The One Straw Revolution

Here I am, only one person, standing on the steps of Worcester City Hall, doing my damndest to start the #ExtinctionRebellion in Massachusetts. 

Years ago I read a book by Masanobu Fukuoka called The One Straw Revolution, published in English in 1978, about his discovery of dry-bed rice cultivation and natural farming. Fukuoka was a Taoist and applied Taoist principles in his science of farming. This is what Fukuoka had to say about starting a revolution:

I believe that a revolution can begin from this one strand of straw. Seen at a glance, this rice straw may appear light and insignificant. Hardly anyone would believe that it could start a revolution. But I have come to realize the weight and power of this straw. For me, this revolution is very real.

Fukuoka was not a very agreeable man; he was fed up with most of modern society and wanted no part of it. I saw a video of him being interviewed on a Japanese television talk show in the 70s. He got so angry with the host that he got up and walked off-stage in the middle of the show. 

Fukuoka was not trained as a farmer, but as a microbiologist. He worked for the government as a plant customs inspector. In his mid 20s, he decided that doing science for the government was a soul-killing job, so he quit. He inherited his father’s farm which had an orange orchard. In the process of learning how to cultivate oranges, he killed almost every tree in the orchard. But finally he learned what he needed to know and became one of the greatest practitioners of natural (organic) farming in the modern world.

The five principles of Natural Farming are:

  • human cultivation of soil, plowing or tilling are unnecessary, as is the use of powered machines
  • prepared fertilizers are unnecessary, as is the process of preparing compost
  • weeding, either by cultivation or by herbicides, is unnecessary; instead, only minimal weed suppression with minimal disturbance should be used
  • applications of pesticides or herbicides are unnecessary
  • pruning of fruit trees is unnecessary.

“There is no time in modern agriculture for a farmer to write a poem or compose a song.”

Masanobu Fukuoka, The One Straw Revolution

Fukuoka called his method “Do Nothing Farming.” He believed it applied as well to the cultivation of human beings. I don’t have the time or space to go into this in detail, but the insights of Fukuoka, that we need to do the least amount of work necessary to produce the food we need and let Nature do the rest, and otherwise spend our time cultivating our spiritual lives, is precisely the kind of praxis that might help us survive the devastation of global climate change. Consider, for example, Fukuoka’s view of ‘economics’:

“Why do you have to develop? If economic growth rises from 5% to 10%, is happiness going to double? What’s wrong with a growth rate of 0%? Isn’t this a rather stable kind of economics? Could there be anything better than living simply and taking it easy?”

This is the kind of ‘right view’ we will need to reconstruct an eco-social world within the bounds of Nature.

So here I am, the One Straw, standing out in front of Worcester City Hall, trying to awaken people to the #ExtinctionRebellion. I know that I am just the One Straw, but with this One Straw, I can start a revolution.

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