The One Straw Revolution: Book Review

The One Straw Revolution

                When I read The One Straw Revolution, Masanobu Fukuoka’s manifesto on the art of “natural farming,” I was intrigued by its dramatic difference from the texts we had normally been reading in class. Fukuoka’s philosophical book indeed covers the normal topics of agriculture and food, and yet at the same time speaks to the limitations and hubris of the human race. Fukuoka uses the way the human race looks at agriculture to demonstrate how we also look at health, food, science, and life itself. By healing the land through his natural farming techniques, and living life in way that is pure and humble, man can begin to purify himself.

Fukuoka begins his work by giving the backstory to his philosophy on farming and life, starting from his origins as a young man working at a research laboratory for plant pathology. As a young man Fukuoka was jubilant, full of energy and curiosity. He details some of his experiences and run-ins with famous celebrities in his carefree years as a young adult, until he contracts pneumonia and eventually depression. In a bout of delirium, he wandered a wharf and eventually collapsed on a hill at night. In his daze, a heron emerged from the mist as the sun rose, and suddenly he had an epiphany. This epiphany would shape and define his philosophy on agriculture and life itself: “humanity knows nothing at all.”

From this point he suddenly resigns from his job at his research laboratory, and abandons his life. He returns to his father’s village in an effort to manifest his newfound philosophy in his agriculture.  He began to live a simple, primitive life based on his “do-nothing approach” to farming. For the rest of his life he refines his method of farming, and at the same time refines his philosophy. He believes that humanity truthfully knows very little, and our hubris and hunger for control over the natural world is self-destructive, and by relinquishing our drive for control, we can thrive.

Fukuoka mostly provides spiritual guidance to the reader, offering little in terms of practical agricultural techniques. He is more focused on the justification of his “do-nothing” natural agricultural method, rather than the “how.” He begins most chapters with an anecdote, for example a snake capturing a frog, or a nameless man wandering into his village, using these as springboards to begin a lesson on philosophy. The One Straw Revolution reads beautifully, with vivid imagery and striking prose, but it does not pragmatically teach the reader how exactly to begin this unique method of agriculture. Thus, it reads more as a spiritual scripture, a series of lessons on how man can achieve “spiritual awareness” and abandon the “flash development” that is “linked directly to society’s impending collapse” (110). Fukuoka heralds the way of life that is slow, personal, cognizant of the land, and spiritually satisfying. This spiritual satisfaction is linked to Fukuoka’s contemplation of the “Great Way,” or the “path of spiritual awareness which involves attentiveness to and care for the ordinary activities of daily life” (110).

Although most of this book covers Fukuoka’s spiritual journey, he also touches upon concrete methods to plant crops such as straw, rice and barely. His methods utilize little no chemical fertilizer, no pesticides, no plowing or turning of the soil and no weeding by tillage.  He goes into detail on how he goes about tending to his natural yet productive farmland.

Anyone devoted to environmentalism would do well to read this book, not for its practical applications, but for its unique and simple philosophy. One cannot help but believe that if everyone followed Fukuoka’s teachings, the “extravagance of desire” that is the “fundamental cause” of the world’s present predicament would likely be ended (110). Released at the beginning of the environmentalism movement, Fukuoka champions a lifestyle of simple material means, and comfortable spiritual fulfillment.

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