It makes no sense to me that we take perfectly good drinking water, mix it with our poo, flush it down the toilet, and then pay millions of monies to separate that poo from that water in an attempt to make it clean again. The poo gets turned back into solids (biosolids) and most of the time ends up in landfill. In fact less than 1% of those biosolids ever get used in agriculture despite being totally safe, sterile and full of useful nutrients that plants love. I can’t be the only person that thinks this is total madness?
Here at the Freedom Farm we are pursuing a plan I like to call RE-POOPULATING THE EARTH and it’s the opposite of what we used to do back home. It takes marginally more time than simply flushing but it’s also natural, chemical free, and a literal gift to the earth: it’s called Humanure. I honestly believe that composting our poop could help reverse the negative effects of years of industrial farming and help save the world.
I asked if anyone would be willing to open up about their poo practices and share with us how they manage to go to the toilet in an off-grid environment when the nearest flush is a million miles away.
I describe how we do the business here at the Freedom Farm and we also hear from two adventurous women:
Abby, a homesteader and former climate change political advisor who lives in the Valencia region of Spain.
Katelyn, who lives on 5,5 acres in the wilds of Alaska with her husband and two daughters.
Here we go…
What kind of property do you live on?
Freedom Farm: The Freedom Farm is 3 ha of olive and almond orchards, semi-arid, 500m above sea level in Maella, Aragón, Spain.
Abby: We have 34,000 square metres of stone wall terraced hillside growing olives, carob and almond.
Katelyn: I live off grid/off road on 5.5 acres in Alaska.
To what extent are you off-grid?
Freedom Farm: We are completely off-grid, the nearest mains electricity or water is about 12km away.
Katelyn: Fully off-grid.
Do you have electricity and if so how do you provide it?
Freedom Farm: We have a solar set up that serves our needs all year round.
Abby: We use solar power only, collecting from 2 x 300W panels to 4x110Ah batteries in a 12V system. We have a 1200W inverter that gives us 230V supply in our caravan (although our lights run directly from 12V).
Katelyn: A small 400 watt solar set up in summer, and generator for backup and winter use.
Where do you get water from? Is it easy or difficult?
Freedom Farm: We get plenty of sun so our batteries are always topped up, but our water tanks are a different story. We have capacity to store 10,000 litres, but we get so little rain some years that we need to collect water from the river with a big tank on a trailer.
Abby: 100% of our water was, until recently, collected by hand from a water source (fuente) where it rushes out of a pipe into a water trough for goats. We would collect in an assortment of containers and drive it back home to empty into our 500 litre tank that provides water to the taps in our caravan by gravity. Very recently though we have had the 100s year old cisterna (a large stone underwater tank) repaired and we had it filled from a water supply truck. Now have 28,000 litres of water at our disposal and we only go to the fuente for our drinking water.
Katelyn: In winter we drink snow melt and use filtered creek water for washing/cleaning. In summer we use a rainwater catchment system for all our water needs. Getting water from the creek in winter can be tough once it reeves over.
How/where do you go to the toilet?
Freedom Farm: In our tiny house we have a wet room with a shower and a small basin. In there we keep two plastic “camping” toilets, one for pee and one for poop. A scoop of sawdust is added after every poop. Inside there are small removeable buckets for taking the waste outside where we compost it into “humanure”. The solid waste sits for at least one year before we use it in the garden.
Abby: We have two toilets. The caravan bathroom has a proper white loo but we only use this toilet for wees. It’s emptied daily in the vicinity of a tree which benefits from the nutrient input. Number 2s are reserved for our outside loo where we use a compost toilet system. It’s a large wooden box which contains a 5 litre can for wee, and a 20 litre bucket for solid waste. The box has a proper wooden loo seat and it’s compulsory to sit down even for wees to ensure the liquid and solid waste is separated. We have a bucket of sawdust next to the loo which is used to cover up a poo after it’s done. There are 3 of us, and we empty the bucket (and the urine can) twice a week the solid matter goes into our pallet compost bin. We use one bin per year, mixing toilet waste with straw and kitchen scraps. After 2 years the compost can be used to fertilise the trees.
Katelyn: We have a pit style outhouse about 60 ft from our cabin. Indoors we have a marine camping toilet for our toddlers.
For what reason have you chosen this method?
Freedom Farm: We had a very tight budget to renovate our old ruin into a liveable house. Faced with the extortionate cost of putting in a septic tank we decided to go for a much much cheaper option. An option that would be positive for the environment and help us enrich our soil.
Abby: We chose this method as flushing toilets are wasteful of decent water and simply not practical where we are.
Katelyn: It was simple and cheap.
How is it going? Are you happy with your setup or would you like to change it?
Freedom Farm: We are very happy with the system, it’s easy and simple, can’t really break down or stop working, plus it fits into our goals of permaculture and regenerative agriculture. The only problem we have experienced is other people misunderstanding what we’re doing. People assume it’s dirty or smelly but the reality is that it’s a simple system that requires little effort or inconvenience.
Abby: In our experience, even though the toilet is sited in full sun in just a pallet shelter with no door (we use a beaded curtain to keep the flies out but so we can still enjoy the view from the loo), we have never had a problem with either smell or flies. It’s clean and simple to use. The only problem we have occasionally is when the urine separator gets blocked by a bit of woodchip and has to be cleared with a stick. Also wee smells much worse than poo after a few days so frequent emptying of the pee container is important to prevent it overflowing or getting smelly. We use a squeezy sports water bottle as a “flush” to rinse the wee funnel after use.
Katelyn: Going 5 years strong and it’s been working great so far.
Tell us a funny/shocking poop story about poop life off-grid!
Freedom Farm: Chasing after the little internal bucket, in calf-deep mud, as it blew away in a storm and thinking “I’ve got no one to blame but myself!”.
Abby: Dogs. It’s always the dogs. I once removed the bucket from the toilet box and popped inside to get something. When I came back out the dogs were tucking in to a free lunch.
Katelyn: Because we live in Alaska we have to have a stick in the outhouse for knocking over the “poopcicle” in winter. My pro tip for outhouses in cold areas is to use blueboard or foam board insulation as a toilet seat to keep bums warm!