Book Review: One-Straw Revolution

Book Review: One-Straw Revolution

Apr 18

Photo of Masanobu FukuokaI was somewhat skeptical about this book, The One-Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka, with its Eastern-philosophy title and the monk-on-a-mountain synopsis. It’s not as if I have anything against Eastern philosophy, or monks teaching on mountain-tops, but agriculture is very practical, filled with physical activity, dirt and living things. And that’s what I’m really interested in learning about.

So I was pleasantly surprised to discover that while this book waxes philosophical in many areas, it’s primarily a manifesto detailing a “no-work” method of farming. I heard about it from a number of other books and gardening sources; it seemed to be a must-read for anyone interested in sustainable agriculture. The reason, I know now, is because Fukuoka’s “no-work” method is entirely counter to modern – and probably pre-modern – agricultural methods.

After going to school and working as a microbiologist for a time, Fukuoka began to think that perhaps plants could thrive without all the cultivation that man has imposed upon it. He said, “Instead of offering a hundred explanations, would not practicing this philosophy be the best way?” So he acquired some property (on the side of a small mountain, ironically) and proceeded to grow high yields of rice, barley, and vegetables without any plowing, row-planting, weeding, or regular fertilizing. His method is based on four principles, detailed further in the book:

  1. No cultivation,
  2. no chemical fertilizer or prepared compost,
  3. no weeding by tillage or herbicides, and
  4. no dependence on chemicals.

This way of farming natural, he says, “exists forever as the wellspring of agriculture…no matter the age…” He claims that after more than twenty years of applying this method to his land, his soil has only become richer every year, and his yields higher. His fruit orchard grows among wild vegetables, and his chickens range freely among the plants. Although Fukuoka clearly explains that his method does not literally mean no work is involved, it allows for much more leisure time, especially during the cold winter months, than industrial farming and cultivations practices.

He spends a lot of time explaining that science, for all its benefits, has spent massive amounts of time and energy finding solutions to problems it has caused. And every artificial solution, he says, leads to another problem that is in turn solved artificially. Though science seeks to expand human knowledge, he says, “the irony is that science has served only to show how small human knowledge is.”

He also laments the human urges that have led us to be so wasteful. His opinion is that the waste of our society is inevitable, because we are misusing and overusing resources even as we create organizations to conserve nature and energy. Only as individuals can we ever control our use of what the Earth has given us. After talking a bit about the increasing food shortages in Japan, he concludes, “If we do have a food crisis it will not be caused by the insufficiency of nature’s productive power, but by the extravagances of human desire.”

The One-Straw Revolution, actually a collection of translated and transcribed teachings of Fukuoka, is a quick read, even more so if you skim over the spiritual speculation near the end. I would highly recommend it, if for no other reason than to offer a very different view of agriculture and gardening.

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