Masanobu Fukuoka - Sustainability and Simplicity

Ashleigh Smith + photo

Ashleigh Smith

Jun 8
6 min read
bubble 0
Japanese man tending to a rice field
Written By Lara Wadsworth

Picture yourself in the serene Japanese countryside. The sun is warm but not too hot, the birds are chirping happily in a nearby forest and it rained last night so everything is lively and green. You’re standing on a hillside field that seems wild yet, you look down at your feet and find a massive radish poking out of the ground just in front of your toes. As the clouds pass by above you, you reach down and grasp the radish. You pull it out of the ground and smell the fresh, healthy soil that grew this gem of the earth. You walk back to the house on the hill to enjoy a meal consisting of only locally grown produce and meats with your closest friends and family.

What an idyllic life. This is the life that Masanobu Fukuoka encouraged for all who would seek it. Fukuoka was a Japanese farmer who became famous for his Taoist and Buddhist-inspired agricultural techniques. He calls it do-nothing farming. Sounds too good to be true, right? Let’s dive in and see what all the hype is about.

Humble Beginnings

Born in Japan in 1913, Masanobu Fukuoka lived a rural lifestyle in his early life. He worked on his family’s land and as a young man began to develop his unique farming approach. He attended Gifu Prefecture Agricultural College and worked toward becoming a microbiologist and agricultural scientist. He went on to work and research at the Plant Inspection Division of the Yokohama Customs Bureau. “However, he was too devoted to his research and found himself on the brink of death from acute pneumonia. It was then he realized that ‘in this world there is nothing at all.”

He returned to his home to continue his agricultural research and experimentation. It was there that he solidified his way of cultivation. After his sickness and resulting existential realization, he began learning from the earth and working in harmony with its rhythms and cycles. He realized that it was futile to fight nature. Conventional farming was all about going contrary to the earth and forcing it into submission using chemicals and mechanical means. He says that people started using machines but forgot that the human being is the most efficient machine.

Impacting the World

Fukuoka went on to teach at numerous universities on various continents in dozens of countries all about his findings. Masanobu Fukuoka's gardening approach, showcased in his book "The One-Straw Revolution," centers on natural farming principles that advocate for minimal human intervention. Fukuoka's method involves no tilling, no chemical fertilizers, and no pesticides. He emphasizes the importance of understanding nature's rhythms and cycles, allowing plants to grow naturally by seeding directly into the soil. This approach not only reduces labor and promotes sustainability but also aims to restore the health and biodiversity of the soil. Fukuoka's philosophy is deeply rooted in the belief that humans should live in harmony with nature, observing and learning rather than controlling it.

When I started learning about Fukuoka it reminded me of many of Wendell Berry's essays in his book Home Economics. Wendell says that a huge agricultural fallacy is, “That agriculture may be understood and dealt with as an industry. This assumption is false, first of all, because agriculture deals with living things and biological processes, whereas the materials of industry are not alive and the processes are mechanical.” This is incredibly similar to many of Fukuoka’s ideals. When we view the earth as an asset rather than the source of everything, we miss the mark.

The Drawbacks

However, Fukuoka's method also presents challenges. Unfortunately, natural farming is not high-yielding enough to replace conventional farming, especially during the transition period. This can be problematic for farmers reliant on consistently high outputs for their livelihood. The approach demands a deep understanding of local ecosystems and natural crop cycles, which has a steep learning curve. Farmers must be adept at observing and responding to environmental cues, which can be daunting without substantial experience or knowledge.

Additionally, the marketability of naturally farmed products may be limited due to their potential failure to meet the cosmetic standards of conventional produce. Fukuoka’s approach might not be suitable for all geographic and climatic conditions either. Such is the case with my situation. Because I live in Michigan, I cannot garden year round without intervention. I could implement many of his tactics during the summertime but in the winter I would have to stray. While Fukuoka's methods promote biodiversity and environmental health, they require a significant shift in traditional farming paradigms and a commitment to long-term ecological balance.

miss-shaped carrots

Nevertheless, Masanobu Fukuoka's natural farming approach is acclaimed for its environmental sustainability and simplicity. By shunning chemical inputs, mechanical tilling, and intensive labor, this method promotes an all around healthier ecosystem through the preservation of soil health and biodiversity. It significantly reduces the environmental footprint of farming, conserves water, and cuts down on the financial costs associated with conventional farming practices like the purchase of machinery and chemical fertilizers. The reduction in labor and inputs can make farming more accessible and sustainable, particularly for small-scale farmers.

Get Involved

All in all, I am a big fan of Masanobu’s ideas. While I see that it is not necessarily the solution to replace all conventional farming, I do believe that many people can adopt these principles and benefit from them. A simple way to start is by using a no-till cover crop or ground cover in your garden rather than tilling the soil each year. Something small like this can do wonders for preserving your soil’s integrity from year to year. Trying to eat locally sourced food whenever possible is another way to implement Fukuoka’s ideals. Even if you haven’t grown it yourself, minimizing transportation costs and carbon emissions through local businesses can benefit the ecosystem immensely.

The biggest thing that we can learn from Fukuoka is something that you don’t even need to be a gardener to implement. Patience. Let go of tension and pressure. Seasons change. Time passes. Night will turn to day. There is nothing we can or should do to try to change these things. Take action where you can, but do not get carried away with interventions. We cannot and should not control nature. We must learn to work under Mother Nature’s tender care. How will you do this?

Lara Wadsworth, True Leaf Market Writer

I am a native of Southwestern Michigan, where I also reside, and I love all things plants! I got a Bachelor's Degree in Horticulture and found the first work-from-home job I could get. Now, I spend my days writing for TLM, playing with my dog, eating delicious food with my husband, and plotting my next landscape or gardening move. I believe everyone should get down and dirty in the soil now and then. Happy Gardening!

Become a True Leaf Market Brand Ambassador! You’ll enjoy awesome perks, free products and exclusive swag & offers! Help us create a gardening revolution and help others experience the joy of growing!

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

0 Comments

No Comments yet! Be the first to start a conversation

  1. Joy Larkom - Gardening Wisdom and Inspirationwoman holding a basket of freshly harvested vegetables

    Joy Larkom - Gardening Wisdom and Inspiration

    Written By Lara Wadsworth Early Inspiration Have you ever wondered what it takes to revolutionize gardening? Me neither… until I learned about Joy Larkcom. I had no idea that vegetable gardening had been revolutionized in such recent history. Isn't thi...


    Ashleigh Smith + photo

    Ashleigh Smith

    2024-06-04
    6 min read
    bubble 0
  2. The Top 5 Anti-Aging Microgreens5 Anti-aging microgreens

    The Top 5 Anti-Aging Microgreens

    Written By Lara Wadsworth The health and beauty marketing teams of today want us to fear aging and play off of our natural fears to make us buy various serums, creams, etc. To be fair, it is scary to notice new wrinkles, fall asleep on the couch at 10p...


    Ashleigh Smith + photo

    Ashleigh Smith

    2024-06-04
    6 min read
    bubble 1
  3. A Rainy Day Revelation: Discovering Piet Oudolf's Belle Isle Garden in DetroitConservatory in the fall at Belle Isle Garden in Detroit

    A Rainy Day Revelation: Discovering Piet Oudolf's Belle Isle Garden in Detroit

    Written By Lara Wadsworth When I was tasked with writing an article about Piet Oudolf a few weeks ago, I didn’t know what I was getting into! I remember learning about the internationally renowned landscape designer as a college student in my horticult...


    Ashleigh Smith + photo

    Ashleigh Smith

    2024-05-28
    7 min read
    bubble 0
  4. Piet Oudolf: Embracing the Naturalistic Gardenquaking grass perennial

    Piet Oudolf: Embracing the Naturalistic Garden

    Written By Lara Wadsworth Piet Oudolf is a world renowned Dutch garden designer. His designs are focused on a naturalistic approach to enjoy the ever changing beauty offered by plants in their various stages of life. His designs have played a role in t...


    Ashleigh Smith + photo

    Ashleigh Smith

    2024-05-21
    7 min read
    bubble 0