has become anonymous and untraceable; a single
compost product can now contain a mixture of unknown ingredients from all over
a county or a state."
"Composting now is being driven by recycling
mandates set by politicians," Brinton says….Now it’s the cart pulling the horse: The recycling cart is pulling the
Thought-provoking stuff, Deborah, and just the sort of thing garden publications need more of. These are important issues with serious implications, not just for backyard gardeners but for agriculture and the food chain. Recycling our waste into compost and fertilizer makes all the sense in the world; now if only we could stop manufacturing the toxins that end up in our waste in the first place. One thing at a time, eh?