Wednesday, October 13, 2010

In Search of an Organic Herbicide for Corporate Weeds

In the late 1970s, a Japanese farmer by the name of Mansanobu Fukuoka wrote The One Straw Revolution.  Fukuoka’s book—really a manifesto—presents an approach to organic farming that can serve as a powerful model for a commonsense approach to living in general.  He calls his method “do-nothing” farming.  It is based on the premise that working with the land’s evolved natural propensities can ultimately yield far superior results compared to modern farming with its monoculture and its labor-intensive environmentally destructive techniques.  Modern industrial farming attempts to force nature, or impose an artificial structure on the natural world.  Fields are plowed and planted with crops that need to be fertilized because the soil’s ability to sustain growth has been destroyed by the cultivation itself.  Herbicides are then applied to keep the “weeds” at bay.  All of this requires an enormous amount of human and natural resources.  Fukuoka’s do-nothing approach is simply to scatter seed on an existing uncultivated field.  Along with the desired crop, “weeds” of a certain type are planted to keep other weeds in check.  The straw from one harvest is allowed to sit on the field and decompose naturally even as the next season’s crop is being sown.  After a few seasons, the field is producing almost as much as a commercially cultivated and chemically treated field—but without either the cultivation or the chemicals.  The plants are healthier, and there is a net improvement in the soil season by season.  Even poor land and depleted soil can be resurrected by his methods. 

Fukuoka’s do-nothing approach to farming has something important to offer us, something more than mere metaphor.  Industrial civilization forces us to live in an unnatural, highly “cultivated” manner, and by living in this way we destroy our environment in the same way that plants forced to live in industrial monoculture exhaust the soil.  And, as with the crops of industrial agriculture, it takes an enormous amount of energy and resources to maintain our lifestyle because we are being forced to live in conditions that run counter to our evolved propensities.  Fukuoka’s solution is to stop the machines, let the soil and the plants do what they have been designed to do through several hundred million years of evolutionary fine-tuning.  Likewise, the solution to restoring our environment is to stop the machine of civilization, stop forcing our lives into conformity with an artificial and inhuman mode of being.  Out of civilization’s remains will eventually emerge fertile social and ecological “soil” for nurturing all of our human needs.  The problem will be one of stopping the cultivators, putting an end to the mechanical disturbance, and then having the patience to allow the dust to settle. 

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