Author: jack-s

After our last nutrition class, there was a collective feeling of unresolve. There is a massive amount of information to process about the issues and possible issues regarding our current society’s food systems and suffering health. If the issues are not in the chemicals used to grow food, it’s in the resources and waste created to distribute the food, or marketing propaganda, etc., etc. At times it can feel productive sorting through the science and literature, but lately it leaves me with a hopelessness. How can I live a healthy life? How will I know that I am healthy? What does health even mean when life is an unfolding of decomposition? Gahhh!!!

I would surely be lost and cascading without the support of others.

I sense that the majority of people are “asleep” to these realities. It’s no fault of theirs. But as an individual who feels the need to stay exposed to the issues (with whatever limited perspective one can have) it is overwhelming. I want to use the energy I have to make differences where it will count most. I am sure that beginning to learn self-reliance by growing food is the way forward. If nothing else, I hope to live a life that may be an example for our posterity that leans in the direction of balance. Sadly, it’s difficult to imagine humans actually helping our natural systems. A morbid thought has been circulating for awhile: the greatest offering we could give the planet is to die off.

Nick Hummingbird’s class has been streaming through my awareness since last week. It was greatly moving. The native people have been horrifically oppressed, and their culture has been largely wiped out; their sense of balance is needed more than ever. I feel compelled to focus on learning native plants and cultivating them. It should be a no-brainer; we can regain lost “wild” nutrition, save water (as they are drought tolerant), and also respect and reconnect with the native environment.

There are a couple of solutions cropping up: bring back the natives and shift value to building community. Some more music around the farm would be fun too! ;0

Last week Rishi called out, “Guys, come over!” He had a wheelbarrow full of soil, freshly excavated from the plot behind the orchard against the back fence. He explained that it was soil extracted from the composting toilet, where composting worms had been living and doing their duty. Rishi felt the soil and took a deep inhale, saying, “we’re rich!” We smelled it for ourselves and to our relief – it was an odorless and (or not shitty at least) dark-colored soil!

I have been acquainted with composting toilets before and generally embrace the practice of using them. But, it has been raising questions in me: What kinds of animal manures contain pathogens? What can go wrong with the human composting processes? How long have we been composting human waste? Thankfully, we have the internet. And our cyberspace does contain a robust quantity of poop information.

So, composting toilets are generally divided by their temperatures; thermophilic are high-temperature types, while the majority available commercially are low-temperature systems known as “mouldering toilets”. At it’s simplest form, we can collect the waste in a receptacle and add it to our compost pile (thermophilic). This can only work in locations where there is land to hold the outdoor composting unit and with someone who is willing to handle the waste… And most people today want nothing to do with the backside of their system (literally). The term fecophobic that has been created to describe those with no tolerance for the use of human waste as compost in general and especially for compost used to grow food. The root of this phobia is what I have been seeking. Every fear derives from some “bad” experience. Interestingly, in the Chinese language there is no derogatory word for feces like ‘shit’ in English. Although there has been a history of composting toilets depicted for ancient China, there is no evidence of such practices. According to a report from a hygienic committee in Shantung China, there were only three techniques for human waste management recorded in China. There was a method of drying (nitrogen depleting), applying it raw to crops and feeding it to pigs, the latter two have shown to be unsanitary.  The oldest type of composting toilets were the Vietnam Double Vault, installed in rural Vietnam in the 1950’s to improve rural hygiene.

Human feces have the potential to cause disease-causing microorganisms (pathogens), the likelihood of which is directly related to the health of the humans the feces derive from. The pathogens need a host, or similar conditions to the host (such as temperature) to thrive. Therefore, to eliminate the risk of an outbreak, the waste must reach temperatures well above a normal internal human temperature or for a length of time beyond the lifespan of the pathogens. Thermophilic composting has the greatest certainty of eliminating the pathogens. I was curious about how diseases can proliferate, and read about the Disease Triangle. The Disease Triangle describes the three conditions necessary for a disease to spread. The pathogen is one of the players, and they need a host to replicate in the right environment. When these three factors combine, the pathogen can thrive.

So, a bit of research has confirmed for me that there is no reason to fear using our waste for compost. If we follow the guidelines for the needed duration of time and temperature to allow any potential pathogens to subside, we find ourselves rich with healthy and useable soil. The phobia is indicative of our disconnection with the natural processes we are participating in, whether we choose to embrace or not. Let’s choose embrace!

This week I have experienced a combination of feelings after deciding to continue my time at Sarvodaya as a full-time intern: gratitude, tranquility and excited anticipation.

(Background, and how I’ve arrived in California with interests in farming)

I’ve taken what feels like a 180 degree life transition over the course of the past year. A year ago my future seemed set in stone to work as a full-time musician and “artist” (a word set aside for a select few?). I have been afforded the luxury of time to step aside from this focus. Something felt unfulfilling about the prospect of spending my time largely indoors (an apartment writing and recording). I went home to Vermont after studying music in Boston to “unpack” myself (subconsciously at first) and find a different way. I was raised in Vermont, and love everything about the place. There is a strong sense of community and support for the arts, as well as seasonal variety to enjoy. I have continued to develop my relationship with music since a young age, and recognize how crucial it is to maintain a loving relationship with music and myself as a maker-of-sounds. This “commercial artist path” strained my self-love and self-security. I felt external pressure to become popular, or successful, or some multitude of dreams that had never been my own. I now understand that I was missing the connected experience of putting my hands in the soil (not dirt!) and closing the food loop; growing my own food.

In fairly recent history, the role (or perceptive role) of the artist has changed in society. The artist was once a member of society, rather than a talent we put on a pedestal and quarantined out. So, if art voices the experience, then it would only make sense that the artist be a part of the society it expresses. What do we get when the art is a reflection of itself? For example, the musician who now only knows life on tour and ducking paparazzi.
I would like to be an artist who knows their community, and is able to express a wider range of voices, especially for those who are unable to show their grief, joy, etc. Once I am well-versed in farm practices, I will start farms in my community that provide as a food bank does. Access to an education about food is essential to human wellness. Sarvodaya is in many ways a model of what I would like to start. I am immensely grateful to work with this family of farmers and farmers-to-be. I love the way Rishi, Manju, Katie, and Lynn teach. They will tell you everything they’ve learned, and are forthright that they too are still learning. I find this approach empowering to continue seeking.

There is indeed a lifetime of learning ahead. In California, water seems to be our greatest limitation; but it is by no means a setback. At this point I am also interested in learning how to design and integrate food forest systems that are drought tolerant, despite their inability to provide the foods we have become accustomed to. I sense it is inevitable that we will have to make adjustments in the future. One thing I have been noticing and thinking about since working on the farm are the standards of blemish-free produce that grocery stores and genetically modified varieties have created. I hope that people will become closer to the growing processes and realize that blemishes and abnormalities are normal in any form of life. In the meantime, I will enjoy the food that doesn’t meet the CSA standards!