Masanobu Fukuoka (1913 – 2008) was a Japanese farmer who dedicated his life to finding a natural way of farming, looking always for simplicity and for tasks he could leave not done. His life’s work was to develop a way of farming that he called ‘natural farming’ and which principally consisted of always doing the least that he could. He wrote several incredibly influential books about his life and work – The One Straw Revolution, Natural Way of Farming: The Theory and Practice of Green Philosophy and Sowing Seeds in the Desert. As he explains:
“I was aiming at a pleasant, natural way of farming which results in making the work easier instead of harder. ‘How about not doing this? How about not doing that? – that was my way of thinking. When you get right down to it there are few agricultural practices which are really necessary.” Masanobu Fukuoka
What has this to do with forest gardening? I read ‘One Straw Revolution’ in the early days of my experimentation with forest gardening and it had an enormous impact on me, as I explained in ‘the garden of equal delights’:
“The quote above is the simplest and most profound and valuable piece of advice that I have had from anywhere. This advice is absolutely fundamental to everything I have learned from and about my garden from that day forward. I feel a huge debt of gratitude to Fukuoka for his book One Straw Revolution and his insightful, respectful and wise ways of growing food. The principle of non-action is derived entirely from my experience of following this gentle advice which has been in my mind, my heart and my practice continually. It is deceptive in its simplicity and an outright confrontation to us humans who love to do, to be busy, to implement and by all these means to control.”
And many others revere Fukuoka and his work – One Straw Revolution was translated into 20 languages and has sold more than one million copies – and rightly so. Fukuoka attained his goal. Without the use of chemical fertilisers or pesticides, with minimal interventions and growing rice in dry ground he achieved harvests at least comparable to conventional farmers in his region.
Fukuoka was a philosopher as well as a farmer with penetrating insight into many things. His deceptively simple message is one we all need to hear and to heed, because it is by going back to the fundamentals and thinking deeply about them that we can almost stumble upon insights that are relevant here and now.