The One Straw Revolution

It’s an older book, but The One Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka is still a good read. When I was poking through the library at the Denver Botanic Garden, I picked it partially for the interesting title and partially because it is a slim volume. After all, I was already reading other books and I would be returning it in only a couple of weeks. I figured it would be an easy read and one more thought to ponder.

Don’t let the size of the book fool you. The book is written with the same spare elegance that seems to personify his “do-nothing” farming technique. It is simple, it is straight-forward, and if you’re paying any attention at all, it packs a heck of a punch. He relates stories with humor and mistakes with humility, the whole time knowing that there is a better way. His instructions are as understated as his description of his farming technique. It does require that you do something. However, he discovered that if he worked with nature rather than against, that he needed to do a lot less than traditional or modern farm techniques require. His particular techniques are designed for his home in Japan, but the theory behind them is applicable anywhere.

The two main themes that I pulled from this book are that we aren’t the be-all and end-all of knowledge (his sudden revelation that he understood nothing- as in recognizing the insufficiency of intellectual knowledge), and that we are making things too difficult for ourselves (“do-nothing” farming). Both of these are ideas that I have been coming to understand but hadn’t put words to until I read his. As he was coming up with his farming techniques he was bypassing centuries of traditional farming techniques and the budding agri-business techniques. (At the time it was written in 1978, he had already been farming for about 40 years) Rather, he looked to how plants were grown and produced without any outside influence whatsoever. He looked to nature.

As a young man, he was a scientist and a researcher. The revelation of understanding nothing sent him from the microscope back to his father’s farm where he began to explore this concept further. Through trial and error, being a good scientist, he discovered that the less he did to work against nature’s preferences and habits, the less work he actually had to do. By harnessing the natural rhythms and seasons, he figured out that for a quarter-acre field, two people can take care of the planting of summer rice and winter grains with only a couple of days labor in the fall. A field that will probably yield 1,300 pounds of the winter grain alone. His yields are consistently in line with the best of the harvests in his country.

There are concepts that I disagree with, and some that I am simply not ready to wrap my head around. I don’t believe that rice and vegetables makes a complete diet- even if they are the highest-quality vegetables you can find. I do believe that too many of us are out of touch with what food is and where it comes from. I am not ready to sow my vegetable seeds by just scattering them on the ground. However, I am working toward the idea that there are easier ways to grow them than “Big Ag” would have us believe.

As I don’t live in Japan, the details aren’t good for much more than an illustration of his points. However, at some point I intend to acquire a copy to keep around as a reminder of the philosophy behind those details. Look around. What is working where you live, and how are you making your own life harder because you didn’t notice it?

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