Night Soil and the Metabolic Rift

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.

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A tractor spreads biosolids (i.e. treated sanitation sludge) over a field in central Washington state.

Maya Milpa Workshop at OSU’s Waterman Farm

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.

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2013 Ethnobiology Conference Podcasts

Podcasts of presentations from the 2013 Conference for the Society of Ethnobiology are now available online. You can find my presentation titled “Crop Diversity and Climate Change: Manioc Varietal Management in the Rural Amazon” and others from the conference’s plenary panel here.