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

From In These Times

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

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

In These Times

Poop. 


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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MELLOW YELLOWS: Nance Klehm on dandelion wine

“Weedeater” – a column by Nance Klehm

Originally published in Arthur Magazine No. 29/May 2008

MELLOW YELLOWS

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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THE SODFATHER: Californian compost wizard TIM DUNDON

The Sodfather
Californian compost wizard TIM DUNDON talks shit with Daniel Chamberlin.

Photography by Eden Batki

Originally published in Arthur No. 27 (Dec 2007) – available for $5.

Original design by Molly Frances and Mark Frohman.

Find bonus Sodfather photos by Chamberlin at Into The Green.

Alchemists are often characterized in modern times as bumbling would-be wizards at best, greedy charlatans at worst. They’re portrayed as fumbling hopelessly in cluttered laboratories, unenlightened madmen trying to turn lead into gold. The reality is more complex, of course.

Alchemists were up to plenty of things, many of them having to do with relating to the natural world—and understanding its processes of transformation and transmutation—in philosophical and spiritual dimensions that transcended traditional religious thinking, both Christian and pagan, and preceded modern scientific thought. The whole “lead into gold” thing was but the most lucrative of the alchemical —or hermetic—practices in the eyes of the monarchs and rulers. Alchemy’s material prima as Peter Lamborn Wilson writes in the recent collection Green Hermeticism: Alchemy and Ecology, “can be found ‘on any dung hill.’ Hermeticism changes shit into gold.” It’s an image memorably realized in Alejandro Jodorowsky’s 1973 film The Holy Mountain wherein the thief character takes a dump in a fancy bucket, and Jodorowsky, playing an alchemist, distills those fresh turds into a hefty chunk of golden bling.

Such fantastical processes are well known to dirt-worshipping gardening sage Tim Dundon, the beneficent caretaker of California’s most famous compost pile and the kindly warden of the tropical forest that has fruited from its rich humus. It’s here that Dundon, a scientist-poet in the truest hermetic sense, finds hope and salvation in the transformation of death into life—of rotting organic matter into nutrient-rich soil—that takes place daily in the fecund jungle he maintains on his one-acre yard.

The botanical odyssey of Dundon, the self-proclaimed “guru of doo-doo” and the man whose mammoth compost pile once covered a football-field-sized lot, begins in 1967 with a marijuana shortage. Like any good gardening story, it encompasses Hollywood producers, fires, suicide, PCP injection, a nude Quaker iconoclast, standoffs with city officials and a violent pet coyote.

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The "Guru of Doodoo" makes a delivery to Arthur Editorial Home/Office

Delivered Monday, 1015am: A truckload of high-grade compost (finely chipped wood and horse stable stuff), for a grand total of sixty bucks, courtesy of the rhyming King of Compost, Altadena, California’s amazing earth wizard Tim Dundon…

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Surplus compost free to all. Neighbors, ex-neighbors…

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Gentleman gardener from around the corner, first-gen Armenian immigrant…

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The missus…

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A musician from the other side of Los Feliz…

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