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Holy Shit: The Secret Behind Creating Truly Sustainable Food

If you're into food, you've got to embrace manure. Like it or not, the bowel movement after all, is the foundation upon which the sustainable food movement stands.

When I moved to a farm in rural Vermont, I knew life would be a far cry from the New York literary world from whence I came. I knew even though plaid shirts, work boots, and waxed canvas coats cover the fashion magazines these days-life on a real farm has nothing to do with image or status. I do have to say, however, when I meet my old city friends on the streets of Brooklyn to hock eggs or pumpkins, I have been known to brag. Not about how amazing farm life is, or how well I can pitch hay, but rather, how familiar I am with shit these days. And how in awe I am of poop. I tell my friends about where my chickens leave their dollops, and how that's actually money in the bank.

Shit rules my life-or at least it should, if I were a good farmer. Don't be grossed out. If you're into food, you've got to embrace manure. The bowel movement after all (human and animal), is the foundation upon which the sustainable food movement stands. Where do you think rich, delicious soil comes from? The healthiest soil is made not from synthetic fertilizers, but from the backsides of livestock. Indeed, manure is the golden nugget upon which sustainable food's economy was founded. There is no movement without the movement. And who better to discuss either movement than Gene Logsdon, longtime farmer and author of the book Holy Shit: Managing Manure to Save Mankind. I talked with Logsdon about the real scoop on poop, society's misconceptions of manure, and the future of farming.

Makenna Goodman: You've been farming for about 30 years. How important is manure to agriculture in your estimation?

Gene Logsdon: It would probably be more accurate to say that I have been pitching barn manure for something like 65 years and spreading a lot of bullshit the other 13 years, too. On a scale of one to ten, with ten at the top, I'd give manure an eleven. Manure just doesn't fit on a scale of values. It encompasses the whole environment as inextricably as water and air. Trying to measure its worth suggests that we can take it or leave it. Manure is with us always whether we give it a value or not. The fact that it is a beneficial material is our salvation. If we and other animals started to excrete radioactive dust, then we'd have a problem. Manure is holy.

MG: What are the most prevalent misconceptions that society holds about manure?

GL: I have to answer that first by addressing a broader question: what are the most prevalent misconceptions that society holds about the whole natural process of life? One main misconception is that science and technology can deliver us complete safety, that is, a zero risk environment. This notion is driven by the insurance companies who dream of a world where people pay dearly for accident insurance but never have accidents. The misconception comes when humans decide that science and technology can make that happen without the personal, individual, ongoing involvement of every one of us. Examples abound of the impossibility of this kind of push button safety system. Science and technology have been hard at work delivering a ladder that will be safe even for total idiots to use. The rules and regulations governing ladders cover over a thousand pages. But every day people kill or maim themselves with ladders.

Danger lurks at all times. That is an inescapable fact of life. No matter how fail-safe we want someone else to keep our environment, our safety requires the use of our own intelligence and responsibility first and last. The more we try to make others responsible for our well-being, as for example, by supporting a monolithic pill-pushing industry, the sicker we seem to get.