As a local boy with fond memories of traipsing about Fairview Gardens, I am outraged by the “improvements” foisted upon the organic farm by the Goleta Planning Commission and “dismayed” neighbors. I won’t discuss here the paternalistic/racist attitude of the neighboring suburbanites toward the farm workers on-site, but that is another important conversation. Of particular concern to me is the apparent upcoming elimination of Fairview Gardens’ greywater and composting toilet systems, at a time when these techniques are becoming more and more appropriate for wider adoption and education. Water and nutrients will now be flushed and piped off the farm — at great cost — into a sewage facility and the ocean instead of being re-used to grow organic food and recharge the groundwater… all in the name of “upgrading,” “progress” and elitist, so-called “sanitary conditions.” Properly designed compost toilets are completely hygienic and do not smell bad — I’ve sat on quite a few and never had to hold my nose. As long as basic safety rules and common sense are used, the risks associated with a composting toilet system should be no more significant than any other situation with some risk of fecal contamination — such as using a water-based toilet, changing baby diapers or taking a bath.
With the rising cost and diminishing supply of fossil fuels, we ought to be looking to compost toilets as an alternative to petroleum-based fertilizers trucked in from somewhere else. Our own bodies produce nutrients we can use — again, totally hygienic after composted — to make rich, dark and fertile soil, instead of flushing them out to expensive, unnecessary sewage facilities and the ocean. “Upgrading” the compost toilets for flush toilets connected to the sewers is a huge setback and discourages people from establishing appropriate toilets in a climate of illegalized sustainability.
The need for widespread education about these systems becomes more urgent, considering the global politics of excrement. An incredible percentage of poor people in the developing world does not have access to toilets or sanitation systems, resulting in a health problem which leaves children more open to contracting fatal diseases like typhoid and cholera. Outfitting these slums and rural areas with expensive flush toilets and sewer systems will probably never happen because of the cost. During tropical wet seasons, latrines and septic systems regularly overflow and get into the drinking water. “The obvious solution to [remove] the problem of fecal matter getting into the drinking water is to build dry compost toilets, which are unaffected during the wet season and which anyone with the smallest amount of rudimentary construction skills can build themselves,” explains sustainable designer Geoff Lawton.
Compost toilets are the most appropriate solution to this vast global health problem. However, compost toilets are still viewed by many as unhygienic, and a symptom of “poor living conditions.” The sooner this myth is dispelled and compost toilets are recognized for their beneficial functions, the sooner they will be adopted in developing countries.
The issue of greywater, in a dry region such as Santa Barbara County, is a no-brainer. Other drought-vulnerable, arid areas, such as Australia, have required greywater by law and even set up rebate programs for its implementation. Yet in Goleta, they would rather shoot it out into the ocean. This is ridiculous. Water shortage is a huge issue. Will we be fighting a war in South America for control of the Guarani aquifer while we continue to throw away perfectly re-useable “waste” water?
Honestly, let’s abandon this absurd notion of “progress” that holds its nose against perceived “unsanitary conditions” and sends us down a path of thirst, soil nutrient loss and dependence on expensive, polluting sewage systems. For all of us and our future together, I hope the Goleta City Council, the neighbors of Fairview Gardens and Fairview Gardens itself can come to their senses on this. Let’s hold them to that.