Tales from a Regenerative Farmer
As we were preparing for the adventure of moving to the rainforest in Colombia, we had a number of farewell gatherings with friends and family in the UK. At one such occasion, a good friend recommended that we should read a book entitled “The One Straw Revolution”, by Masanobu Fukuoka. I managed to find a copy and added it to the small selection of books that we would be travelling with.
It took more than a year and a half before I sat down to read it. Perhaps there is a reason that I didn’t read it any earlier …. Having experienced life in the rainforest and getting to know rural culture (and stories like that of Joaquin and Medardo ), I feel the depth of what the book has to say in relation to our everyday life here in nature.
The parallels described in the book regarding the “development” of rural areas in Japan and what we have seen in Colombia is remarkable – it just goes to show that the stories of separation from nature have happened throughout the entire world. The book describes how farmers in Japan were lured into “modernity” throughout the 20th century. During that process, they lost the abundance of what it is to live in connection to nature. The commercialisation of agriculture led to depleted soils, to dependence on fertilizers and pesticides, to an increasing need for loans and other financial mechanisms, and to the impoverishment of the lives of all those in rural areas (or to their forced migration to cities). In turn, this entire process changed ecologies and landscapes throughout Japan for the worse.
The beauty of the book is that it doesn’t limit itself to highlighting that loss. It is the story of a man who decided to reverse the situation and succeeded. The book is his personal account of that journey and aims to show how a return to a “natural” agriculture, a natural form of life, and a reconnection with the essence of being on the land, are all completely possible in our time, anywhere on Earth. In the process, it is possible to regenerate soils and ecologies and to allow nature to return to a full state of thrival.
In fact, he suggests that “if 100% of the people were farming it would be ideal”. He says that if families each had a small family domain they would be able to grow all the food they could ever want. If natural farming were practiced, those developing their family domains would also have plenty of time for all sorts of other interests, including the arts, innovation, and social gatherings, community life, etc. He suggests that this is the most direct path towards a full evolution of human capacity on Earth – a full realisation of the human potential. This is the “one-straw revolution”, because with a single straw of rice, a person would be able to begin this process.
Although it has been severely compromised in our time, farming can still be a sacred form of action, a part of everyday life:
“A life of small-scale farming may appear to be primitive, but in living such a life, it becomes possible to contemplate the Great Way (the path of spiritual awareness).”
Fukuoka tells us that in ancient Japanese language, the word for farmer meant “the cupbearer of the gods”, that is, the one who handles the sacred substances. Farming was a sacred occupation. The substance of soil has started to feel incredibly special to us, as we see it change from red to brown, deepen in texture and smell, and become alive with earthworms in the areas of previously barren clay field that we have been focusing on. Fukoka speaks of the vitality of the soil as the base for agriculture and its cultivation has become something very tender, raw and real in our everyday lives.
In this book I see a real-life story of something I had begun sensing... A feeling that there is another way – a way of connecting with the land, instead of living in separation from the land. A feeling that after so many centuries of separation, there is a new dawn for humans, and a new space for evolution. Our own intentions here in the rainforest are very much aligned with this path. In addition to generating that possibility for ourselves, we are aiming to generate this possibility for others too, allowing previously abused land (from cattle farming) to become family domains, natural havens with spaces for a natural form of agriculture that regenerates the soils, tucked away within densely forested surroundings. This allows a thrival of humans and nature in symbiosis, an inner rewilding of the human condition and an outer rewilding of nature and our surroundings.