One of the World’s Largest and Oldest Sustainability Projects

After the difficult winter of 2015, many of us have our hearts and minds transfixed on outdoor gardening activities. In my gardening research, I came across a huge success story in the world of sustainable living. I hope this information will inspire you, as it has me, to begin using a fertilizer brand for your lawn, vegetable and flower gardens that comes from the oldest recycler in the United States.

Over more than 85 years, the City of Milwaukee has undertaken one of the world’s oldest and largest recycling projects. In 1913, the City of Milwaukee created a sewerage commission to clean up the city’s waterways. By 1919, The Milwaukee Sewerage Commission’s laboratory formally adopted a new process for responsible recycling of biosludge. By 1921, all municipal sewers were connected to this system and processed in a central location at Jones Island, on the shore of Lake Michigan. In 1923 construction began on the first large-scale activated sludge plant in the world.  In 1925, the Sewerage Commission concluded that the disposal problem they faced could be solved by producing and marketing fertilizer. In 1974, the Jones Island Wastewater Treatment Plant was named a National Historic Engineering Site by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Jones Island in 1926. Photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District and Michigan State University Turfgrass Information Center

Jones Island in 1926. Photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District and Michigan State University Turfgrass Information Center

Specifically, this new sewerage treatment process was the production of solids – the microbes left over from the treatment process and there was one problem. There were 50,000 – 70,000 tons of dried microbes left after the process and no one thought it responsible or even prudent to dispose this volume of waste and potential valuable resource in the landfill.  So the Sewerage Commission joined forces with the University of Wisconsin College Of Agriculture, where Professor Emil Truog and O.J. (Oyvind Juul) Noer began investigating uses of activated sludge as a fertilizer.

Noer determined that the average nutrient analysis of the material was 6.2 percent total nitrogen, with 5.17 percent being water insoluble nitrogen (83% WIN); 2.63 percent available phosphate (P205) and 0.4 percent soluble potash (K20). In his literature review, Noer found that the available nitrogen generally resembled so-called high-grade organic nitrogenous fertilizers and gave superior growth results compared to manures and chemical fertilizers of the time.

Noer experimented with field crops and vegetables and on golf courses, the use of this organic nitrogen fertilizer and found it superior and one-third the cost of other fertilizers commonly used at the time. Also, there was no danger of burning the turf even with over-application and it produced a dark green dense turf without causing excessive top growth. Noer knew he had a commercially viable product when word traveled throughout several golf clubs.


Courtesy of the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District and Michigan State University Turfgrass Information Center

Following are examples of how Milorganite has adopted to market changes over the years. In 1926, most of the Milorganite was sold in bulk, but by the mid-1930s it was also packaged in 25, 50 and 100 lb. bags. In 1955, packaging changed to offer 40 and 80 lb. bags and again in the 1970s as 20 kg bags were introduced with the movement to metric in the U.S. Today, Milorganite is sold in a distinctive 36 lb. bag and a 5 lb. bag exclusively for the retail market, 50 lb. bags for the professional market, and reusable bulk bags for large area applications.  The blending market continues to be important as other companies find the nutrient analysis to be a valuable addition to their products.

Milorganite continues to help fund many important research projects at universities across the country including projects that study nutrient leaching and run-off, the effects of different fertility regimes and sources on irrigation requirements, and the effect of Milorganite phosphorus in the environment.

Milorganite summarizes its success as follows:

  • Since 1926: 9.5 billion lbs of waste diverted from landfill to re-use
  • $308 million dollars generated, providing tax relief for residents of Milwaukee
  • 8 million tons of Milorganite sold
  • Milorganite is regulated by the EPA and complies with the most stringent requirements
  • Milorganite uses alternative energy sources such as solar, landfill gas, and digester methane.
  • The Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD) is leading the nation in “Green” solutions.

For more information and to determine where to purchase, you can visit Milorganite’s web site. You can watch this video to learn more about the product as well.

Viva La Garden


By Tessa Alberts

My garden is a place I find solace from the plentiful strains of my life. It is a place for me to reconnect with something real, something tangible. This is my medicine, my Zen. Every year my hard work and beds of black gold are replaced by sustenance, growth and gratitude. That is irreplaceable in my world, where nothing is expected to take time. I have humble hopes of a river rock path that winds and wriggles through the many stalks and bushes of edibles, ending in a shingled shack. A place I can sow seeds and watch my garden grow…a place of my very own. I often wonder about the history of this small plot. Was it used for vegetable growing as well?–or maybe the raising of livestock. I have on many occasions watched deer munch my lettuce and beet greens. I inherently attempt to expel them, as if I have apt claim. But maybe this was their land not too long ago. I can share. The smell of minerals and the texture of the earth are solidified when my bounty comes and all the while I am privileged to forgo the supermarket, be outdoors and share it with numerous living things.


The supermarkets aren’t terrible, save the fluorescent lighting and hoards of people. In all honesty I have very little against them. My issue is with the agricultural system from which we derive our nourishment. We have lost our connection with the natural world and have chosen to altogether disassociate ourselves from the most basic origins of our food. For most, absent are the thoughts beyond or behind those tightly wrapped packages of meat and produce for purchase in those pretty little stores. Aside from the ingestion of these living creatures, we at some point stopped knowing them–where they live, what they eat and how they are raised. This should be as important to us as eating, for we are a part of that very cycle. A cycle that is delicate and potent, which encompasses all living things and their environment. To ignore or deny this fact would mean we would most certainly break that cycle, condemning all of us to an existence void of life.

I choose not to preach about GMOs and the harsh treatment of our livestock. I would hope that most are aware. Instead I choose to address the governmental agencies that are forcibly preventing us from the reconnection we so desperately need. The process goes as such: we grow or raise the food; agencies like the FDA decide how much poison or non-food is acceptable in its cultivation, process and transfer. They decide when, where and how our food is grown and sold. For their services they get a portion of the profit. This process affects the price and quality of the foods we eat and makes it almost impossible for there to be a market for foods grown and sold outside of this system. Such agencies can and have penalized those who refuse this arrangement. There have been raids, nation-wide, on family owned farms and ranches that sell their product without the permission of the federal government, as if they have just authority. Hundreds upon thousands of dollars in livestock and equipment seized in the name of public health (Farm Food Freedom Coalition 2013). It seems as though the Feds don’t like being cutout. This structure is based solely on monetary gain for a miniscule portion of our society–not the health and wellness of the people.


Adversely, there are many farmers, ranchers and people like me that do not feel the need for such a middle-man. We would much rather grow ourselves and sell, or give, those goods directly to the consumer. The Pacific Northwest as a plethora of family run, organic farms and coops such as: Boistfort Valley Farm, Puddleton Farm and Black Sheep Creamery. It takes little effort to find them. Supporting such entities will send a very clear and non-violent message to those who see fit to regulate OUR agricultural progression. In the meantime, read labels–closely–know where the food you are putting in your body comes from and start growing. Even if it is an herb garden in your window sill or tomatoes on your patio, these simple activities aid in breaking down a system not vested in your long-term well-being. They also give you a chance to reconnect with the natural world which supports us in ways we have yet to truly appreciate.


With four small vegetable beds and a hoop house of sheet plastic and PVC piping, all of which I made myself, I can reap the rewards for months. I am forever amazed at the resilience and plasticity of our earth. Even now, in the first weeks of October, my garden still produces. My carrots and cucumbers are there to be plucked and tossed into a salad, my fingerlings are ready to be dug and roasted and my Romas are ripening still. The strawberry patch is bearing down for winter, having produced dozens of shoots for next year’s harvest and the lavender, dried brittle, remains sweet with scent.


Tessa Alberts lives in Centralia, Washington where she grows food, raises a family, and attends college.