MAKE YOUR OWN SOIL from your poop: Nance Klehm's "Humble Pile Chicago" project

From In These Times


A bushel of sawdust and a low-tech composting toilet used for compost collection.

Your Crap, Our Compost: Squat and the earth shall grow
By Sisi Tang

In These Times


A generally fecal-phobic society reacts to the thought with a mix of snickering interest and fearful aversion, all dispatched in a single flush. But Nance Klehm, 43-year-old urban forager and grower, transforms human excrement into nutritious soil one bucket at a time. 

Klehm’s Humble Pile, a local do-it-yourself human waste composting project, introduces a backyard alternative to the machine-churning, power-draining waste-processing facilities tucked away in remote locations. 

“I’m not treating it chemically. I trust microorganisms to do it for me,” Klehm says. 

In early 2008, Klehm sent letters and humorous surveys to households in six Chicago neighborhoods, calling on potential participants to help “transform waste into fertility, pollution into resource, and isolation into connection.”

With no need for “Compost 101” instruction, complex machinery, electricity or water, Humble Pile asked its 22 volunteer “nutrient loopers” to opt for dry buckets with snap-on toilet seats when nature calls. 

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Pix from Philly urban forage with Nance Klehm in Fishtown – Aug 9, 2009

Nance’s next public urban forages will be:

September 13, Lincoln Park, Chicago – meet at nature museum
October 11, Jackson Park, Chicago – meet at osaka garden tea house (this is a potluck – please bring something simple and wild to share)
3-5pm rain or shine
$10-$20 donation
Nance’s website:

Here’s some pics and text about the August 11, 2009 Philly forage by Jennifer Kates on Flickr at:

And here’s some sweet pics by Evan T. Wells from the Philly forage:



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How to deal with mosquitoes, by Nance Klehm

nance klehm

Q: Mosquitoes are attacking me. What should I do?

To start, two simple lists –

What Attracts Mosquitoes:
– dark clothing and dark foliage
– lactic acid and sweat (from your exercising or a very balmy evening)
– flowery or fruity fragrances
– CO2 (uh oh)
– moist places in general

What Drives Them Away, or at least stops them from finding you:
– smoke
– light clothing
– clean, aseptic fragrances/essential oils such as: clove, geranium, cinnamon, rosemary, lemongrass, cedar and the infamous citronella
– bats!

Little brown bats are the most common bat in temperate North America. I see them darting overhead at dusk in most city parks in most cities. Consider building a bat house or three in your neighborhood! For plans and more info, check out Bat Conservation International at

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HUMAN-INCUBATED YOGURT—a how-to by Nance Klehm

Human-incubated yogurt
by Nance Klehm

(you can imagine the why-for. this is the how-to.)

procure roughly one quart of raw milk if possible from any healthy lactating animal. if you don’t have connection to an animal, grocery store vitamin d whole milk (unfortunately homogenized and pasteurized) will do. it’ll need to do. you will need no more than a quart’s worth as a larger amount will make the process less comfortable.

you will also need to have a spoonful of room temperature yogurt saved from your last batch or some beautiful homemade yogurt from a wonderful armenian/egyptian/iraqi/greek/bulgarian/etc. grocer or neighbor. this is essential.

one half hour or so before going to bed, pour the milk into a saucepan and heat it gently and slowly, stirring all the while until it reaches 110 degrees. you do not want it forming a skin.

pull the pan off the heat and gently and slowly cool the milk to 90 degrees by just allowing it to lose heat.

drop your spoonful of room temperature yogurt into a jar and pour in the warm milk. screw on the lid and shake the jar once. wrap the jar tightly into a soft wool sweater and climb into bed alone or with animal or human companion. tuck jar against your skin. keep it as close as possible. hug or snuggle the jar: body heat is what allows the culture to educate the milk to become yogurt. bacteria colonize in the constant heat of your body/ies.

come morning, you should have a quart of human-incubated yogurt.

Nance Klehm on swine flu hysteria, Four Thieves Vinegar, organic anti-virals and flu foes


by Nance Klehm

Last week, in response to the swine flu outbreak, Mexico City managed to close its shop doors and empty its streets of 20 million folks. That’s darkly impressive, but consider this: Mexico City, which once was an island, and whose main environmental pressure has been flooding, has also advised its residents to do frequent hand washing—a simple task made difficult because one of the main fresh water pipelines shut down before the outbreak, affecting a quarter of the city’s population. This is not the first drastic water rationing for this populace, nor will it be the last.

With a high level of street culture where informal interactions are inexhaustible and richly layered—in my deepest belly, I xoxox Mexico City even though I usually come out bruised after a prolonged stay—I can’t help but ask how are we “lean in” when social distancing becomes policy, however temporary.


In Egypt, pigs are not only a food source for the non-Muslim population, they are the “clean up crew,” an integral part of the solid waste disposal system in major cities. In Cairo, pigs are mostly handled by the Zabaleen (Arabic for “garbage people”). The Zabaleen (pictured above) are landless farmers and pig breeders, Coptic Christians who migrated to the city 50 years ago from northern Egypt and became the unpaid grassroots garbage collectors of the city. The 60,000 or so Zabaleen make their living absorbing and sorting Cairo’s waste. Raw materials such as steel, glass, plastic, etc. are resold and other materials are repaired, reused or burned as fuel. Their low-tech, metabolic system means that 80-90% of what they collect is reused, recycled or otherwise returned to the economy.

The Zabaleen keep pigs in apartment courtyards, where they are fed food and other waste. The pigs’ waste is used for fertilizer. Pigs also are used for food.

At the start of this year, Egypt hired foreign multinational contractors to manage Cairo’s waste stream, replacing the Zabaleen and existing systems. The result has been higher disposal fees and a much lower recovery/recycling rate of materials.

Why would a country hire a transnational at a high cost when they have for decades had a highly effective grassroots labor of an indigeonous group do it voluntarily?

To make matters even worse for the Zabaleen, Egyptian goverment officials have responded to swine flu hysteria by ordering the slaughter of the nation’s 300,000 pigs…

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In light of all this panic around a possible “pandemic,” my seed-saving pal Damon recently reminded me of an herbal anti-viral elixir, the historic anti-plague remedy called “Four Thieves Vinegar.” The story of this remedy, distilled from many versions, goes like this: In France, during the bubonic plague of the early 1600s, poor mountain folk were hired as gravediggers to dig mass burial pits. Thieves made busy looting homes of dead families. It was a few individuals from both of these groups who had the herbal knowledge of anti-virals, putting them to use in warding off the deadly virus. It is said that a few surviving thieves who were captured for their crimes were released when they shared the elixir’s recipie with the authorities.


Using a quart jar or larger vessel, gather equal parts of dried or fresh thyme, peppermint, rosemary, sage, and lavender, a teeny bit of clove if you’ve got it, and, if you’re a believer in the stinking rose, add some garlic. Pour enough of your homemade fruit scrap or cider vinegar to just cover the herbal material. Put a lid on tight and keep the vinegar some place you pass every day, like near your coffee maker or bed, so you can shake or stir it once or more a day. Do this for as many days as you can. Six weeks is the optimal tincturing time. Strain liquid from the plant material and drink a teaspoon several times daily; wipe down skin and surfaces with it for disinfection; or do both as you feel necessary.


Viruses do not contain the enzymes that are needed to live, so they need to have host cells. Those could be in a plant, or an animal or even a bacteria. Without a host, viruses die.

Many of the plants in this remedy are anti-virals – others are also anti-bacterial and/or anti-fungal – I’ve included a full list of easily forageable and cultivatable anti-viral and flu foe plants below.

I’ve taught you how to make fruit scrap vinegar (“Breaking it Down” Weedeater column in Arthur No. 32) and Molly Frances has talked about the uses of apple cider vinegar in Arthur. If you have some of that around then use this as a base. If not , make some so you always have some on hand. Vinegar is so healthy and antiseptic, not to mention delicious, it behooves you to always have some around.

As per my conviction, I only include plants that are easily forageable, cultivated or available in any neighborhood store, urban or rural. This is a decent list but not an inclusive list. I encourage you to do more research around anti-virals and the listed plants.


Aloe Vera—Wound healer extraordinaire that is also anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory and when the juice is drunk, helps repair digestive track and soothes ulcers. Always have this plant or a leaf on hand.

Eucalyptus—You lucky Californians! The oil from this common weedy tree is also anti-bacterial and anti-fungal. It breaks up and expels mucous, relieves congestion and cools fevers.

Garlic—The ubiquitous garlic is antiseptic, anti-bacterial, anti-parasitic, anti-fungal, immune-stimulating and anti-protozoan. Growing garlic is easy… try it!

Ginger —Yummy and fairly easy to find, ginger is anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, diaphoretic, anti-spasmodic, circulatory stimulant, anti-arthritic, anti-inflammatory and more. Can also be used in baths to warm the body and promote sweating.

Hen of the Woods – Forageable mushrooms -Yummy!

Lemon—Again this is a ‘forageable’ for the Californians… Lemon helps fight infections and stimulates immune system

Shiitakes – Easy to grow indoors. Investigate this!

Thyme—Chases mucus from the body. Thyme is antiseptic, antibiotic and anti-microbial.

Wildflower Honey – In its original undiluted state, there is no shelf lfve for honey. If you don’t keep bees, or know someone who does, work on either of these relationships this season. Honey is anti-biotic and anti-inflammatory; it’s an immune stimulant; it’s anti-carcinogenic, a laxative, a cell regenerator, and it’s anti-fungal… etc.!


Clove— Anti-bacterial, anti-septic, anti-microbial, bactericidal. Useful for infectious diseases and respiratory infections. This is something you pick up off a grocery shelf. Invaluable painkiller. I have used this on tooth and gun aches with huge relief.

Common Sage—wonderful for throat and upper respiratory infections.

Hyssop—This is most delicious as a tea. It relieves congestion, cough, sore throats and the constant beautiful blooms makes bees deliriously happy.

Juniper—Anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, antiseptic. Useful for upper respiratory infections, urinary tract infections, candida, salmonella, e. coli… Good to burn tby our dry toilets… Forageable.

Oregano—This common culinary herb is an anti-infectious agent and an immune stimulant. Who knew? Easy to grow too.

Peppermint—Fights infections, relieves congestion, clears sinuses – yum-yum and so easy to grow.

Rosemary—Anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, anti-parasitic. Also for respiratory infections. I love to bathe with this plant. The steaming of this plant also helps relieve migraines. Forageable for you west coasters.

Walnut –A bitter as heck blood cleanser, anti-inflammatory an anti-parasitic. Forageable.

Western Red Cedar – Binds wounds, helps on clearing lungs, diarrhea and an antifungal. Forageable.

Wormwood—Here is my friend Artemesia again, though not the common weedy one. It’s her cultivated cousin of yore…. Wormwood is anti-malarial, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory. In public gardens and therefore forageable with discretion.

MELLOW YELLOWS: Nance Klehm on dandelion wine (Arthur, 2008)

“Weedeater” – a column by Nance Klehm. Illustration by Aiyana Udesen.

Originally published in Arthur Magazine No. 29/May 2008


I first tasted dandelion wine when I bought a bottle of it at a folksy gift shop in the Amana Colonies (yes, Amana of the appliance fame). The Amana Colonies is an Amish community dating back to 1854. It was settled by the communally living German pietists then known as The Community of True Inspiration, or The Ebenezer Society. Their tenets included avoiding military service and refusal to take an oath. The Amanas are nestled in the middle of what is now a sea of genetically modified corn and soybeans known as the Midwest, more specifically Iowa.

I had wanted something to drink at my campsite that evening. When I opened the bottle, I anticipated something more magic than what met my tongue. It was cloying yellow syrupy stuff, which resembled soft drink concentrate. I poured it out next to my tent, returning it to the earth where she could compost it. I was sure that I’d never get close to it again.

That was fifteen years ago, and now I have been drinking dandelion wine for about two years. The new stuff is stuff I’ve made myself from dandelion blossoms gathered in Chicago. I’m happy to say that it is divine. I am sure now that the colonists actually keep the good stuff in their private cabinets.

Upon mentioning “dandelion wine”, Ray Bradbury usually comes to mind. However, after I heard a radio interview with him a few years back when he passionately made a case to colonize the moon so we can ditch this trashed planet and survive as a race, I got confused. Enough said.

So the point is, I am going to tell you how to make dandelion wine. I encourage you to do this because dandelions pop up everywhere and every place. They are nearly ubiquitous pioneers in our landscapes of disturbed and deprived soils. Consumed, they are a magnificent digestive, aiding the heath and cleansing of the kidneys and liver. Amongst vitamins A, B, C and D, they have a huge amount of potassium.

As a beyond-perfect diuretic, dandelion has so much potassium that when you digest the plant, no matter how much fluid you lose, your body actually experiences a net gain of the nutrient. In other words, folks – dandelion wine is one alcohol that actually helps your liver and kidneys! Generous, sweet, overlooked dandelion…

When you notice lawns and parks spotting yellow, it’s time to gather. The general rule of thumb is to collect one gallon of flowers for each gallon of wine you want to make.

Enjoy your wandering. People will think you quaintly eccentric for foraging blossoms on your hands and knees. Note: collect blossoms (without the stem) that have just opened and are out of the path of insecticides and pesticides.

So here’s how I make dandelion wine…

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International food sovereignty and deep democracy activist VANDANA SHIVA

“International food sovereignty and deep democracy activist VANDANA SHIVA [ref’d in Nance Klehm’s recent column: see here] shares her views on the current planetary situation in an event presented by the International Forum on Globalization (IFG), KPFA Radio 94.1 FM, and Navdanya International.”

Not sure of location. Maybe Sept 2008? Video courtesy Ecological Options Network

She’s introduced by JERRY MANDER, founder of author of the IFG and author of the (sadly) still essential Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television (1978) and In the Absence of the Sacred: The Failure of Technology and the Survival of the Indian Nations (1992). Here’s some recent Jerry Mander commentary…



by Nance Klehm for (“homegrown counterculture”)

In early February at THE SEED ARCHIVE’S “Seedy Sunday” event in Chicago, 70 people came by to pick up and learn about seeds.

It was a bit of a pile-up.

Four gallons of homemade, homegrown (last season) posole was never slurped so fast. Experienced growers shared their seeds and carefully picked through the collection, taking the most rare and unusual. The inexperienced came empty-handed and stuffed their pockets. As my friend Erik said: “Wait until they have 200 radishes to harvest and have to figure out what to do with them.”

Particularly exciting arrivals to the SEED ARCHIVE were blue lotus, mandrake and white alpine strawberries.

A public-access seed archive relies on its PUBLIC, which to me means a broad, diffuse network of folks growing seeds out and bringing them back. Completing this cycle is essential to not just the seed’s continued life but the vitality of the archive as a community resource.

Seeds require care and discipline. Many seeds can only be stored for a short period of time. Potatoes need to be grown out every year to remain viable. Lettuce seeds last only a year or two before they reach the end of their shelf-life. We can’t just stuff seed away and we can’t just grow things out willy-nilly.

Taking an informal poll here (in case any of you wish to respond, you are invited to): Why were people taking so much seed—far too much to grow and use?

The latter question came to mind as Vandana Shiva stepped up to a podium of a packed auditorium in Chicago a few days later. Here’s a picture…


Shiva comes from a farming, conservation and teaching family and as an environmental activist has a PhD in quantum physics. She is a GRANDMOTHER WARRIOR fighting Monsanto and the other four transnational corporations that control our global food supply—pushing GMO’s, toxic pesticides and herbicides affecting our seed and therefore farmers and their families, rural communities and ecosystems of plants and animals, soil quality and even us urban consumers. She uses an old form of resistance—inspiring a dedicated (read: strategized) and devoted (read heart-solid) group of people, mostly women to put their bodies on the line. Besides writing over 15 books, she has brought down the likes of Monsanto and Cargill on seeds and Coca-Cola on water rights. Shiva travels the globe extensively inserting toothpicks between our eyelids so we can see what the heck is going on. And like the toothpicks, it ain’t comfortable.

Four years ago I had the privilege of serving her on her week’s teaching residency in England. She was puffy, her breathing heavy, full of congestion. She was so unhealthy that it made me question the ability of a human, any human to hold such a large public identity and still remain whole and vital.

She looked better in Chicago, speaking about the Chipko movement of the early ’70s, an organized resistance to the destruction of forests in India. Village women organized the Chipko. It was thousands of women hugging trees that stopped the destruction, and popularized the action and use of ‘treehugging’ around the world. Chipko’s position was simple: forests support food, fuel and fodder, and stabilize soil and water. In other words, forests are integral to subsistence. That is: Ecology = Economy.

Press coverage of the Chipko movement:


Vandana Shiva also spoke about the great Bengal famine of the mid-1940s, when hundreds of thousands of Indians died due to the maldistribution of rice. Finally, women armed with broomsticks confronted the British East Indian Company to demand a lessened “tribute” of their rice crop so they could actually feed their families. Their message being: Let us keep more of the rice we grow or kill us now. Women and broomsticks, mind you. Witchy farmers, but not witches.

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This Sat: The First Poppy Seed See-in

Arthur presents

Saturday, March 7, 2009
4 pm
Eat Records
124 Meserole Avenue
Greenpoint, Brooklyn, New York

At the First Poppy Seed See-in we will gather together to look into what is called “the hidden dimension of the public sphere.”

For free distribution at the event will be the famous Poppy Seed Programmes: 200 pamphlets containing poppy seeds and illustrated by Michael Curtis Hilde with integral texts by Arthur “Weedeater” columnist/blogger Nance Klehm. Here’s an excerpt from her text:

“The hidden dimension of a public sphere is the sphere of imagination. How we locate disorder and remedy it is how we imagine our body and mind.”

Also available will be silkscreened prints of the Arthurdesh poster signed by artist Arik Roper. Posters are $5.

Come eat, drink, pick up poppies, talk and listen to records– support autonomous local businesses like Eat Records, haven to thinkers, practitioners, artists and free people alike– re-imagine, see-in.

Organized by Michael Curtis Hilde. Poster artwork by MCH.

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If you can’t make it to Eat Records this Saturday, we are setting aside 70 poppy seed-loaded Arthurdesh programs for sale online. These are for sale only in US ($6 postpaid) and Can ($8 postpaid).

Paypal your order to

First come, first seeded.