Our zine “Infrastructural Digest” is now completed(!) and 250 copies have just been printed for the opening of the Privy2 demonstration garden. The zine features original artwork and essays by OSU students and faculty that reflect on the history of sanitation and its relationship to agriculture. You can download a copy here.
Our latest article is out, which examines the history and cross-cultural management of human waste (or “night soil”) as an agricultural resource. The paper grew out of a collaborative class project that I proposed to Master’s degree students enrolled in my Environmental Anthropology course in the spring of 2017. Together, we delved into the archaeology and history of night soil use and management, as well as some recent ethnographic research on the subject. This paper synthesizes that work and puts it in conversation with contemporary theorizing of the “metabolic rift” — or the notion that the rise of industrial capitalism led to a fundamental rupture in human relations to the earth’s ecological systems. The article, titled “Night Soil: Origins, Discontinuities, and Opportunities for Bridging the Metabolic Rift,” can be found in the latest issue of the open access journal Ethnobiology Letters.
This summer I’ve been working with students and colleagues in the Knowlton School of Architecture at Ohio State to install a demonstration garden, titled “Privy2: Biosolids and You.” The project is designed to draw attention to the processes by which waste products are transformed into both agricultural and architectural resources. The garden is fertilized with Com-Til — a Class A biosolids product made by the City of Columbus — and planted with corn. The site will also feature an architectural pavilion constructed primarily of material derived from recycled plastics. You can follow our progress and learn more from the project website. You can also read this recent article that provides an overview of the project.
If you want to learn about all the fascinating things central Ohio does with its so-called “human waste,” come to this public talk I’ll be giving at Whetstone Library in Columbus on October 27th at 1pm. I’ll discuss how the city is transforming waste into an agricultural resource used to sustain poplar farms on abandoned strip mines, fertilize commodity crops, and produce garden compost, among other things. To conclude, I’ll discuss some of the ongoing obstacles and concerns about expansion of its use in the region. See you there!
Last Friday and Saturday, we hosted a workshop that invited students, faculty, and staff from Ohio State (as well as new friends from Kenyon College) to learn about Mayan milpa agriculture (maize farming) and reflect on how it may serve as a model for rethinking farming here in Ohio. We were very fortunate to have Abraham Kan, a guest from Aguacate village in the Toledo District of Belize, to lead us in planting a milpa at the OSU Student Farm with an array of different landraces of corn, from Oaxacan Green Dent Corn and Blue Jade Sweet Corn to Tom Thumb popcorn. From the beginning, we wanted the workshop to help encourage conversations and experiments in different types of agriculture in the OSU community. We hope the milpa is a step in that direction.
On Tuesday afternoon at the American Anthropological Association Meeting, I had the opportunity to participate as discussant on a panel that focused on sedimentation as a social analytic. The papers examined accretions of volatile toxic forms in human bodies, the sedimented legacies of settler colonial experience, and emergent legal and political-economic frameworks that shape the livelihoods of farmers in Mozambique, Brazil, and the Galapagos. You can find my brief essay here.
What does the Culture and Agriculture section of the American Anthropological Association have brewing up for this year’s meeting? Take a look.