May 20, 2010

The One-Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka: Review

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The One-Straw Revolution was the only NYRB Classics title available from my library but since I'm on a gardening kick that was okay.

In the 1930's Masanobu Fukuoka was a young scientist working in the field of agriculture when he became ill from pneumonia. While recuperating, he had an epiphany and decided to live a simpler, gentler way of life. He started by leaving his job and getting himself a farm. For thirty years he experimented with his new method of do-nothing or natural farming. Instead of growing rice in water, he planted on dry land. Instead of herbicides, he used clover to control weeds. Instead of pesticides, he encouraged spiders and other creatures to control insects. No compost. No tilling. The key to his success was a keen eye and proper timing.

By the 1970s, people started to take notice. The agricultural community wondered how he was succeeding as a farmer without modern methods. Young people, he refers to them as hippies, flocked to his farm to work and discover his secrets. Even though he was often frustrated with Japan's reliance on American grain and the changing diet of his countrymen, he believed that from one straw a revolution could begin.

I enjoyed the farming and experimental aspect of One-Straw Revolution. I don't know a thing about growing rice but it was interesting to see how he had arrived at growing it the way he did. As a scientist, he had to change his whole mindset from "How about doing this?" to "How about not doing this?" He stresses that do-nothing farming is a lot more work than it sounds.

He also discusses the economics of natural farming and insists that organic food should be cheaper than commercially grown food.
"I still feel that natural food should be sold more cheaply than any other... If a high price is charged for natural food, it means that the merchant is taking excessive profits, they become luxury foods and only rich people are able to afford them."
Isn't that interesting? And yet it costs me twice as much for a pint of organic tomatoes. Go figure. That's one of the complaints about organic food I've heard- that's it's elitist. It doesn't have to be.

However, the philosophical parts of the book weren't for me. I found his thoughts repetitive and often preachy. I guess it was just too much for me to wrap my mind around. Though I'm sure many people would enjoy these parts of the book more than the farming.


Fukuoka died in 2008. I wonder what he would have made of his revolution continuing on without him. You will find the seeds of his philosophy in the organic and local farming movements of today or in the words of Barbara Kingsolver (Animal Vegetable Miracle). His quiet revolution has grown quite a bit from just one straw.

Thoughts on the cover: It seems sort of militant and this is such a gentle book. It really threw me when I first saw it.

Recommended.

Read for the Spotlight Series tour for NYRB Classics. Please see other reviews of NYRB Classics on the blog.

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8 comments :

  1. I don't like preachy books, so I think I'll skip this one. Thanks for your review.

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  2. I was really debating this book for the series, too, but decided to go for African in Greenland as my non-fiction choice. I'm glad you read this, though! I have gotten much more into the local food movement in the past few years, and it really interests me to hear that the author thinks organic food should be so cheap. Hmmm. Don't think that will happen in our lifetimes!

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  3. Kathy- I found it preachy only in parts because he said the same thing over and over again. Just the philosophy parts.

    Aarti- I know! At first I thought "What?!" and then I thought he made a good argument.

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  4. I've wondered about the prices of organic food too. I mean, don't pesticides cost money? It should be cheaper to farm WITHOUT them. Though I guess it has to do with the amount of food they manage to produce. Still, it makes it difficult for me to buy organic, though I want to.

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  5. Nymeth- That's exactly his point. Someone has to explain it to me.

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  6. I'd like to give this one a try.

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  7. I'm not sure if I could handle the preachy-aspect of the book, but it sounds interesting otherwise.

    I've often thought of the prizes of organic food, but I think it might've to do with the small quantities that are bought in supermarkets, because of the mass-production of unorganic food, which thus makes the prizes higher, or something? Okay, that's not really any explanation, is it?

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  8. Wow, I NEVER would've guessed this was about agriculture. I've seen this at a bookstore and assumed it was about political revolution, just based on the cover art. I agree with you; now knowing its subject matter, the cover art seems a little too militant (though I do like it).

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