This morning, I heard an astounding advertisement from an “organic” garden supply company that claimed that manure was bad for you and your garden.

Now, to many people, their logic would sound solid. According to the ad, manure based gardening soils are low energy and stink, and if you’ve ever purchased such soils from a garden center or home improvement store, in a lot of ways, they’re right.

That’s because they’re doing it wrong.

Manure is, in fact, a significant part of the way nature produces soil, as is polyculture and a sufficient amount of time. Natural–and I use that term to distinguish from “organic”–soil production starts when the animals producing the manure eat food natural to them and then that manure is deposited on a sufficient base of cellulose (in nature, thatched prairie or forest floor debris form that base, while in food production, straw or wood chips are often the choice). Once deposited, a whole host of creatures break down the manure into its constituent parts along with the action of the wind, sun, and rain.

On our farm, the manure we collect in quantity over the winter because the animals tend to congregate where we feed hay has usually completely transitioned to what most people would call dirt–that is, without the smell associated with most store-bought garden soils–by the following fall. We regularly use that dirt in our gardens and planters to great success.

Of course, our method does not even address another failing of the no-manure claim. Even if they are producing soil solely from vegetable matter, if the process is really organic, what do they call the leavings of the insects and microbes they then call soil? Sure, it’s not cow manure, but waste products are waste products even if they’re useful to us.