"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 http://spontaneousvegetation.net/humble-pile/

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: spontaneousvegetation.net

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: spontaneousvegetation.net

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! Continue reading