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It's not poop! An inside look at how Milorganite fertilizer is made

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Black pellets of dried Milorganite in a bin with a metal railing.
Nate Imig

On this episode of Urban Spelunking, OnMilwaukee's Bobby Tanzilo and I return to Jones Island to learn how one of Milwaukee's most unique exports — Milorganite — is made.

In his original story at, Bobby immediately answers the question burning in our minds, "Number one, Milorganite is not made out of No. 2. Let's get that straight from the get-go. Despite what you may have heard, this Milwaukee-made fertilizer does not contain human feces."

But that doesn't mean Milorganite doesn't produce a certain aroma beneath the Hoan Bridge.

As a daily Hoan Bridge traveler myself, I sometimes ponder the lifetime quantity of the corn-scented vapor I've inhaled during my daily commute, admiring a Milwaukee skyline obscured only partially by a translucent building-sized air plume leaving the factory's dozen tumbling dryers, carrying the distinctive organic and fermented scent.

Or, more succinctly, "It smells like money," says Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District spokesperson Bill Graffin. "It smells like lower taxes."

Graffin takes us inside the plant to learn how the fertilizer is made and how its production ties into the overall work of the Jones Island Water Reclamation Facility. This episode is a follow-up to last week's visit to the Deep Tunnel pump room, just next door to the Milorganite plant and 320 feet underground. Catch up on that one here, and be sure to visit OnMilwaukee for even more photos and history.

Director of Digital Content | Radio Milwaukee