Thursday, August 1, 2013

Tagro - Organic By Who's Standard?

Be the change you want to see in the world.
~Mahatma Gandhi

Often people ask me if I use Tagro. My short, politically correct answer is ‘No, it’s not organic’.  What I would really like to say is ‘I wouldn’t touch that stuff with a 100 foot pole.” Even better, I love it when people press me further as to why I won’t use it so I can extol the virtues of organic gardening to yet another person wanting to care for their little part of the earth. 

Tagro is the municipality’s solid waste division’s solution on what to do with human waste.   Some communities call it ‘sludge’ and residents fight to keep the counties from spraying a liquefied version into the forests and woodlands.  The city mixes it with sawdust and sand to give it a crumbly, compost like texture so it looks kind of like compost.  The city then advertises it with lots of tax paid advertising as a “Natural Yard Care” alternative to be used to amend your soil or raked across your lawn instead of fertilizers or natural compost.  Does your community have such a product?

The city touts it to be organic.  Understand there is more than one definition of organic.  Webster’s dictionary has several definitions of organic, two of which are “1. as relating to, or arising in a bodily organ; 2. derived from living things” which is how Tagro can claim a semblance of organic status.  Agricultural practices define organic as “a production system which avoids or largely excludes the use of synthetically compounded fertilizers, pesticides, growth regulators, and livestock feed additives.  To the maximum extent feasible, organic farming systems rely upon crop rotations, crop residues, animal manures, legumes, green manures, off-farm organic wastes, mechanical cultivation, mineral-bearing rocks, and aspects of biological pest control to maintain soil productivity and tilth, to supply plant nutrients, and to control insects, weeds and other pests”.  Research shows organic practices result in regeneration of renewable resources in the soil whereas chemical practices result in dead soil, incapable of feeding plant life without further and continual chemical replenishment because the chemicals kill the living biology of the soil.

In reality, Tagro, sludge and its counterparts are all comprised of chemically treated human waste.  Organic only by a dictionary definition, not mine and certainly not the definition of healthy soil practices. Tagro has the most foul, sour acrid odor which I can smell blocks away if I have the misfortune to be down wind.  It smells nothing like the sweet, earthy smell of real compost or even composted steer manure.  Nor does it have the nutritive value or the tilth building qualities of real compost. 

What it does do is give a huge shot of nitrogen to what ever it touches, so if you rake it across your lawn you must mow your lawn twice a week to keep up with the out-of-control growth. I use a mulching mower which gives a nice shot of natural nitrogen to my lawn which I only have to mow once a week during Spring’s growth spurt.  Spring grass is naturally high in nitrogen so leaving the mulched (more finely chopped than regular mower blades chop) clippings on your lawn to decompose is all the fertilizer it needs.

Because Tagro is chemically treated human waste (along with everything else that gets flushed down the commode, for example pharmaceuticals) I believe it also kills the living organisms in your soil, and the worms.  Dead soil can’t support plant life so you have to buy and use a lot more fertilizer or Tagro. I want living soil microbes and worms in my garden soil. Living soil is what supports plant life, which supports bug life, which supports avian life and on it goes.

Recently I’ve seen Tagro’s potting soil mix experimented with in greenhouse growing operations. In pots it is very heavy in structure, not giving the plant’s roots a good air/water mix for healthy root growth. Also it is physically heavier so lifting pots is more difficult. More importantly the plants growth was stunted and the leaf’s color was off and splotchy. After planting with it for an hour, one of the staff (that would be me) complained of headache. All in all it got a bad report from the commercial growers.

If you want to support your community and utilize its in-house programs, better alternatives are Zoo Doo manure programs and community supported composting businesses. My city collects garden waste and it goes to a business that composts it, then sells it to consumers by the bag or truckload. It is always certified organic. The nearby Zoo Doo program is so popular with gardeners they always sell out quickly every spring. If your local zoo doesn’t have this program perhaps they’d be interested in your suggestion in their inbox.

There are so many healthy ways to organically amend your garden soil. Tagro should never be an option.

In Bloom in My Garden Today:  Agastache foeniculum (anise hyssop), Alyssum,Astilbe arendsii ‘Diamant’, Begonia ‘bonfire’,Borage,Coreopsis ‘moonbeam’,Daisy(white double), Daphne caucasica, Echinacea pallida,Echinacea purpurea magnus, Fuchsia, Gaillardia (blanket flower), Geranium ‘mavis simpson’, Geum, Gladiolus ‘Boone’ (heirloom 1920’s), Green Beans, Lavender, Lobelia, Nepeta, Oregano, Perovskia ‘little spire’, Salvia, Scheherazade oriental lily, Sedum, Star Jasmine (trachelospermum jasminoides), Thyme ‘foxley’, Zucchini, Tomato

Author’s  photo


Debra Daniels-Zeller said...

This is a really informative post. I didn't know about this product and would never consider using it. Thanks for sharing this information!

Joan said...

Hi Debra,
Thanks for reading. Glad to share and glad to be of like minds. Cheers!!

Panhead47 said...

Your article seems inaccurate. I have used Tagro for 5 years. Works great as a soil amendment for garden beds and potting mixes. I see nothing in your article to change my mind other than "your opinions". With 3.6 million people in the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue metro area I believe reusing the product of a careful treatment of "human sludge" is part of the solution rather than a problem. I have seen no "scientifically verified" evidence for it's harmful effects that you claim.

Joan said...

Hello Panhead47 and welcome!

Thank you for reading my blog and commenting to reopen the discussion on such an important topic.

You are entirely right! My opinion is that using human sewage in our food source is bad news. I base my opinion on,
1. My personal research on the subject
2. My personal experience in working with the product
3. My knowledge of the legal USDA definition of organic OMRI certified compost

Using human sewage as fertilizer is indeed a controversial subject. I site no reference links in my posts because over time reference links become corrupted. I don’t like to send my readers to “error pages” because an original reference link that I cite has broken down and with over 100 posts I can’t keep up with continual link checks. Further, I believe my readers to be web savvy so as to conduct their own research. A simple web search on sludge pros and cons will bring up a myriad of research articles on both sides of the topic. We must be willing to read the pros and cons of a subject and base our opinions from there on our experiences and that which we know to be true.
That sums up how I base my opinion on 1,2,3 above. I respect your opinion and am glad you suffer no ill effects from using the product.

I will elaborate on 1,2,3 for you as you are clearly a deeply thinking person.

To elaborate on #1…research cited on many websites including, US National Library of Medicine and respected university agriculture research groups (Colorado State Univ and Virginia Tech to name two) conclude based on test results that toxins like flame retardants, pharmaceuticals, steroids, salts, metals, human hormones, human pathogens and petrochemical solvents to name a few are all found in unnatural and toxic quantities on land where the sewage is used. One article cites half a dairy herd was killed by high levels of thallium (the toxic metal in rat poison) found on the land that used sewage spray. Municipalities that create sludge cannot control what we flush down our toilets and pour down our sink drains. If that isn’t enough to raise a red flag, think of the level of chemicals and deodorizers needed to make sewage “clean”. It is a well-known and documented fact that chemicals don’t just disappear and not all breakdown into safe compounds. In the Pacific Northwest region more than one reputable local organic composting producer lost their state organic certification for a time because Clopyralid, known to be a chemical that persists was found in unacceptable levels. All that creates a toxic soup that hampers healthy living soil and plant growth. Additionally, research has proven that antibiotics found in sewage applications are contributing to the formation of antibiotic resistant bacteria. This is alarming as sewage is considered a cheap fertilizer and used extensively in poor communities and poor countries as well as the conventional US farming industry. The negative worldwide potential is astounding.

To elaborate on #2…my personal experience in working with the product as cited in my post is that not only did it produce headache in me it also changed the physiology of the plant to an undesirable state. The entire crop was no longer fit to be sold to the public.
I have also spoken with several people who developed chronic headaches after repeated consumption of home grown vegetables that were grown with treated sewage product. Once the vegetables and fruit from this source were eliminated, so were the headaches. I am glad this is not the case for you. May your good health continue.

To elaborate on #3…the legal USDA definition that I provide in the post is just that, the legal government definition…it is not simply my opinion. A myriad of research supports that living soil microbial health is key to growing healthy crops. Toxic additions to soil (refer to #1), kills soil health.

Thanks for tuning in!
Happy Gardening!

Penny Bergmen said...

yes, I have had MANY people tell me it is "organic" and I have tried to explain that "organic", as in "organic chemistry" (this really played hard in our community garden, which in many cases are supported with Pierce County guess what they advocate...) is not "organic gardening" which is completely different! They even invited an organic chemist to come and talk to the garden group! I left. Anyway, many people walk past my garden now here in the city and they always ask, "do you use Tagro" or "I'm getting ready to have a load delivered to my yard" and I politely tell them , i wouldn't touch that junk! Just all you've said, but you say it better, and it's in print....thanks for explaining it so well. may I print this as a flyer and leave it posted on my garden?

Joan said...

Hello Penny,
First of all thank you for reading and commenting. I love that people are still doing online researches regarding this product and am glad my post is still surfacing in their search.

Like you, I too have neighbors who have offered to share their load of Tagro with me and I politely decline with my explanation. Some opt for a better choice, but some don't. I believe some people are just not wired to understand what we are talking about.

I am appalled at how pushy the city is with their false advertising. But alas, we can only do our best to re-educate those who are willing to hear.

That said, yes you may post my article if you like. I only ask that you cite it as my authorship and website.

You go girl! Thanks for doing your best to take care of your little part of our precious earth! Happy Gardening!