Why This Farmer Refused To Plow His Land

How a “do nothing” approach to farming yields more food and happier people.

February 3, 2016
Masanobu Fukuoka
Larry Korn

As a young man in the 1930s, Masanobu Fukuoka worked in the city of Yokohama, Japan, as a plant researcher. Once on an evening walk, weak from a bout of pneumonia, he collapsed. “Everything that had possessed me, all the agonies, disappeared like dreams and illusions,” he later wrote in The One-Straw Revolution, a book that’s one part practical growing handbook and part Buddhist opus. “And something one might call ‘true nature’ stood revealed.” Fukuoka couldn’t fathom a return to modern life. So he spent the next seven decades, until his death in 2008, pursuing that vision of true nature by farming his family’s land on Japan’s southern island of Shikoku. 

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On his small commercial plot, he rejected machinery, chemicals, compost, and all forms of manmade order, believing that with minimal input, nature’s methods would trump modern society’s. His rice plants sprouted dense, golden heads of grain; the yields from his paddies surpassed those of conventional farms. The straw he spread around to smother weeds eventually decomposed and fed the soil underneath. He scattered vegetable seeds through his mandarin orchard, and thick daikon roots and ruffled mustard greens grew wherever conditions were right. His tangled trees hung with sweet, juicy fruits. “When you walked through his orchard, you didn’t see a human creation,” says Larry Korn, Fukuoka’s longtime student and the editor of Fukuoka’s seminal first book. “You were looking directly at nature.” 

 

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The One-Straw Revolution coalesces around Fukuoka’s philosophy that “the ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.” It was published by Rodale in 1978 and has since been translated into more than 25 languages. Fukuoka went on to write several other books, including The Natural Way of Farming: The Theory and Practice of Green Philosophy, The Road Back to Nature: Regaining the Paradise Lost, and Sowing Seeds in the Desert: Natural Farming, Global Restoration, and Ultimate Food Security. Larry Korn’s biography of Fukuoka, One Straw Revolutionary, details Fukuoka’s methods and compares and contrasts them with other natural farming techniques like permaculture. At heart, Fukuoka’s natural farming philosophy is simple: Closely observe the natural world. Live in tune with its rhythms. The fruits of your labors will be sweeter than ever imagined possible.

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