Second Vermont Republic

A citizen movement committed to restoring Vermont to an independent republic, free to pursue life, liberty and happiness unimpeded by the demands of an imperial, corrupt and disintegrating United States.

Sowing Seeds in the Desert, by Olivia Whittemore (BOOK REVIEW)

Picture yourself on a contemporary farm in Vermont. You might see sloping, grassy hills speckled with cows and horses, or perhaps orderly rows of Swiss chard and pumpkin patches. Each crop aligned in its place, there might even be a red farmhouse overlooking the fields. The overall scene is picturesque and rustic in a way that is existentially Vermont.

sowing seeds

Now, you find yourself in a new place. Ahead of you lies an orchard with thirty different types of trees in haphazard arrangement; some growing fruit, others enriching the deeper layers of the soil with nitrogen. Geese and goats meander alongside wild beehives and rotting logs speckled with shitake mushrooms. Along the floor grows radish, mustard, alfalfa, yarrow, white clover, all in chaotic array. The grove grows in abundance that matches and even exceeds its conventional counterparts, with little management needed from humans. Masanobu Fukuoka tweaked and nurtured this lush, self sustaining system on the Japanese Island of Shikoku since the 1930’s. Using his family farm as his laboratory, Mr. Fukuoka developed his natural farming methodology and philosophy simply to prove it could be done.

Like many others, I had a marginal awareness that current, corporatized methods of food production were damaging and unsustainable. I even knew that many processes of modern agriculture were outright desertifying once fertile farmlands. I believe there is a global ecological disaster caused by the way we grow food, and the response needs to be on a global scale. However, my beginner’s knowledge didn’t prepare me for the magnitude of the project Mr. Fukuoka undertook to prove his belief. He believed that “natural” farming was possible and more desirable, that “do-nothing” farming was the future. Sowing Seeds in the Desert is illustrates the path that led to this strange philosophy of natural farming, explains and expands on Mr. Fukuoka’s ideas, and most importantly, argues for his methods to be our primary tool in remediating the desertified areas of the world. The work is a long and winding journey through his life, his travels, and his experience. The writing is complicated at times but always conversational. It’s easy to imagine the movement of his hands, the gestures that accompany his stories. He speaks through the pages as though he were looking the reader in the eye.

Mr. Fukuoka is a converted naturalist of sorts. A crisis of health began a change of events that lead to an epiphany and motivated Mr. Fukuoka to quit his well paying government job and explore the idea of hands off agriculture. In 1930’s Japan he found that his ideology went against the societal mindset currently wrapped up with industrialization, and consequently left to find his own proof. For decades on his family farm on the island of Shikoku, Japan, Mr. Fukuoka refined his methodology, creating naturally fueled systems of agriculture requiring little to no inputs of energy. The system he created was self sustaining, and although human energy was required at the harvest and for occasional pruning, the large amount of the work was done for him by nature itself. Many steps–inputs of nutrition, land tilling to enrich the soil, pest management—became unnecessary because the farm was handling those processes itself. Ironically, this dances alongside the industrialized ideal of automation; however this process is achieved through natural instead of mechanical means. The more I learned about Mr. Fukuoka’s methods the more I wondered: Is the orchard, quintessentially a food forest, still a farm, or has it evolved?

His philosophy seems idyllic and at times confusing. It battles against and coincides simultaneously with many common beliefs that have been rattling around human consciousness for millennia. There is a mix of western philosophy, global religions, and scientific schools of thought. He particularly enjoys discounting the value of human knowledge; insisting that we delude ourselves into believing we know more when a discovery is made, when all we’ve really done is uncover more questions. There is also the distinct concept that humans cannot control nature, but instead need to take advantage of all it is capable of. Humans-over-nature is essentially, a damaging fallacy that lead to the ecological crisis we have today.

The constant shift and intermingling of practical knowledge on land management, and quaint dispersals of wisdom are what make this book a culmination of his knowledge. His last major work, the novel represents the summation of one unusual man’s wisdom. The path of his philosophy at times feels like drifting down an idealized river of childlike simplicity. This contrasts nicely with seeing the philosophy in action. The farm, more aptly described as a food forest, is without modern amenities and consistently matched or exceeded crop yields of conventional neighboring farms, with more natural variety, and new hybrids appearing on their own. There is even a hunt for atavisms, plant features and genetic variations that were thought to have been lost in time. Some produce that reached the people of Japan in the early days of the food forest could have been the first untampered, “pure” produce Japanese people have eaten in a very long time. The farm was a result of society’s rejection of Mr. Fukuoka’s concepts. It is sheer physical proof, which he then uses to rehabilitated eroded soil in areas seemingly irreversibly damaged by people.

If we were all to embrace the ideology of natural farming at this moment, all technology and modern convenience would be tossed aside, corporate farms would be torn apart and divided among individuals, and time would be needed to project a variety of seeds into the soil. Then, we wait to see what will take root. This is an unlikely reality; nonetheless, I personally believe the concept of natural farming should by no means be easily discounted. “Revolutionary” is an apt description for Mr. Masanobu Fukuoka, “pioneer” even more so. His experience, motivation, and wisdom are both humbling and eccentric to behold. I would recommend Sowing Seeds in the Desert to anyone that happens to need to eat to survive. His words could be our guiding voice on how we can feed the future and stop the downturn of industrialized agriculture.

For more revolutionary writing, visit Chelsea Green Publishing.

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This entry was posted on October 21, 2014 by in Arts.

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