On Thursday, October 12th, Calaveras officials in West Point, California discovered a sizeable illegal cannabis grow consisting of 445 plants and 60 pounds of processed marijuana. While searching the premises, the officers soon realized that surrounding the plants was human feces. As it turns out, the two individuals responsible were using their own poo to fertilize their crop. If the thought of puffing on bud that was grown using human waste makes you cringe, then you aren’t alone. But here’s a shocking revelation for you: they are just one of millions of farmers doing the same exact thing.
63-year-old Rong Zhang and 42-year-old Sishou Zheng are now behind bars in the Calaveras County Jail facing charges of illegal cultivation and knowingly discharging hazardous substances upon the land of another without the permission of the owner. The idea of cultivating anything in human poop sounds downright disgusting.
Studies reveal that 200 million farmers are using human feces as fertilizer.
According to a study published by the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), “nearly 200 million farmers in China, India, Vietnam, sub-Saharan Africa, and Latin America harvest grains and vegetables from fields that use untreated human waste.” While this practice doesn’t come without risks, IWMI environmental scientist Pay Drechsel believes the benefits outweigh the potential health hazards, especially for poor urban farmers.
In developing countries, farmers frequently face water shortages. And with fertilizer prices on the rise, affordable food isn’t always obtainable. So to them, it only makes sense to turn to raw sewage. After all, it does contain the same vital nutrients as pricey chemical fertilizer, including phosphorous, nitrogen, and potassium. Plus it’s free of charge.
Although human wastewater and feces could be the key to helping urban farmers escape poverty, the health hazards are still there. According to The Humanure Handbook by Joseph Jenkins, there’s a fine line between raw humanure and treated humanure.
Raw humanure, in particular, puts you at risk for a variety of disease pathogens, including hepatitis, cholera, and intestinal parasites, just to name a few. By tossing it onto a field, you are essentially promoting the spread of such diseases.
Treated humanure, on the other hand, is a different story. By properly composting humanure, any potential pathogens would then be destroyed. In case you’ve never heard of it, composting, in a nutshell, is the process of recycling decomposed organic materials into a fertile soil called compost. For cannabis growers looking to avoid fertilizers loaded with chemicals, composting is a much more natural and attractive option.
Composting your typical scraps, such as plant clippings and fruits, is an overall simple process. But when you’re dealing with human feces, it gets tricky. It’s absolutely crucial that this compost system produces a high enough temperature to kill off bacteria and pathogens. And that temperature must be maintained for long periods of time, so strict monitoring is required.
For those that don’t have the time nor the knowledge to compost safely, they are only putting themselves and their garden at risk. National Geographic News notes that “nearly 2.2 million people die each year because of diarrhea-related diseases, including cholera, according to WHO statistics.” Also, that over “80 percent of those cases can be attributed to contact with contaminated water and a lack of proper sanitation.” In other words, you’re better off not trying this at home. Sure, the practice has its perks, but at what cost to your health?