Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Attraction to the Natural Life

Many of the emails I receive are written by people I do not know. One email discussed the Japanese farmer Masanobu Fukuoka, author of the acclaimed "bible of natural farming," The One-Straw Revolution. He was an organic farmer who believed that traditional organic farming did not go far enough, that the ideal food producing land had to be kept as close as possible in its natural state.

One day, when young (he died a few years ago at the age of 95), feeling the emptiness of life, he quit his work and began to drift. In his journeys, he came to the ocean where he sat down to rest and heard the song of a bird which gave him a jolt into a new way of looking at life. He returned to the family farm and began to farm naturally, as well as eating and living more naturally, based on the principles of natural farming he spent the last 30 years of his life promoting.

He was trained as a soil scientist but very early in his career began to doubt the wisdom of modern agricultural science. His family farm was on an island and his method of farming--"do nothing farming," he called it--was to do little of what is considered important in farming. In fact, he succeeded in getting yields that were at times even greater than yields from the use of modern farming methods. His method evolved from observing, over many years and through trial and error, the natural requirements of different plants. He learned that they could do very well without our help. The less a farmer did to disturb the natural ecology--no plowing the soil, no chemical fertilizers or prepared compost, no weeding or use of herbicides or pesticides--the better the land would respond. It was a step, a big step, beyond the usual way of doing organic farming. He spent the last years of his life speaking out and writing about his discoveries.

Masanobu Fukuoka was a mystic and a philosopher whose ideas have influenced not only farmers throughout the world, but many others who have applied his ideas to rethink other aspects of life. "A vision offering an ideal to strive for," said one review of his written work. "Indispensable to everyone hoping to understand the future of food and agriculture," said another review. But the review, "Reflects a deep faith in the wholeness and balance of the natural world," perhaps best echoes his own assessment of his work: "A way of farming and living fully integrated with nature."

One wonders what would happen to our society if this revolutionary way of doing things naturally became the accepted way of living. Though the chance of this happening on a large scale is remote, each of us can apply some of the principles of living more naturally in our own life. It was Fukuoka's conviction that we must make this effort if we are to avoid the spiritual decay that permeates much of modern society, caused, he believed, by our lost intimacy with the unseen world.

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