Monday, January 12, 2009

Farming on my mind: "The One-Straw Revolution" and "You Can Farm"

I just finished two great books about farming (and food and business and life).

The One-Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka is a classic text, written in 1978. He was a pretty amazing guy (long dead now, I’m sure), both a farmer and philosopher. I’m really interested in his Do-Nothing Farming method, which utilized ground covers and mulching and eschews tillage. He’s dedicated to having the farm and crops being in great alignment with nature (Nature with a big N, meaning seasons, predators and pests, native plants, etc.). I’m curious to know if anyone in the Northeast U.S. has duplicated his methods, with crops that would grow here. His dual-season crop rotation works well for where he lived in Japan, because he could grow a grain crop in the winter, and then the mulched each crop (rice in summer, or rye and barley in winter), with the straw of a different crop, so that the diseases/pests that come were not automatically passed to each successive crop. His use of white clover as a perennial ground cover ended up enriching the soil, sort of like green mulch/fertilizer. Timing is everything with his method, especially in terms of combating weeds.

He talks a lot about zen philosophy, too, about being and meaning and nothingness, which I also enjoy considering. But it’s about a lot more than that, and he’s practical, too, in his considerations about what herbicide and pesticides are doing to the people, animals, plants, and the world.

What’s interesting is that he wrote all this more than 30 years ago. There is a big wave of this now, but people have been worried and trying to take action for decades now. Maybe now, it’ll really grab hold.

I also read You Can Farm: The Entrepreneur's Guide to Start & Succeed in a Farming Enterprise
by Joel Salatin. (Tracy posted about him and his book on her blog, too.) As one of many folks who fantasize about living on farm someday, this book was both entertaining and enlightening for me. Salatin's "stacking" methods, of rotating various animals across his fields, with the proper timing to allow build-up of the soil and great reduction in pests and disease, is so cool. I'd love to try it for myself (though I have no interest in raising any animals on my farm beyond chickens, to be honest) just to see it in action.

Just as much as his farming methods, I appreciate his great energy and enthusiasm (and tremendous libertarianism) for the business side of farming. He's thought hard about how to make money from his ventures on the farm and refuses to price himself into starvation (he generally doesn't do projects that generate less than $25/hour). He makes his decisions about what to farm and what to sell from smart, considered business perspective.

Though this is a book about the business of farming, it's a good fun business book for anyone, especially writers, I think. Farming, like writing, is more than just a job, it's a way of life, and if you want to keep that way of life, you need to find a way to make your living from it. And like farming, that's all a lot easier if you live an especially frugal life. He talks a lot about making sure that you don't go into debt at the wrong time and making sure that you are clear about your necessities versus luxuries. The same applies for writers. He writes about making the transition to farming gradually, i.e. you might not want to quit your day job and buy property until you've already got customers. The same thing applies to people who want to support themselves through writing.

Both of these two books dovetail nicely in their thoughts about the importance of eating healthy food grown in a natural method that does not harm the earth. I'm all for that.

Maybe it's time for Tracy and me to go through our seed catalogs and start getting ready for our spring garden.


Tracy said...

According to wikipedia Masanobu Fukuoka just died this past August at the age of 95.

I love how you tied these books to writing!

Patrick Gabridge said...

Thanks for checking! I've just put in a link on his name to the wikipedia site. He was still lecturing until age 92! Wow.