Manure Happens... (To Make Food a lot Better)

By Jessica Ford

April 30, 2014

Manure Happens... (To Make Food a lot Better)

Heifer has always purported its seven Ms. These are the seven things that providing an animal can mean for a family: milk, meat, muscle, motivation, money, material and, today’s rock star, manure. When the Seagoing Cowboys first shipped animals overseas, they stopped throwing the manure overboard because it was so highly valued by farmers that sometimes they wanted the manure more than the animal. Of course, the value of manure is nothing new to farmers, this organic fertilizer is used by most small farmers who practice subsistence farming all over the world. 

In Romania, this is certainly the case. There, supermarkets and other food vendors typically sell produce grown using all sorts of chemicals. But now, more and more there, budding amateur gardeners want to return to the more organic forms of gardening without all the artificial fertilizers and chemicals—and the demand is rising. Sometimes this means giving up certain produce coloring and the perfect looking piece of fruit, but in return, they get healthier fruits and vegetables that will feed folks a more nutritious product that tastes better, too.

So what do farmers turn to? Manure. Who knew that there could be such high science around manure?  Here are some fine examples:

Horse manure is by far the best fertilizer. It has only 70 percent water, is very rich in hydrocarbons and has lots of nitrogen in it. Half of its caloric energy fades away in the first two weeks, but the rest is released in seven or eight weeks. So, manure is placed as a “hot bed” on starting seeds to keep them warm and fertilized throughout the growth process.

Cow manure is distinguished from horse manure by its higher water content (75-80 percent). This means that the maximum temperature reached through fermentation is lower. To increase its energetic value, we just add a little bit of straw or sawdust. Because of its higher water content, it helps keep soil evenly moist throughout the growing season.

Sheep or goat manure is awesome for one big reason: it stinks less! Not to mention, it has a lower nitrogen concentration, so it can never burn plants.  It is a naturally slow-release fertilizer, so it can be used as mulch. Sheep and goat manure is typically very dry and must be moistened with water before being used. Sometimes it is mixed with another type of manure to speed up fermentation.

Of course, manure is just manure without an awesome Heifer family to help make it work for them. One of our farmers in Romania is doing just that. In the Empowering Roma Women in the Bistrita County project, manure is a major asset for families to grow healthy vegetables.

These families practicing traditional subsistence farming, grow vegetables for themselves, and often work together for sharing seeds and farming techniques. And, of course, all farmers in the project who have animals take great pride in their vegetable gardens. The project started in December 2013 when the first five heifers were distributed. Now the project is ready to select new farmers to Pass on the Gift to.

Ivan Ion's family is one such family. Ivan lives with his wife Mariana. They received their heifer in December 2013. They have four children: 10-year-old Izabela, who has been diagnosed with a type of paralysis; 8-year-old Alexandra, who is her mama’s big helper in the kitchen; and sons, six-year-old Paul and two-year-old Nicusor. 

Ivan and Marian have been married for 22 years and the only income they’ve consistently been able to depend on is the pension they receive from Izabela’s disability. This is about 510 lei, or about $120, per month. Managing to survive has been tough, but they feel like it actually brings them closer together as a family. They only eat what they produce in their garden—so the cow from Heifer was a life-changing gift. Then, surprise! The Heifer they received had a baby heifer. Now the whole family is beyond excited to raise her and even more excited about getting to pass on the gift.

Year-by-year this family cultivates potatoes, onions, red beans and sprouts in their tiny vegetable garden. They know manure is very healthy for the garden. They aren’t interested in the chemical stuff, even if they could afford it. 

“My children are eating natural tomatoes, even if they are small and don’t look perfect. They are healthier and tastier than anything we could ever buy,” Ivan said while showing us how he transports the manure with his carriage.

And it isn’t just the manure, of course. His last words to us: “At least we no longer have to buy the milk for our children. And for the future we want to start saving money to buy another cow. With the help received from Heifer we have a chance.”

Field story and photos by Laura Manciu, Communication and PR Coordinator, Heifer Romania