As you may know, Wonderfield Farm & Grove hosted the 2019 Florida Permaculture Convergence this month. This event was the culmination of an immense amount of dreaming, doing, and witnessing this experience unfold was absolutely beautiful, to put it lightly. One of the highlights of the event, believe it or not, were our gorgeous composting toilets! And want to know some exciting news? We are currently composting the “eco-deposits” of approximately 130 people that stayed with us at Wonderfield for 3 days. *There was no clean water was harmed during this process.*
After three days of converging in the name of Permaculture, all the wonderful humans who allowed this event to be went home, and we at Wonderfield basked in the fulfilling feeling of – WE DID IT. Then, Monday morning we got the call. The State health department received an anonymous complaint that Wonderfield Farm was illegally “treating” human waste, and also had illegal grey water runoff from showers on the property. Myself and my father, the owners of Wonderfield, were shocked. We immediately went to work after the state employee assuredly let us know she had contacted all relevant citrus county departments, notifying them of our infringements.
And this is where the fun begins…
I first called my dear friends who have a farm near us, who were our compost toilet mentors as we embarked on the journey of enacting regenerative practices, sustainable action, and zero-waste thinking on our farm. They had gifted me the book, The Humanure Handbook by Joseph Jenkins, and suggested I utilize the information there to help educate the county on how composting works, and why we are choosing to use compost toilets instead of traditional sewage treatment and disposal systems. I thanked them immensely and as we said our goodbyes they wished me luck. When I grabbed their book off my shelf, a Joseph Jenkins sanitation consulting business card fell out. “Hm”, I thought, “this could come in handy.”
My next step was to call back the state employee to find out more details on what laws we were breaking, how to remedy them, and what moving forward will look like. She shared with me the Florida Administrative Code for standards for “onsite sewage treatment and disposal systems”, and explained how we were breaking the law by not having proper septic systems in place. I tried to explain the composting process, and how we were trying something new and regenerative, and she literally said she didn’t care what we were trying, it was against the law and we needed septic systems. As I heard “no” and “you can’t” multiple times, it was an interesting thing because I felt, excited. It’s like I know, deep down, that there is a “yes” lingering there, it just hasn’t been uncovered yet. I thanked her for her help, and hung up the phone.
Remember that business card that fell out of the Humanure Handbook? For Joseph Jenkins “Composting as a Sanitation Alternative” Consulting? That was my next call. A kind receptionist answered, and I shared my story, citing how Jenkins book was a guiding source for our decision to implement composting toilets at our farm, and we may need their help keeping them in action! She kindly informed me, “actually, Joe is sitting right here and heard your story. He’d love to chat with you more. Let me transfer your call to his personal line upstairs and he’ll be available in one moment. Is this alright with you?”
UH. YES IT’S ALRIGHT. GET ME ON THE PHONE WITH THE MAN, THE LEGEND, JOE JENKINS.
So, that’s how this shitty story takes a turn. I spoke on the phone with Joe Jenkins, the author of the book that literally inspired this whole journey in the first place. He spent his time helping me dissect the code that the state employee had cited against me, gave me tips on what vocabulary to use and not to use when speaking with state and county officials, and gave me actionable steps to move forward with success. It was a surreal moment! One of my favorite parts of the conversation is when he advised me, “What regulates composting? There’s no regulations on what we choose to compost, the organic material is our business.”
We are still working on the logistics with Citrus County to have our gorgeous composting toilets approved, but I feel exceptionally excited that we’re getting closer to that “YES”.