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Fukuoka was tireless. Now, finally, I understood why. One principle that Mr. He was adamant that you could not do that. Issue 3 [Doi Fukuokas natural farming techniques and the philosophy from which they arose.
This was in stark contrast with the neighbors fields, xii. Fukuoka came to greet me and asked if I had ever seen rice like his. I told him that I had not. He said, The reason these plants and the fields look this way is because the soil has not been plowed for more than twenty-five years.
I had heard that Mr.
Fukuoka welcomed students to live and work on the farm, so I asked him if I could stay for a while. He said, Sure, if you are willing to work and to learn something a little different. Take the path up to the orchard, and the others will show you around. I walked the winding trail to the hillside orchard overlooking the rice fields and was astonished by what I saw there. There were trees of all types and sizes, shrubs, vines, vegetables growing in the spaces between the trees, and chickens running everywhere.
Hide-san, one of the student workers, greeted me and showed me to the rustic hut that I would share with two others. I spent the next two years in this orchard paradise learning about Mr. Fukuokas natural farming techniques and the philosophy from which they arose. By the time I came to Mr.
Fukuokas farm, he had already been practicing natural farming for many years. The story of how he came to be farming that way is both interesting and instructive.
Masanobu Fukuoka grew up in a small village on the island of Shikoku, where his ancestral family had lived for hundreds of years.
He worked in the rice fields and in the citrus orchard of his familys farm while he was growing up. Fukuoka went to the Gifu Agricultural College, near Nagoya, where he studied plant pathology xiii. His primary responsibility was inspecting plants that were entering Japan for diseases and insects. When he was not inspecting plants he spent his time doing research and, as he recalled later, was amazed at the world of nature as revealed through the eyepiece of a microscope.
After three years there, he developed a serious case of pneumonia and nearly died. Even after he recovered, he spent long hours wandering in the hills contemplating the meaning of life and death.
After one of these solitary, all-night walks, he collapsed near a tree at the top of a bluff overlooking the harbor. He awoke to the cry of a heron, and had a revelation that changed his life forever.
As he put it, In an instant all my doubts and the gloomy mist of my confusion vanished. Everything I had held in firm conviction, upon which I had ordinarily relied was swept away with the wind. I felt that this was truly heaven on earth and something one might call true nature stood revealed. He saw that nature is in balance and perfectly abundant just as it is. People, with their limited understanding, try to improve on nature thinking the result will be better for human beings, but adverse side effects inevitably appear.
Then people take measures to counteract these side effects, and larger side effects appear.
By now, almost everything humanity is doing is mitigating problems caused by previous misguided actions. Fukuoka tried to explain his ideas to his co-workers and even to people he met on the street, but he was dismissed as an eccentric. This was in the xiv.
And so he decided to leave his job and return to his family farm to apply his understanding to agriculture. His goal was to create a tangible example of his way of thinking and, in so doing, demonstrate its potential value to the world. The farm consisted of about one acre of rice paddies where the rice was grown in a flooded field, and a ten-acre citrus orchard. The farmhouse was in the village with a courtyard and a small organic vegetable garden outside the kitchen door.
Fukuoka moved into a small hut in the orchard and spent the next several years observing the condition of the soil and noting the interaction of the plants and animals that lived there. Recalling that time, Mr. Fukuoka said, I simply emptied my mind and tried to absorb what I could from nature. Fukuoka wanted to create a productive environment where nature would have free rein.
But where to begin? No one he knew had ever tried that sort of thing before, so he had no mentor to show him the way. He noticed that the plants present in the orchard were limited to citrus trees and a few shrubs, and while some scraggly weeds grew up here and there, the exposed soil had eroded down to the hard, red subsoil. In such a situation, if he simply did nothing, nature would continue in a downward spiral.
Because people had created this unnatural condition, he felt a responsibility to repair the damage. To loosen the soil, he scattered seeds of deeprooted vegetables such as daikon radish, burdock, dandelion, and comfrey. To clean and enrich the soil, he added plants that have substantial, fibrous root xv. He also knew he needed green manure plants that fixed nitrogen, but which ones?
He tried thirty different species before concluding that white clover and vetch were ideal for his conditions. The roots of the white clover form a mat in the top few inches of the soil so they are effective at suppressing weeds.
The vetch grows well in the winter, when the white clover does not grow as readily. It is important to note that when Mr. Fukuoka carried out experiments such as these, it was always with the goal of solving specific practical problems. They were never done just for their own sake or to try to understand naturesimply to get feedback. To improve the deeper layers of the soil, he first tried burying organic material such as partially decayed tree trunks and branches that he collected from the surrounding woodlands.
Eventually he concluded that this approach gave far too little return for the effort it required. Besides, his goal was to create a self-sustaining system, which, once established, would take care of itself. He decided to let plants do the work instead. He planted nitrogen-fixing acacia trees here and there among the citrus as well as other trees and shrubs that were hardy and improved the soil deep down. The acacia trees grew quickly, so after eight or nine years he would cut them down and use the wood for firewood and as a building material, leaving the roots to decay over time.
As he removed the trees, he planted others in different places so there was always soil-building going on. Eventually, the soil became deep and rich and the structure of orchard came to resemble that of a natural xvi. White clover grew everywhere as a permanent, soil-enriching ground cover. By the time I came to the farm, there were more than thirty different kinds of fruit- and nut-bearing trees in the orchard, as well as berries of all kinds, vegetables, and native plants in each of the different layers of the food forest.
There were also chickens and geese running around, a few goats, some rabbits, and bee hives. Birds, insects, and other wildlife were everywhere and shiitake mushrooms were growing on decaying logs which were lined up in shady areas under the trees. One principle that Mr.
Fukuoka followed as he worked out the details of his farming technique was to consider how one could do as little as possible. This was not because he was lazy, but because of his belief that if nature were given the opportunity it would do everything on its own. As he wrote in The One-Straw Revolution, The usual way to go about developing a method is to ask How about doing this? This is modern agriculture and it only results in making the farmer busier. My way was just the opposite, he continued.
I was aiming at a pleasant, natural way of farming which results in making the work easier instead of harder. How 1. Farming as simply as possible within and in cooperation with the natural order, rather than the modern approach of applying increasingly complex techniques to remake nature entirely for the benefit of human beings.
How about not doing that? I ultimately reached the conclusion that there was no need to plow, no need to apply fertilizer, no need to make compost, no need to use insecticide. When you get right down to it, there are few agricultural practices that are really necessary. When Mr. Fukuoka first inherited the orchard, however, most of the natural systems had been damaged so badly that he had to do many tasks himself that later became unnecessary.
Once the permanent soil-building combination of plants had become established, for example, he no longer needed to fertilize. In the early years, until he established a diversity of plants and habitats for insects, he had to grow chrysanthemum plants from which he derived the natural insecticide pyrethrum. He used this to control aphids and caterpillars on his vegetables. Once the soil improved and the natural balance of insects was restored, this too, became unnecessary.
Eventually there was very little Mr. Fukuoka needed to do. He scattered seeds and spread straw, cut the ground cover back once each summer and left the cuttings right where they were, replaced some trees and shrubs from time to time, and waited for the harvest. He got the idea for his rice growing one day when he passed a rice field that had recently been harvested.
There he saw new rice seedlings growing up voluntarily among the weeds and straw. Fukuoka had already stopped plowing his rice fields, but from that time on he stopped flooding the paddies. He stopped growing nursery beds in the spring and then transplanting the young shoots to the main field. Instead, he broadcast xviii. And instead of plowing to get rid of the weeds, he learned to control them by scattering straw and growing a more or less permanent ground cover of white clover.
In the end, as with the orchard, Mr. Fukuokas way of growing rice eliminated all but the simplest of taskssowing seeds, spreading straw, and harvesting. He relied on nature to take care of the rest.
Fukuoka returned to his familys farm and began practicing natural agriculture, it was with the goal of demonstrating that his way of thinking could be of great value to society. After twenty-five years, the yields in Mr. Fukuokas unflooded fields equaled or exceeded the top-producing farms in Japan.
He also grew a crop of barley over the winter in the same rice fields, and shipped nearly two hundred thousand pounds of mandarin oranges each year, mainly to Tokyo where many people had never tasted naturally grown food before. Natural farming does not use any of the products of modern technology. While still attaining high yields, it creates no pollution, and the soil improves each year.
If Mr. Fukuoka was able to get yields comparable to those of the other farmers in Japan, who use all the latest tools of science and technology, create pollution, grow sickly plants, and ruin the soil, then where was the benefit of human understanding and technology? After just twenty-five years, he had proven his point. There were no modern conveniences in the orchard. Drinking water was carried from the spring, meals were cooked at a wood-burning fireplace, and xix.
Fukuoka provided his student workers with thirty-five dollars a month for living expenses. Most of that was used to buy soy sauce and cooking oil, which were impractical to produce on a small scale.
For the rest of their needs the students relied on the food that was grown in the fields and in the orchard, the resources of the area, and on their own ingenuity. Fukuoka purposely had the students live in this semi-primitive manner because he believed it helped provide the sensitivity necessary to farm by his natural method.
He did not pay the students for working there, but no one objected. They felt that living in such an idyllic situation and receiving Mr.
Fukuokas teachingwhich was itself freely givenwas more than adequate compensation. It has been more than thirty-five years since I lived at the farm. All the work I have done since that time to promote natural farming has been my way of repaying Mr. Fukuoka for what I learned from him.
When I was at the farm, there were five or six of us who stayed continuously for several years. Others would come and stay for a few weeks or a few months and then head back down the mountain.
There was a wonderful sense of camaraderie. We would get together in the morning and plan the days work. Hide-san had been there the longest and had the most comprehensive understanding of the farmwork, so he was informally recognized as the groups leader.
The agricultural jobs, such as thinning the fruit crops, cutting back the orchard ground cover, and harvesting might go on for a few weeks or a few months. The daily chores included xx. Once in a while the huts needed to be repaired or replaced.
Fukuoka would often work with us instructing us on his techniques as well as practical skills such as making clay seed pellets, growing vegetables in a semiwild manner, and the proper use and care for tools. He was quite friendly and patient, but his patience ran short very quickly when he saw what he considered sloppy work. Fukuoka was tireless. Even at sixty-five, he would bound up and down the orchard hillsides like a mountain goat.
We all had trouble keeping up with him. Some days, often on Sunday or during heavy rains, Mr. Fukuoka would gather us together to discuss his philosophy. These sessions were difficult for me. Although I could speak Japanese fluently, I was more fluent in the everyday language we used around the farm. The philosophical and spiritual expressions he used during these discussions were impossible for me to understand. What made this even more frustrating was that Mr. Fukuoka told us over and over that the philosophy was everything, and the farming was merely an example of the philosophy.
If you do not understand the philosophy, he said, the rest becomes empty activity. So I just did my best each day, and assumed that one day I would get the idea. One afternoon while we were threshing rice in the courtyard of his home in the village, Mr. Fukuoka emerged from the house with a big smile on his face. He was holding the copy he had just received from xxi. Fukuoka had already written several books, but had been forced to self-publish them because he could not find a publisher willing to take a chance on ideas that were so far from the mainstream.
Then the first oil crisis occurred in the early s. Japan, as an industrial nation with almost no domestic fuel resources, felt particularly vulnerable.
Suddenly everyone was looking for alternatives to petroleumbased production. A publisher finally came to Mr. Instead, I should have entrusted everything to the flowers blooming in the meadow. He proposes a system for combating desertification using the same system of using ground cover to cool and nurture the soil, and scattering seed pellets. Gently working with nature, he uses root systems to allow air and water into depleted soil, thus attracting a diversity of organisms. This creates rich soil, and avoids the current labor-intensive, short-term measures to combat desertification such as dams and irrigation canals.
In his discussion of global environmental restoration, Fukuoka explores the interconnectedness of topics ranging from the evolution of human philosophy to the specifics of constructing seed pellets for use in revegetation.
He sees the crisis of contemporary farming methods as a product of the disconnect between humans and nature, teaching that unity and allowing natural patterns to emerge are the key to food security and peace of mind.
They allow us to live peacefully within nature without going to a lot of trouble. He established a farm on the Island of Shikoku in Japan, and lectured around the world throughout his life. Ruby Todd Full bio coming soon. You must be logged in to post a comment. Food Tank Book of the Week: Sowing Seeds in the Desert by Masanobu Fukuoka.