One-Straw Revolution

 

This book is Zen and the Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance-esque, in that the first half is about this Japanese guy’s life work and discipline of running a self-sustaining farm, and the second graduates into his life philosophies (as farming has taught him) at length.

Of course, I haven’t ever read ZatAoMM, so I could be off on the comparison.

Fukuoka’s got a pretty small farm (by modern industrial farming standards), an acre for grains and veggies, and 5 or so acres for a mandarin orange orchard. People come to live on his farm to be disciples of his way of life, the farm sustains about 15 people at a time. It’s mostly self sufficient apart from a few purchased goods: soy sauce and vegetable oil, things which would be impracticle to self-produce, and I’m sure some amount of salt/spices/tools, etc are also purchased. They sell a mandarin oranges for profit.

Fukuoka was a research scientist in microbiology and agriculture before falling ill, and while in the hospital realizing that western agriculture was bullshit and that he was going to go do it differently.

He calls his practice do-nothing farming, his mentality is that letting the natural systems do their work means that the farmer can do less. He doesn’t use pesticide to kill insects eating the plants, which allows other insects higher up the food chain to stop the ones eating the plants, and other animals to eat those in turn. Avoiding pesticides allows the whole food chain to reach a happy fixed point, a dynamic equilibrium. Pesticides also have side effects of burning nutrients out of the soil over time. So letting nature run its course means that the farmer doesn’t have to spend the time applying pesticides, and the soil is allowed to grow strong as well. Win-win.

The numerical yield from his farm is the same or higher than that of comparable farms using much more labor-intensive processes.

His grain planting practice was particularly interesting, rice in the warm season and rye/barley in the cool. He doesn’t do any of the complex flooding and transplanting process usually associated with rice farming, instead scattering (he calls it ‘broadcasting’, which I quite like) rice seed in spring among the previous season’s rye and barley, harvesting the rye/barley and letting the rice grow, scattering rye seed, harvesting the rice and letting the rye/barley grow, and so on. All the while he also scatters clover seed, which forms a nice low base layer to help the soil retain moisture and help keep the seeds from being eaten by birds.

Fukuoka’s life philosophies are largely that humans have created a whole bunch of extra work for themselves (see pesticide example), which then begets more work to sustain the side effects, etc.

He says we’ve lost touch with what tastes good, with our natural ability to determine what foods are healthy and what foods our body needs at a given time. He says that really, food straight from the gardens simply prepared is truly delicious, but we’ve convinced ourselves that we need more complex preparations for food to be worthwhile.

I found the book in a list of permaculture/no-till farming authors, this certainly fits the bill. Last week I broadcasted some spinach seed in my vegetable patch in the backyard, as the most accessible version of an experiment of his technique. So we’ll see if the birds eat it or what.

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