I mentioned in In Search of Simplicity the inspiration I had received from Japanese scientist and farmer, Masanobu Fukuoka. He found through trial and error a number of secrets that nature revealed to those prepared to work with her and to observe keenly. This knowledge didn’t come easily to Fukuoka. He openly revealed in his writing that he almost killed the existing citrus trees when he first took over his father’s farm. But his wisdom, presented in books such as The One-Straw Revolution: An Introduction to Natural Farming  is a palpable testimony to the unswerving dedication of one man.

Fukuoka maintains that our society’s motto seems to be that ‘Bigger is Better.’ People want to feel important through ‘important’ jobs. He saw that agriculture, in Japan and elsewhere in the modern world, has come to rely on chemicals and machines. In order to pay for the costs of these inputs farmers aim for higher yields and people get busier and busier.

fukuokaFukuoka suggests we can look at how plants grow in Nature—effortlessly. If man could work with Nature to grow his food he could live without much work and exertion.

After leaving his work as a trained microbiologist and research scientist, Fukuoka began to search for methods of growing that were more natural than the modern trends that surrounded him.

He developed a method of growing rice that involves no digging, ploughing or machines. He walks through his field(s) of high standing rice just before the time of harvest, hand sowing seeds of winter grain—usually barley—and white clover. After harvesting the rice, the rice straw is left lying on the ground as mulch and to return organic material to the soil. Some chicken manure is added.

In time the winter grain and clover seeds germinate and grow. Clover fixes nitrogen for the barley, reduces weed growth and its roots break up the soil.

Rice is usually sown in the spring, when heavy rains help it to germinate and discourage the growth of the clover. Barley straw is left on the ground, again as mulch and to improve the soil. Fukuoka hasn’t ploughed his fields in decades. In that time the soil has dramatically improved. Microbes, worms and other creatures broke down organic material and, together with the roots of plants, aerated the soil. He experienced little insect and pest damage, hypothesising that the plants grew stronger and more resistant in the undisturbed soil.

He decided to plant a steep hillside with citrus trees, without resorting to the building of terraces. He started out by dynamiting holes in the rock-hard soil for mandarin and orange trees. In time, he found an easier and more natural way. Fast growing acacias were established to fix nitrogen. Within seven years each tree was the size of a telegraph pole and could be cut down for firewood. The citrus trees were under planted with comfrey, burdock and daikon (long white radish, a traditional Japanese vegetable). The soil is now richer and more manageable and it supports low care vegetables (even comfrey roots are eaten and are claimed to be delicious) and a nearly pest-free citrus crop. He plants a few acacias each year to ensure a constant supply of firewood for heating and cooking.

Fukuoka states that chemically-grown vegetables may be considered as foodstuffs but not as medicine, whereas organic, naturally grown plants can be considered to be both medicine and food. This sounds like Hippocrates saying 2400 years earlier, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”

Fukuoka warns of the dangers of Europeans dedicating so much of their arable land to wine grapes and livestock. He says that an equivalent acreage, dedicated to the growing of grain and vegetables, could support many more people. He is concerned that the industrialization of society is wasteful and polluting. In Japan sulphur dioxide (SO2) from factories changes into sulphuric acid in the atmosphere, and has resulted in the widespread death of native pine trees. He sees that the world is moving forward quickly and without regard for the consequences of rapid change. One Straw RevolutionIn the West, people are separated from nature and industrial agriculture is based on what he considers contempt for Nature. In Japanese philosophy God is in Nature, the wind and the rain and the plants, in everything. Since God is in rice, eating rice in a conscious way puts one on the same level as God. He urges everyone to turn back to Nature for solutions. He says anyone can use ‘Natural Farming’. What he calls The Great Way has no gates.

The One Straw Revolution is Masanobu Fukuoka’s manifesto about farming, eating, and the limits of human knowledge. In reading it I could see and feel that for Masanobu growing and eating food is indivisible from spirituality. What a contrast and challenge to the present global systems of food growing and procurement.

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