This month the New York Review of Books has published an anniversary edition of The One-Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka (1913-2008), about natural farming and permaculture, originally published in 1978 by Rodale Press. The new edition has an introduction by Frances Moore Lappé (Diet for a Small Planet) and a preface by Wendell Berry. Michael Pollan calls the book “one of the founding documents of the alternative food movement, and indispensable to anyone hoping to understand the future of food and agriculture”.
The Fukuoka Farming Website includes a number of sustainable farming resources.
An excerpt from The One-Straw Revolution:
Look at this grain! I believe that a revolution can begin from this one strand of straw. Then take a look at these fields of rye and barley. This ripening grain will yield about 22 bushels (1,300 pounds) per quarter acre. I believe this matches the top yields in Ehime Prefecture (where I live), and therefore, it could easily equal the top ‘harvest in the whole country…since this is one of the prime agricultural areas in Japan. And yet…these fields have not been plowed for 25 years! …
For 30 years I lived only for my farming and had little contact with people outside my own community. During those years I was heading in a straight line toward a “donothing” agricultural method.
The usual way to go about developing a method is to ask “flow about trying this?” or “How about trying that?”…bringing in a variety of techniques, one upon the other. This is modern agriculture and it only results in making the farmer busier.
My way was opposite. I was aiming at a pleasant, natural way of farming…which results in making the work easier instead of harder. “How about not doing this? How about not doing that?”—that was my way of thinking. By taking this approach, 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.
The reason that man’s “improved” techniques seem to be necessary is that the natural balance has been so badly upset beforehand by those same techniques that the land has become dependent on them.
Make your way carefully through these fields. Dragonflies and moths fly up in a flurry. Honeybees buzz from blossom to blossom. Part the leaves and you will see Insects, spiders, frogs, lizards, and many other small animals bustling about in the cool shade. Moles and earthworms burrow beneath the surface.
This is a balanced ricefield ecosystem. Insect and plant communities maintain a stable relationship here. It is not uncommon for a plant disease to sweep through this region and leave the crops in my fields unaffected.
And now look over at the neighbor’s field for a moment. The weeds have all been wiped out by herbicides and cultivation. The soil animals and insects have been exterminated by poison. The earth has been burned clean of organic matter and micro-organisms by chemical fertilizers. In the summer you see farmers at work in the fields…wearing gas masks and long rubber gloves. These rice fields—which have been farmed continuously for over 1,500 years—have now been laid waste by the exploitive farming practices of a single generation.
For centuries, farmers have assumed that the plow is essential for growing crops. However, non-cultivation is fundamental to natural farming. The earth cultivates itself naturally by means of the penetration of plant roots and the activity of micro-organisms, small animals, and earthworms.