On November 23, 2018, I traveled to Tochigi, located north from Tokyo, to visit Tajima-san’s farm, where he practices natural farming, a practice created and spread by Masanobu Fukuoka. My journey to Tochigi inspired me to write this article and share it with you.
Modernity has tricked humans into searching for more "sophisticated" farming methods that can produce more food faster, reduce labor, and increase production. Society believes that the industrialization of food is a step towards a more prosperous and efficient future. Food has become another commodity of the market through capitalism. As a result, we have seen the privatization of seeds, expansion of monocultures, introduction of genetically modified plants and animals, increased deforestation, and the popularization of the use of pesticides and fertilizers. Despite the current state of industrialized farming, there are “seeds of life” that remind us of the means and benefits of taking charge of our food production. Masanobu Fukuoka was a Japanese farmer and philosopher, who became a social and spiritual leader in Japan, India, California, and other parts of the world. He dedicated his life to demonstrating that "natural farming" is possible, and that it can provide us with the conditions and the food necessary to survive on this planet. Natural farming, or “zero- budget, natural farming” is an environmentally sustainable way of growing food, in which seeds are sown by laying them inside clay pellets that are then distributed in a field, weeds are not pulled out, and insects are not killed or fumigated. Basically, the land does all the work and you just wait until is time to harvest. It honors the symbiosis of all plants , animals, fungi, and bacteria that live in our gardens and soil. Natural farming is a method that utilizes the complexity of living organisms in cultivated areas to work in a team with the biodiversity of the ecosystem. It does not require inputs from humans such as brush clearing, agricultural machinery, fertilizers, or systematically planting seeds. Natural farming is based on the Taoist principle of not intervening in natural cycles and their intrinsic harmony, thereby allowing synergy in the ecosystem.
Fukuoka showed that natural farming itself is a philosophy, of which one of its objectives is "the cultivation and purification of human beings" (Fukuoka, 1992, p. 31). It is to understand that everything starts from the center of us. There is no division between man and nature. We are all part of a network of beings that spins outwards from our center and projects towards the infinite.
1. Returning to the earth is to remember our natural balance
At Tajima-san’s farm, the plants are allowed to develop naturally. All plants and creatures living on the farm follow their natural course: trees are not pruned and plants are not watered. The garden is a green carpet of wild plants and various types of vegetables. The balance of nature in the crops its evident at a glance. Different colors, animals, plants, and organisms in the soils living in harmony and producing enough food for all the creatures that live there. The diversity of these crops would not be possible without Tajima-san’s trust in the natural balance of all things. He intervenes minimally when tending the crops, and nature just balances itself. Tajima-san does not always sell the food he harvests from his farm. He and his family consume most of what they grow. The rest, they leave as food for the soil, animals, and plants. According to Tajima-san, humans should not extract everything that nature gives us. If we do, it produces an imbalance in the symbiosis of beings. Natural farming requires going against what we humans have been doing historically, such as taking control of everything, like food. It means shedding our extractivist mentality, that fosters the maximization of production at the cost of exploitation of others and ourselves.
2. Returning to the earth is to return to interconnection
Scientific knowledge has been responsible for dissociating us from natural systems, and creating the illusion that gaining expertise is equal to obtaining pure knowledge. Fukuoka taught that nature is an interconnected system. An object that is studied separately from the rest is not a real thing. For example, an arachnid scientist wants to understand the role of a particular spider that damages rice crops but to study only that without considering the rest of the environment is impossible. A single spider's impact and role will always be specific to the garden in which it is found and the creatures that live there. Experts cannot understand the role of a predator on a farm at a certain time without taking into account the intricate relationship between insects, climate, soil, and plants. What I saw on the farm has led me to believe that natural farming means returning to the collective. I saw the farmers working the land together, sharing community tips for improving the natural farming process, and families and farmers eating together with the food they have harvested. Everybody who was involved in natural farming was fundamental to the harmony of the community. Just like we see in nature where all the beings play a different and important role for preserving balance, it also happens in systems of social organization. Humans are part of a living network of different beings, in which each playing a key role in maintaining the balance of the collective. What connects the network as a whole is living in difference and diversity.
3. Seeds of life and resistance in midst of a crisis
While walking on Tajima-san’s farm, I learn that he had planted hybrid F1 seeds. When I asked him about them, Tajima-san told me that he cultivated these seeds so that nature could clean them. He plants the seeds, lets the plant grow to that point that it produces new seeds, and then replants them. Tajima-san’s task of purifying the seeds is a physical recognition of the sanctity of life. It represents a light for us and for future generations. Humans like him are resisting violence and exploitation, and are defending life as a whole, without exceptions. And this is the call that nature makes to all of us to also resist, to return to the center, to remember where we came from and why, to be well, to be peaceful, and to project those things around us.
For me, this visit to Tochigi was deeply inspiring. I am so grateful for my opportunity to visit Tajima-san’s farm, and for all the things I learned and will continue to learn. The experience nourished my spirit and filled me with fire to continue my work of unlearning what I have learned: to decolonize my mind and see beyond a dual, linear, and capitalistic bias; to live in the spiral that interconnects us, which spins from my interior and projects towards everything that surrounds me; to walk back to the origin and find my own meaning of peace.
For those of you reading this story, I would encourage you to get in touch with where your food comes from. This is a great way to start reconnecting with nature. Taking the time to share food with friends and family is a good way to reconnect with each other. Cooking at home with natural products is one step towards resisting the exploitation of nature. And if you happen to meet someone who thinks differently from you, take the opportunity to experience the difference in a positive way. The more we face difference, the greater the chance to transform ourselves. In the end, it is through difference that we confront with who we are and our ways of understanding life.
April 9, 2019
9:30 am Tuesday, Tokyo (GMT+9)
tochigi, blog, farming, peace,
About the author
She holds a Bachelor Degree in Government and International Relations. In 2012 she co-founded Colectivo Talanquera which is dedicated to being an intercultural link between indigenous communities and contemporary society in Colombia. She worked for two years for the Colombian High Commissioner for Peace as a researcher on the Colombian peace dialogues. Since then she has been supporting local projects for peace in post-conflict scenarios in Colombia, focused on the protection of territory rights, reconciliation, and forgiveness.
About the editor
She earned her Master of Science in Education from Johns Hopkins University. As a certified teacher in the state of Hawaii (U.S.A.) in both Elementary Education and Special Education, she has been teaching and working in educational organizations working towards peace and equity for over five years.