Bone Meal

Local bone meal production offers a profitable way for Detroit businesses to reduce waste and support local land stewardship.

Photo © Hamilton Anderson Associates

Bone meal offers one way to stabilize lead found in soil.

Bone meal is a fertilizer preferred by many organic farmers because of its various benefits. True to its name, this fertilizer is made from ground-up animal bones. Communities with livestock processing, meat markets, sausage makers and butcher shops are all capable of producing locally made bone meal as a way to reuse part of an existing waste stream.

Bone meal is high in calcium and phosphorus—both of which are essential for plants’ health and growth. Calcium facilitates the development of healthy cells, and phosphorus assists in the growth and photosynthesis process of plants. Small amounts of magnesium and zinc in bone meal have other beneficial qualities as well.

Photo © Hamilton Anderson Associates

Photo © Hamilton Anderson Associates

Photo © Hamilton Anderson Associates

These elements are released slowly in the soil from bone meal. This slow process of breaking down allows for consistent, sustained growth. For folks who believe in fertilizers, bone meal offers a way to counterbalance deficiencies often found in soil that can deter the growth of plants.

More significantly, bone meal offers one way to stabilize lead found in soil. The mix of calcium and phosphorus found in bone meal changes the chemical makeup of lead so that humans cannot absorb it. This is called changing the ‘bioavailability’ of lead—the lead is still in the soil, but its exterior shape is changed through exposure to these nutrients, and therefore it cannot be consumed by humans. The lead remains locked in the soil, but because of this shape-shifting, lead’s harmful effects on people can be side stepped.

Bone meal is made differently in every region. Along the coasts, bone meal is made from fish bones. Most of the bone meal available from big box retailers is not made in Michigan, or even the Midwest, despite the amount of meat processing our region accomplishes. Currently, the closest producer of bone meal is Ohio Earth Food near Canton, Ohio. With no Detroit-based or southeast Michigan producers, bone meal is one example of the potential for job creation related to land maintenance and land stewardship activities in Detroit.

Bone meal production offers Detroit one route to creating an environmentally friendly business while helping ensure that local land stewardship continues to grow in a healthier, wealthier, and more sustainable Detroit.

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