Deep Shit

Shortly after I published the first edition of this book, I was invited to speak to a group of nuns at a convent. I had only printed 600 copies of the book and had assumed they would sit in my garage for the rest of my life because no one would be interested in the topic of composting "humanure." Not long after, the Associated Press put the word out that I had written a book about crap. Then I got a phone call.

"Mr. Jenkins, we recently bought a copy of your book, Humanure, and we would like to have you speak at our convent."

"What do you want me to talk about?"

"About the topic of your book."


"Yes, but specifically, humanure composting." At this point I was at a loss for words. I couldn't understand exactly why a group of nuns would be interested in composting human crap. Somehow, I couldn't imagine standing in a room full of holy nuns, speaking about turds. But I kept the stammering to a minimum and accepted the invitation.

It was Earth Day, 1995. The presentation went well. After I spoke, the group showed slides of their gardens and compost piles, then we toured their compost area and poked around in the worm boxes. A delightful lunch followed, during which I asked them why they were interested in humanure, of all things.

"We are the Sisters of Humility," they responded. "The words

'humble' and 'humus' come from the same semantic root, which means 'earth.' We also think these words are related to the word 'human.' Therefore, as part of our vow of humility, we work with the earth. We make compost, as you've seen. And now we want to learn how to make compost from our toilet material. We're thinking about buying a commercial composting toilet, but we want to learn more about the overall concepts first. That's why we asked you to come here." This was deep shit. Profound.

A light bulb went off in my head. Of course, composting is an act of humility. The people who care enough about the earth to recycle their personal by-products do so as an exercise in humility, not because they're going to get rich and famous for it. That makes them better people. Some people go to church on Sunday, others make compost. Still others do both. Others go to church on Sunday, then throw all their garbage out into the environment. The exercising of the human spirit can take many forms, and the simple act of cleaning up after oneself is one of them. The careless dumping of waste out into the world is a self-centered act of arrogance — or ignorance.

Humanure composters can stand under the stars at night gazing at the heavens, and know that, when nature calls, their excretions will not foul the planet. Instead, those excretions are humbly collected, fed to microorganisms and returned to the Earth as healing medicine for the soil.

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