Podcast: A fresh take on ... manure

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Photo by Jessica Naudziunas / Harvest Public Media

Author Gene Logsdon

This episode of Field Notes covers a “dirty” topic — manure, and the farming philosophy behind its use.

I interview author, farmer and self-proclaimed “contrary farmer” Gene Logsdon. Logsdon is the author of many counter-farm-culture tomes, and his latest effort is no different.

Logsdon titled the book Holy Shit — a forthright phrase intended to start a conversation about the word itself and why, as a culture, farmers and others are turned off by it. As it turned out, I wasn’t able to say the title in this Field Notes episode. The Federal Communications Commission has some pretty strict rules about four-letter words and it really dislikes this one in particular … perhaps as much as the stuff this word represents.

Logsdon says one of reasons farmers stay away from manure is because it denotes a time of struggle, when farmers mucked and raked their own animal’s manure to make their farms fertile. It worked, oh yes, but the smell of manure on a farmer’s body drew a clear line between the aggies and the posh city folk. So, eventually, for some, It became a loathed task, and with good reason. Who wants to smell like manure after a hard day’s work? I embolden my thought with this clip from the musical Oklahoma!

In this scene, Curly, a cowboy, and Jud discuss what would happen if Jud died, and how people would feel about Jud as a clean dead body on display. Poor Jud is this farm hand who smells like the animals he works with, and he’s mocked because he stinks, no one loves him and he has scum under his fingernails. It had to come to death, in Curly’s eyes, for Jud to be accepted. Toward the end of the scene, Jud seems to like the idea.

Logsdon wants to change the public’s distaste with the waste they produce. He might want Jud to like the way he smells, or at least learn to live with it.

In the end, manure and humans have a strange relationship. Come in contact with it, and it might make you feel sick, or it might contaminate a water source. Large-scale farming is difficult to pair with manure fertilizer. There are just too many acres and too few piles of manure to make it work. In this episode of Field Notes, I don’t have all of the answers, but it helps to open the door to the manure barn first and then get inside and think about if manure is for you.

Check out Logsdon’s book for more practical information. There, if you’re ready to get in touch with waste — human and animal — you’ll find clear instructions on how to use waste for fertilizer.