The One-Straw Revolution

The One-Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka, published in 1978 by Rodale Press, is a wonderful read.  Fukuoka's work, philosophies and techniques have been an inspiration to the permaculture design process and helped form some of the roots of permaculture.

I find it shocking when observations, truths and opinions in songs, books, plays stand the test of time.  I get this feeling when watching Shakespeare performances, or when I read Aldous Huxley's Brave New World for the first time. Fukoka's observations and discussions around nutrition, simplifying life, how society is moving away from nature, beauty, and whole systems are salient and topical today as they were in 1978.

"The more people do, the more society develops, the more problems arise.  The increasing desolation of nature, the exhaustion of resources, the uneasiness brought about by humanity's trying to accomplish something. " (The One-Straw Revolution  pg. 159)

Here Fukuoka seems to be making an argument for the Degrowth Movement....

Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica)- a delicious, nutritious spring early spring green

He also has strong opinions on the idea of what is nutritious, natural and 'clean' for food. 

"Today people want "clean" vegetables, so farmers grow them in hothouses without using soil at all.  Gravel culture, sand culture, and hydroponics are getting more popular all the time.  The vegetables are grown with chemical nutrients and by light which is filtered through a vinyl covering.  It is strange that people have come to think of theses vegetables grown chemically as " clean" and safe to eat.  Foods grown in soil balanced by the action of worms, micro-organism, and decomposing animal manure are the cleanest and most wholesome of all." (The One-Straw Revolution pg. 66)
There has been a strong movement for people to separate themselves from nature, and an emphasis on anti-bacterial products and sterilized environments. These trends are thought to have caused a generation of children with chronic illnesses, obesity, anxiety and depression.  Some have labelled this as a Nature Deficit Disorder.  Project Wild Thing and the Wild Network is trying to help parents and kids get outside and tackle some of these issues.

Nodding Onion (Allium cernuum) a delicious spicy treat in the early spring

Fukuoka also feels very strongly around the idea of the correct diet.  In the first world, where there are infinite number of fad diets and ways to obsess over food, this is a dose of humility, connection and a way to ground the idea of food.

The Diet of Non-discrimination
"Human life is not sustained by its own power.  Nature gives birth to human beings and keeps them alive.  This is the relation in which people stand to nature.  Food is a gift of heaven.  People do not create foods from nature; heaven bestows them.
Food is food and food is not food.  It is a part of man and is apart from man.
When food, the body, the heart, and the mind become perfectly united within nature, a natural diet becomes possible.  The body as it is, following its own instinct, eating if something tastes good, abstaining if it dos not, is free.
It is impossible to prescribe rules and proportions for a natural diet.  This diet defines itself according to the local environment, and the various needs and the bodily constitution of each person." (The One-Straw Revolution pg. 143)

Cornice Ridge, Kootenay Pass, BC

Fukuoka discusses some techniques of ecological farming and land stewardship that are being practiced all over the world.  Techniques of hugelkultur, alleycropping/agroforestry with nitrogen fixing trees, green manures, polyculture, succession planting, working with natural predators to control pests are discussed in The One-Straw Revolution.  However, the book is not simply an agricultural how-to book.  It reads more like a Zen Koan.  A Koan, being a "story, dialogue, question, or statement, which is used in Zen practice to provoke the "great doubt" and test a student's progress in Zen practice. " (Wikipedia)   In The One-Straw Revolution, there are questions and opinions that ask us to question the system in which we inhabit, our role and responsibilities.

""Within one thing lie all things, but if all things are brought together not one thing can arise." Western science is unable to grasp the precept of eastern philosophy.  A person can analyse and investigate a butterfly as far as he likes, but he cannot make a butterfly." (The One-Straw Revolution pg. 141)

Whole-systems thinking and design is a fundamental piece to permaculture design.

Fukuoka came to practice natural farming from a place crisis and then transformation.  I think many people can relate to both the pain and sadness, as well as finding positive solutions to today's challenges.  There is something not quite right with the world the way it is, but it is difficult to wrap our heads and hearts around the complexity.  This heart and spirituality piece is something that Fukuoka explains eloquently, and what role it plays in personal transformation.

"I could see that all the concepts to which I had been clinging, the very notion of existence itself, were empty fabrications.  My spirit became light and clear.  I was dancing wildly for joy.  I could hear the small birds chirping in the trees, and see the distant waves glistening in the rising sun. The leaves danced green and sparkling.  I felt that this was truly heaven on earth.  Everything that had possessed me, all the agonies, disappeared like dreams and illusions, and something one might call " true nature" stood revealed."  (The One-Straw Revolution pg. 8-9)

Fukuoka also thinks that following a life close to the earth, is a process of healing, of finding happiness, of creating peace.

"When it is understood that one loses joy and happiness in the attempt to possess them, the essence of natural farming will be realized.  The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings." (The One-Straw Revolution pg 119)

I don't know if this is true or not, but I think that creating relationships with the land around you, and the inhabitants big and small is a practice of compassion and understanding.  And maybe, if we all go outside for a walk around the block, if we plant a row of carrots, if we watch the songbirds return from their long migration, if we start feeding our soil,  then maybe we can start to stitch together the threads of the universe.

"Farmers everywhere in the world are at root the same farmers.  Let us say that they key to peace lies close to the earth. " (The One-Straw Revolution pg.177)


  1. Beautiful post and beautiful photos. The first snow picture into the sun is particularly striking. You should frame that one!


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