Monday, August 05, 2013

Final Straw: Natural Farming Solutions & Answers

Natural farming sees us working with nature to produce healthy food, to keep ourselves healthy, and to keep the land healthy. In this respect, it is more of a ‘way of seeing’ nature, rather than a ‘method of farming’ as we typically think. With that said, the ‘rule book’ on natural farming from Masanobu Fukuoka is short and to the point:
  1. Respect nature
  2. No tilling (plowing) of the land
  3. No chemicals (pesticides, herbicides, growth agents)
  4. No prepared compost
This way of farming is a simple way of growing food that creates a healthy, truly sustainable farming environment.

What is happening here in Japan and South Korea is that more people are trying to use this rule book to grow food in a sustainable way.

From Final Straw.org:

The modern day re-invention of this several-thousand-year-old concept was developed in middle of the 20th century by Masanobu Fukuoka and Mokichi Okada, two Japanese farmers who, independent of each other, came to the realization that there was something terribly wrong with the way the modern world was growing  food.

As opposed to our standard top-down view of agricultural production, natural farming is a horizontal system, placing humans and nature on equal footing. As practiced in Japan, Korea, and throughout the world, it represents the only truly sustainable form of agriculture know to humankind.
The photos below were taken on the same day in Gangwon, South Korea. They compare a medium-scale modern organic rice farm which uses fertilizers, active pest-control and heavy machinery to harvest, with a natural rice farm, which uses no-till methods to build natural soil health, and is planted and harvested completely by hand.
Modern Farming v Natural Farming (CC BY-NC-SA, Patrick Lydon | The Final Straw)
The difference is beyond words… so it’s a good thing we have photos! The natural farm is green and full of life all year, while the modern farm is devoid of life except for the intended crop, and completely desolate after harvest. In the modern field the soil has become weak, synthetic, and nearly lifeless; in the naturally farmed field, the soil is healthy and maintains a natural balance with no dependence on chemicals, fertilizers, or any other inputs from outside.

They are also documenting this in a film, Final Straw, to be released later this year. Suhee Kang wrote recently about rice planting, with lots of great photos:

Last month we visited the natural farm of Seonghyun Choi (최성현) for his annual rice planting day. It was a physically tiring few days, but it’s always mentally refreshing to spend this kind of time in deep connection with nature. In planting, Seonghyun Choi uses the method from Kawaguchi Yoshikazu, sowing seeds in a protected seedbed, then transplanting baby rice plants to the main field. It’s all done by hand, and a lot of hands are needed during the busy planting time. Fortunately Seonghyun Choi has many friends all around Korea. Every busy season they come and help him very gladly.

They also got to spend a week with Shikoku-based natural farmer Okitsu-san:

My body is still smarting in places from the work of weeding — as a natural farm, this place has some major healthy weeds — but my mind is refreshed. The experience this week, which consisted of days in the field, and nights conversing with Okitsu-san over dinner, showed me much about the ‘truth’ behind natural farming.


I feel like this is the main difference between ‘our’ system — the one that most Americans and I grew up with — and his system. Of course, he must make a living, but his priority in life, his goal, is to make healthy food for people to eat. Our goal in the U.S. is typically to make profit first, then, well, maybe we can label something ‘organic’ if we can profit from it, and if the organic associations, cohorts, and related industries can also profit. Whether food is healthy or good for people, whether it benefits people… or whether it drives them to heart attacks, cancer, or other illness, well, that’s not really of concern to the modern food industry. Really. This is reality for all of us, unless we grow our own food, or get it directly from a farmer we can trust — it’s worth noting here that a majority of natural farming customers actually visit the farm where their food is grown. If we think about what products are on the shelves of most modern grocery stores… at least 99.9% of it, even the ‘health’ food, is all either chemically-produced, or in some way ‘marginalized’ in quality in order to maximize profit, travel well, and come to you bright, shiny, and all year round.

This is the truth of how our system functions, and even if we want to eat healthy, most of us can’t, because there are not enough farmers like Okitsu-san out there…

Hmm, I do know for a fact that distribution for natural farming do include "transport" of some kind, but ok. Point taken. Could be done by bicycles or by trucks running on biofuels and/or hybrid electricity.

Hat tip to Ten Thousand Things.



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