The Nutrients Recovery Project (TNRP) produces usable compost via Terra Preta — black soil fertilized by fermented, human waste. The main goals of the project are to focus on learning about the meaning of health, self-reliance, the rhythms of daily life, and the meaning of community. Other benefits include the satisfaction of producing something often ignored or taken for granted.

On the individual level, making Terra Preta is not only about self-determination. By claiming responsibility for what enters our bodies — in the form of wholesome, sensibly produced food — we can be in charge of our bodily output by reconsidering its place and meaning in our biosphere.

On the larger level, TNRP is driven by the realization that action and participation in the public realm doesn't suffice anymore to address the burning environmental issues of our world today. We have to change the way we live, too. In a city like Canberra — with the largest waste output per capita in Australia and a green waste recycling relegated to the individual, the fate of the planet depends on our daily engagement with nature like never before.

Aside from raising consequential questions, TNRP is mainly about exploring unexpected connections. Charcoal , the defining ingredient of ancient Terra Preta Amazonian soils, connects to the element of fire and its importance in aboriginal tradition. Fermentation , or 'controlled rotting', integrates humans into a wondrous 'digestive macrocosmos' and lets us pass on the vitality from one kingdom of life to another. Finally, Ancient knowledge is reconsidered and made relevant again, through a campus-wide, collaborative effort spanning art, consciousness and science.


Project Partners:

  • ANUgreen Sustainability Office
    Outreach and Education
  • Sustainability Learning Community,
    ANU Organic Garden
  • The Dirty Beanstalk
    Gardening and Greening Crew
  • Gardens & Grounds (Soil Yard),
    Australian National University
  • Canberra Environmental Centre
  • Australian Centre on China in the World
    ANU College of Asia & the Pacific

Fellow Urban Farmers:

Markuz Wernli


Aspiring Soil Maker
Project Initiator

As an artist dedicated to food and collaboration, Markuz creates participatory projects that bring environmental issues into a tangible experience. These include “Growing Radishes With 30 Families” (Kyoto, 2009), and running a “No-Menu-Restaurant” (Seoul, 2010). He is currently the digital research manager at ANU's Australian Centre on China in the World.

David Freudenberger


Research Ecologist and Lecturer
Scientific Advisor to TNRP

Dr. David Freudenberger is a research ecologist and lecturer at the Fenner School of Environment and Society, The Australian National University. His research expertise includes herbivore digestive physiology and nutrition. Between himself and his agronomist father, they have over 70 years of experience in compost processes and organic fertilisers.

Social Organisms


Magic Transformers of Organic Matter
Project Associates of TNRP

Microorganisms are microscopic, living, single-celled organisms such as bacteria. Ubiquitous throughout the world, microorganisms play a vital role in supporting and maintaining nature and life. Although some bacteria are harmful, the vast majority are not harmful and are in fact beneficial. Without bacteria, life would not be possible.