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What I’m Reading: The One-Straw Revolution

You will recognize the similarity in the name, The One-Straw Revolution, and the name of this website. While I take my name from Paul Cezanne’s quote this book has been an influence on my own thinking about nature and agriculture from an early age. Masanobu Fukuoka sees a revolution in one strand of straw just as Cezanne did in one carrot. In the straw, Fukuoka sees food for humans and food for the ground. But, he sees more than that. He sees a teacher that, if observed and listened to, will show us how food grows best. By following the lesson of the straw, Fukuoka’s farm matches the production of industrial farms without the use of artificial fertilizers and pesticides, without plowing and with the humble sickle over the combine.

In The One-Straw Revolution Fukuoka takes us to his small farm on the Japanese island of Shikoku. He demonstrates his method for growing rye and barley in the winter and rice in the summer. We watch him make seed bombs to sow crops. We are there during harvest season as the straw is cut and allowed to decompose in place providing mulch for the next crop. Fukuoka points to the clover and weeds growing among his grains. He lets us know that these plants are encouraged to provide needed nutrients to the soil. We visit Fukuoka’s Mandarin Orange orchard that is not pruned but left to find its natural and wild shape. He calls this “do-nothing” farming, not because it does not take work but because it works with nature, not against.

The book moves seamlessly between practical farming advice and the wisdom gained through a simple life in nature. Fukuoka reflects on nature then immediately debates the merits of scientific thinking. In between we learn his philosophies on food and his concern for society’s direction. He celebrates the life of the farmer: “To be here, caring for a small field, in full possession of the freedom and plentitude of each day, every day-this must have been the original way of agriculture” (112). Through all of this, Fukuoka strives for enlightenment: “The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings” (119).

This is what makes reading The One-Straw Revolution so engaging. It is not about one thing, it teaches without preaching, it shows rather than explains, inspires rather than instructs. Fukuoka hosted many travelers on his small farm during his lifetime. These visitors temporarily lived and worked on the farm, learning farming techniques but also philosophy. To read Fukuoka is to temporarily become one of these travelers. 


Check out a copy of The One-Straw Revolution from you library or click on the image to purchase.

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