10cm on Effective Microorganisms(TM)

There’s a kind, sweet woman in Austin named Katsumi, and she knows her stuff. I missed the bulk of her explanation of EM, but the 10cm notebook managed to capture these two intriguing words, vaguely Engrishy and ripe for googling. (With quotes, please…)

So, I’m not usually one to review/promote products, and it really made me cringe to put that (TM) up there, but this one just hits so many of my cultural/biological/ecological g-spots that I simply couldn’t help it.

In brief, you’ve got a guy, Dr. Teruo Higa from Japan, who somehow magically realized that bacterias and fungi and other tiny things are really good for, well, everything. So he gathers a bunch of them together, sticks ’em in a bottle, and sells the mix as EM-1. People use it on stuff and are amazed to find that cool things happen. Snake oil? Well, yeah, if snake oil had live cultures of lactobacteria in it and, you know, actually had some scientific basis for working.

Let’s break it down. Three major groups:
lactic acids bacteria: Converts sugars into lactic acid via fermentation. Used in food preservation. Inhibits growth of pathogens by lowering pH.

yeast: Converts sugars into alcohol (see also Rogue Ales) or carbon dioxide to make bread rise.

phototrophic bacteria: Use energy from the sun (photosynthesis) to break down a variety of substances, most notably converting carbon dioxide into oxygen. In Dr. Higa’s brew, these little guys keep the other kiddos (above) alive.

The idea seems to be that the application of a bunch of “good” living microorganisms to unhealthy soil will crowd out the “bad” microorganisms and kick start the activity of the “good” local flora. Sounds like colonialism to me, but I’m no microbiologist. I am a big fan of all things fermented, though, so stay tuned for my post on kimchi.

Photo of a plush Saccharomyces cerevisiae from here, used without permission but since I’m basically helping them with their viral (ahem) marketing campaign, I figure they’ll be cool with it.

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