We've been out on the farm for a little over a month now. We're adjusting to things such as the drive into town, mosquitoes, how to manage our garbage in an area where there is no garbage collection, and sorting out how to get four kids to four different schools that all begin at the same time.
Yesterday in the late afternoon I noticed a tank truck pulling into the neighbour's farm. It was the kind of truck they use for pumping out septic tanks and they are a common sight in my area because no one here is connected to a sewer system - we all have septic tanks. When your septic tank is full you go out and get a tank truck to come out and empty it.
What happens next? Sometimes the driver will unload the contents into the sewer system, usually by pulling over the side of a main road and opening the grate that covers the sewer and pumping out the tank. Yeah! But more often than not, the drivers just drive along the road and unload their tank of human waste on the side of the road. And then there are farmers who are happy to have the poop trucks come and unload on their farms so they can use it as fertilizer.
Why do farmers use human waste as fertilizer? Well, for one thing it's much cheaper than commercially made fertilizer. It keeps the costs for the farmers down which in turn helps keep the costs of produce down for consumers. Using human waste as fertilizer is a common practice in developing countries while the use of human waste is illegal in most developed countries.
But is using untreated human feces as fertilizer safe? In most cases, the excrement is used on cereal or grain crops, which are eventually cooked, minimizing the risk of transmitting water-borne pathogens and diseases. But when used on crops that will be eaten raw and unwashed by consumers there is a risk of produce absorbing disease-causing bacteria. It's estimated by WHO that nearly 2.2 million people worldwide die each year because of diarrhea-related diseases, including cholera, and more than 80 percent of those cases are due to contact with contaminated water and a lack of proper sanitation. Aside from bacteria there are also risks of parasitic worm infections, such as Ascaria since the larvae are found in feces and human waste also contains antibiotics and other medicines that are excreted by the body. Do the benefits outweigh the risks?
Apart from possible dangers there is also the wonderful aroma! Forget about having a cookout, or relaxing on the patio with a tall glass of iced tea and a good book, until the odor dissipates I am stuck indoors. It's one more thing to get used to out on the farm.
And it's just something to think about when you stop at the vegetable stand this week... sigh..