Japan’s ‘One-Straw’ approach: Zen and the art of farming


Japan’s ‘One-Straw’ approach: Zen and the art of farming


Posted 18 August 2011, by Jim Ewing, Clarion Ledger (Gannett), clarionledger.com


Organic farming is the term that most in the U.S. relate to growing food without chemicals, but there are various other terms, including eco-farming, permaculture, biodynamic farming and natural farming.

In Japan, the One-Straw Revolution of natural farming has been under way since 1975, when Masanobu Fukuoka published his book, The One-Straw Revolution: An Introduction to Natural Farming (New York Review of Books Classics, $15.95, 2009).

One might call it an organic Zen and the art of farming.

Fukuoka believes that natural farming is tied to the spiritual health of the individual, and his growing methods are influenced by Zen Buddhism, Taoism and the Bible. He developed his method of “do-nothing” farming over 30 years. A man after my own heart, he believes weeds are beneficial to the crop, and that reliance on chemicals and poisons is anathema to healthy plants or humans.

His way of farming is based on two main observations:

•Japan grew food for 1,500 years without artificial fertilizer or deep plowing or chemical herbicides, insecticides or other poisons on the same land with excellent results, but these fields “have now been laid waste by the exploitive farming practices of a single generation”;

•Left on its own, soil will always be replenished by nature: weeds, animals, brush and trees. There is no need for fertilizer or chemicals to kill insects or weeds.

The success of his method is based on seeing agricultural practices strictly for their utility.

For example, he grows rice on dry land, rather than flooded fields, because he found that he can produce as much without the greater effort. The reason fields had been flooded when the practice began 1,500 years ago was to reduce weeds. He can do the same by planting white clover, with the beneficial result of adding fertility to the soil.

His four principles are:

•No cultivation. It stirs up weed seeds deeply buried and promotes erosion and loss of topsoil.

•No chemical fertilizer or prepared compost. “Left to itself, soil maintains its fertility naturally.”

•No weeding by tillage or herbicides. Weeds balance the biological community.

•No dependence on chemicals. “Nature, left alone, is in perfect balance.”

Those who practice organic methods will recognize these principles as, essentially, what has been called “deep organic,” or growing without chemical inputs of any kind – even those approved for certified organic.

His approach should be enlightening to anyone who seeks to grow food crops naturally.

You should be starting your seeds now for planting in a couple of weeks for a fall garden. Count back the number of days on the seed packet for full fruition before frost (around here, about Nov. 1).

We’ll be planting Labor Day!

Contact Jim Ewing at email jewing@clarionledger.com, on Twitter @OrganicWriter, or Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc.



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