A Trojan Horse Filled With Poop

Yay!! I’ve lost 25.6 pounds total so far with 54.4 pounds to go to reach my goal!  My BMI has dropped from 36.9 to 33.1 and my goal is 24.9.

Natural Weight Loss


A Trojan Horse Filled With Poop

Ironically, it was a totally natural and “organic” material that began our reliance on external agricultural input and paved the way for our chemical addiction.

in 1804, the German botanist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt brought back a sample of guano from his adventures in South America.

Off the coast of what is now Peru, he found islands on which thousands of years of seabird poop had made giant cliffs of concentrated and powerful nitrogen-rich powder, or guano.

The indigenous people had used it for generations to fertilize their crops.

The sample von Humboldt brought back was analyzed and found to be high in nitrogen, an element known for its ability to improve the fertility of soil.

Until then, farmers had relied on manure from livestock and people, wood ash, and bones to fertilize their fields.

In 1840, W.J. Myers and Company imported 20 casks of guano for experiments.

After a few farmers in Great Britain achieved near-astounding results from apply guano, demand grew quickly.

In 1850, 80% of Americans lived on farms, which accounted for 75% of the nation’s economic output.

Farmers started seeing a decline of fertility that went along with their “primitive agricultural techniques,” like growing the same crops on the same land for more than 100 years without rotation and without adding back sufficient organic material.

Farmers became determined to find ways to improve their yields.

Guano fit the bill and, influenced by strategic advertising and editorials in farm magazines, farmers started buying the fertilizer.

Suddenly, in addition to the smell of bird droppings, people started to smell profits, and the “Great Guano Rush” was on.

Thus begins one of the more unusual forgotten episodes of our past.

By 1851, 66,000 tons of guano had been imported to the US.

Prices fluctuated wildly, but mostly rose higher and higher, and opportunists began marketing inferior guano and making fortunes.

In 1850, President Fillmore, in his first State of the Union address, said because Peruvian guano had become so desirable for US agriculture it was the duty of the government to use all means necessary to obtain it.

In 1856, the US government passed the Guano Island Act.

As a result, the US government seized 94 islands off the coast of Peru just to harvest bird poop.

Few Americans wanted to harvest guano, so Chinese slaves were imported and Peruvian Indians were imprisoned to do the work.

Many workers were kidnapped into slavery and forced to work long hours for minimal pay.

The only escape was death, and many workers, if they weren’t buried alive in collapsed guano trenches, threw themselves into the sea.

Despite the tragedy of how guano was acquired, it replenished the soil depleted by a century of nonstop cultivation.

Better farming practices, like crop rotation, and applying compost and free fertilizer like livestock manure would have worked just as well as if not better than guano.

But, as is often true today, farmers believed a solution they had to pay for must be better than the one requiring their own hard work.

In contrast to the slow and steady hard work of soil management, guano was a quick fix that prepared farmers for the chemicals to come.

By the 1870s, all natural sources of guano were exhausted.

But the expectation that fertilizer needed to be bought from some external source remained.

The most important changes were in the thinking of farmers.

In the areas where guano was first introduced, farmers were already buying urban manures and soil supplements, but guano greatly reinforced and extended this commercial mentality.

Farmers became accustomed to buying large amounts of relatively expensive, concentrated fertilizers.

Farmers also learned to accept fertilizers that acted quickly and whose strength was used up in a year or two.

Most importantly, they came to expect any other fertilizer they tried should be as highly concentrated as guano.

Many companies sold guano-substitute fertilizer for years after all the natural guano was gone, which were much cheaper, but also much less effective.

Meanwhile, during the approximately 30 years guano was in use, farmers became dependent on external resources to farm their land and forgot they could use their own natural resources.

By the time they realized the new guano didn’t work, it was too late.

They were hooked.

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Dick and Lenay

email: lenay@dickandlenay.com – 715-431-0657

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