Where mama nature gets your soil back in a form she can actually use!

The Great Giveback was the last and final phase of Humble Pile Chicago, a collective human nutrient recycling project.

Two years ago I invited 35 households to compost their poop using the simple 5-gallon bucket dry toilet and composting pile system. Twenty-two people accepted the invitation and for three months I delivered toilets, storage barrels and sawdust to them, picking up their full bins as needed, taking them to a secret location to compost their contents.

After two years the humanure had transformed into lovely nutrient-rich soil. (Samples taken to an environmental lab tested free of all coliforms.)

The original bucket-pooping participants received handsewn yellow-and-brown canvas sacks of their transformed nite soil. Each sack is silkscreened with THE GREAT GIVEBACK, a drawing of the digestive system (esophagus to rectum) and a turd.

Deliveries were made by bicycle. The remainder of the collective pile is being used to enrich disturbed city soils.

* * *


$20 including shipping while supplies last! All t-shirts were obtained from thrift stores. A few dago-tees exist, the rest are short-sleeved. Some are yellow, but most are brown. Illustrations were done by the delightfully thoughtful Edie Fake.

You can pay via PAYPAL from my project site –

<a href=";

Please send me an e-mail with your US t-shirt size and hopefully I can accommodate you.

thanks folks,

NANCE KLEHM on a curious episode of inter-specie imprinting

Plucky Is as Plucky Does
by Nance Klehm

About a month ago, while I was stalled in heavy traffic on the expressway, bored of the cars that hemmed me in, my eyes drifted to a pigeon. She was walking the edge of the concrete underpass. She was wobbly and kept sitting down. And then she’d stand back up and stumble forward. The top of her skull was ripped open and bloody. I put my truck in park, jumped out, chased her down, wrapping her in a t-shirt and kept her in my lap until I got her home. She was young, not fully feathered. I set her up in my rabbit’s old cage with a lot of straw and some water, oatmeal and flax seed. I figured she could die there under less stress, and I could plant her in my garden. I named her *Plucky*.

A little over a month later, her crusty helmet of scabs having popped off, her skull miraculously fused, her feathers in everywhere but her head, I decided it was time for her to rejoin her tribe. I wrapped her loosely in cheesecloth and snuggled her into my backpack, leaving the top open for aeration, and my intern Sarah and I took Plucky to Ping Tom Park in Chinatown where we figured RIVER + TREES + STEEL BRIDGE + DUMPSTERS OF CHINESE FOOD = perfect pigeon habitat. And then we spent the next hour trying to lose her. She wouldn’t leave us. Plucky would wander around the little medicine wheel we set up to send her off and then fly and perch on our handlebars, or ride on my shoulder. The two little girls that were feeding the Canadian geese Kool Aid-colored breakfast cereal ran over to us wide-eyed, “How’d you do that?!” and we just smiled and shrugged.

I didn’t ever feed Plucky by hand—her contact with humans was only an occasional hand dipping in and out with food and water, which caused her to screech and run. So how did this inter-specie imprinting happen?

And so I gently wrapped her back up in the cheesecloth and rode her home. I am planning another release. This time, into a huge flock that cruises Douglas Park, cleaning up the bits of old tacos littering the ground after soccer games. In the meanwhile, I have transferred her to my rabbit’s old cage, under a large plum tree with loads of head room so she can build her flying skills.

Recently it occurred to me that if I had named her ‘Sad Betty’ which is about as bad as she looked when I picked her up, she probably wouldn’t have done so well. Plucky is as Plucky does.

"Embody your economies"


Probably Not Peaches
by Nance Klehm

I wrote the following last October—I’m sharing it now because in this new year, I feel there is an urgent call for us to get grounded in our actions and intentions…

My egg economy fell out on Monday. All of my quail and all but one of my chickens were killed by a predator with dexterous digits—one that can turn a latch and pry chicken wire away from an armature. (Probably a raccoon, not as rare as you might think in urban Chicago.) Their headless, half-eaten bodies were strewn about the garden. Prolly, aka P-N-P, aka Probably Not Peaches, my one remaining hen, is in a liminal state of health. She is hovering. I am sitting in my bathroom with her. She is breathing deeply, sitting on a bed of straw in a small cage with a dish of her favorite foods nearby: scrambled eggs with crushed egg shell, raisins and chickweed. This food has remained untouched.

I live with animals and plants. It is my practice and lifestyle to grow, forage preserve food, make medicine and build soil. This practice of mine is an economy in and of itself. It sustains me and I am also able to use it to create other economies that create other relationships with people and sometimes ones that pay the bills. I use aesthetic strategies to illuminate and frame this lifestyle. Curiously, the art world casts lines to my practice and I am offered exhibits and asked to perform. I engage this economy skeptically and try to identify the cracks that allow me to expand beyond it.

From the back of her comb to her shoulder blades, Prolly has been scalped. I am surprised she is alive and holding onto this compromised state of being, but animals are like that: they continue to persist even when they’ve been knocked down a notch or four. I rub honey with finely chopped yarrow into her rawness. I hold her in my lap and loop energy through my heart, into my left arm, through her, into my other arm and then into my heart again. And I keep looping this circuit. It occurs to me that I am allowing myself to be increasingly late to my own art opening.

If Prolly could think abstractly, and who’s to say chickens don’t, what would she say about ‘economy’? The word ‘economic’ directly follows ‘ecology’ in many dictionaries. In mine, the Oxford Pocket American Dictionary of Current English reads:

ecology / economic / economical / economics / economist / economize, economy / ecosphere / ecosystem

All these ‘eco-‘ words framed between the unlikely bookends of the bacteria ‘e.coli’ and the color ‘ecru’ come from the Greek oikos meaning “home.”

“Ecology” is about the quality of relationship of a community of organisms and economy is about the wealth and management of resources of a community. Ecology is a self-perpetuating economy. There is a cyclical give and take and give once again. I am a homesteader. I follow these cycles.

Prolly breathes long and heavy. I take advantage of this and drip watery eye droppers full of blended chicken soup, molasses and bee pollen into her beak. She drinks each dose and then suddenly flails herself from my lap.

So I go to my art opening late. I mill about distractedly. I am taken to a boozy dinner with the curator. I do my best not to growl. I get home at midnight and sit in the straw and drip feed my chicken until we both nod off.


After five days, Probably Not Peaches let go. When I returned home, I paused at the door and asked her if she was there. And she said “no.” And she wasn’t. That night I gently planted her to feed the witch hazel.

Prolly was in pain, but I didn’t kill her. I wanted to care for her after the trauma and in caring for her, I entered her time completely and our communication was clear.

I am feeling immensely hopeful that some of us are already engaged at that clear, belly-churning level, and others are reaching for it. The Earth has shifted on its axis and the light is coming back to the northern hemisphere. It’s time to drop deeper into our particular places and get busy. So I leave you with this distillation:

Situate yourself sensually.
Contribute to your inhabitation.
Embody your economies.

Can you feel it?
Ground down.

NATURE WILL BE THERE TO DELIVER: An invitation to communicate with plants

An invitation to communicate with plants

text and photos by Nance Klehm

adam's pine

painting by Adam Grossi

Six years ago, I had my first loud and explicit communication from a plant. It was a pine tree that called to me—an 800-year-old pine in Ireland. It was encompassed in a buttery halo, rhythmically puffing pollen smoke signals from its multitude of male flowers. Its fecundity pulled me to it. I put my hand on its deeply flaked bark and it held me. I could not move my hand and didn’t want to. It poured itself into me, filling me like a river. “Oh, I see,” I told it silently. The strength of its flow made me start to cry.

Learning to listen to trees led me to hear other plants as well. And talking back to them. I found that some plants pulse, while others stream: their flows are different frequencies, strengths and textures depending on the plant’s species, its health and its age. Plants are networked batteries; trees are pneumatic tubes and portals.

Recently I asked a few people to sit with a plant that they’ve been “noticing.” The people I asked are sensitive people, but not experienced with plant communication. This is what they shared with me…

Continue reading

"In an undisclosed storage area in Chicago, Nance Klehm has a hidden stockpile of human excrement…"


From a piece by Eric Smillie in Good Magazine:

In an undisclosed storage area in Chicago, Nance Klehm has a hidden stockpile of human excrement. When the 1,500-gallon stash finishes its two-year composting cycle next summer, it will be soil as rich as any you could buy at the store—a gardener’s black gold. If it’s discovered by the authorities before then, it’ll be deemed hazardous and removed. The hoard belongs to Humble Pile Chicago, a conspiracy of 22 people Klehm has rallied to help.

Credit her childhood on a farm in northwest Illinois: Klehm is a self-made food and soil consultant who thinks we need to close the nutrient loop when it comes to a sustainable source of fertilizer. “It’s hard to find safe soil for planting in the city,” she says. “Most of what you get is stripped from someplace else; we’re stealing it from one place and trying to enrich another with it. It’s nuts.”

She decided years ago to collect more than kitchen scraps, and built herself a dry toilet to catch her “humanure.” “My bucket is front and center in the bathroom at this point, while my flushie is just a book stand,” she says. She started Chicago’s Humble Pile to increase her yield. Participants had simple orders: Do your business in buckets, cover with sawdust, and fill large garbage cans for Klehm to cart away (while avoiding landlords).

For Nicole Garneau, 39, a performance artist and teacher, taking part was easy. “I could do it without ever leaving the comfort of my home,” she says. When her full barrel was ready for pickup, she’d boldly leave it out in front of her co-op building with a sign that read, “Nicole’s shit, do not open.” No one did.

She’s now eagerly awaiting the return of her portion of the pile, which she plans to nonchalantly fold into her co-op’s box garden. By then it will bear no evidence of her dastardly deed—it will look, in fact, like any old humble pile of soil.

To join the Chicago Humble Pile, visit

Dear Weedeater: Is canning worth the hassle?

Dear Weedeater,
Help! I went crazy this year and started a tomato garden in the backyard! I dunno what it was, the sight of Michele Obama pulling up lawn grass and planting a garden at the White House or the cutie at the nursery who helped me pick out some heirlooms and beefsteak starters? Anyways, one thing led to another, somehow my little backyard thing went crazy, I didn’t get hit by the East Coast blight thing yet (perhaps I speak too soon?), and now I’ve got way way WAY too many ripening tomatoes. It’s ridiculous. I’d give them away except all my neighbors’ gardens are overflowing with tomatoes too. Somebody mentioned canning my extras, but that seems…um, hard and… I dunno, Nance. Is it worth the trouble? —Newbie in New Jersey

Nance Klehm says:
No need to mince words on this one, the answer is totally ‘yes.’ There is no such thing as too many ‘love apples’! Unless you have loads, the gift outweighs your total energy out: $20 of canning jars plus two hours or less of your time (or even much less if you have a friend helping), plus some good music to chop and simmer to = the best sauce, tomato juice, salsa, whatever. Your tomatoes will speak to you for all the dead of winter…

Comments or questions regarding this post should be posted in the “Comments” section below

Nance Klehm website: