Monday, April 5, 2010

Growing naturally

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Never truer than today, as the major political powers continue to divvy up the states and borders of the world like they own it, and as goodly individuals hunker down and do their own thing in their neighbourhoods.

Honest farmers hearken back to the good old days BC (before chemicals) when the air and soil were pure and naturally chock full of nutrients. Some of us hearken back to the days BO (before organic) and wonder if by natural farming we can dispense with all the terminology, from organic to sustainable to environmentally-friendly to ecological. Our method of growing is just plain natural. It would be nice not to be boxed in any more; to be liberated to roam, grow, and explore, spiritually and physically. It would feel good to re-establish our deep ancient connection to the soil, to the plants we nurture in it, and all the microcosmic world we share life with.

In parts of the Japanese countryside, this practice has gone on continuously, uninterrupted all through industrial, agricultural, technological and digital information revolutions, and through world wars too. Farmers there have always understood that Nature in all its complexity and wealth simply provides. It provides a healthy environment for plants, animals, birds, insects, and human beings in community too. It provides food, medicine, shelter, all the basic needs for optimal health.

Underlying Natural Agriculture is a profound reverence for nature, and the farming involved is guided entirely by nature’s intrinsic wisdom. Rather than seeking to control nature, farmers listen and respond to it. Mokichi Okada, who developed Natural Agriculture in the 1930s, envisioned it not only as a means of cultivating pure and wholesome food, but in addition as an art and also a spiritual pursuit.

Natural Agriculture is not merely a horticultural technique; it entails a change in the way we think about nature, and the advancement of a more sustainable style of living. As an agricultural method, it relies on an understanding of the subtle physical relationships and spiritual bonds that exist among all elements of the cultivation and consumption of food: the earth, sun, rain, wind, the farmer, the people who eat the food, and the society in which these people live. All these benefit from its practice; it is Natural Agriculture's purpose to make all these elements spiritually and physically healthy.

The unique contribution of Natural Agriculture is its fundamental respect for all the elements involved in the natural growing processes – light, soil, water and air. Natural Agriculture fosters a deep awareness of the contributions of each element and the benefits derived from working in harmony with them. In today’s consumer society, some people have lost the understanding of the underlying interconnection of all life; one reflection of this has been a severing from the natural world. Some no longer see their relationship to the natural elements, as they have for millennia. The manipulation of nature has taken an enormous toll on human heath and the well-being of the planet. Natural Agriculture seeks to restore the vital and sacred relationship between humankind and the environment.

A seed is planted in the earth. Rain comes and the seed sprouts and takes root. The germ of consciousness begins to grow. The root derives its nutrition and water from the soil. The leaves absorb the light of the sun and through photosynthesis change inorganic matter into organic matter. This spurs growth. Tens of millions of microorganisms in the soil help to transform organic matter. In its natural state, soil is pure and contains all the elements needed for healthy plant growth. Eventually plants blossom and, with the help of insect pollination, bear the fruit that contains the next generation of seeds. Too much human intervention in this process can hamper and harm the forces of nature, causing all sorts of deviations. But by forming a spiritual collaboration, we can guide, aid and enhance natural food production.

A plant grows amid a myriad of relationships: relationships with neighbouring plants, with the weeds near it, with the insects, birds, squirrels, earthworms and moles. All of these elements make up the natural environment of the plant, and the plant is affected by its interaction with each one. Additionally, the ponds, rivers, trees, surrounding woods and mountains also contribute to the plant’s natural environment and growth. The effect of sun, rain, wind, changing seasons, annual weather conditions, and the region’s climate all have to be considered as part of this plant’s place in Nature. The energy and heat received from deep within the earth and from the sun and other planetary bodies also impact its growth and composition. Equally important is its relationship with the farmer. According to the philosophy of Natural Agriculture, plants respond to the thoughts, emotions and deeds of the people who care for them. The more conscious the farmer is of the interrelationships within nature, the more he or she is able to play a part in fostering the balance and harmony needed for healthy plant life.

The basis of Natural Agriculture is to work in harmony with the natural environment for the benefit of the plant, for the well-being of those who eat the food, and ultimately for the whole environment. One of the goals and commitments of Natural Agriculture farmers is to bring physical, mental and spiritual benefit to people, helping those who have health problems as well as mental and emotional challenges. The ingestion of food grown by Natural Agriculture brings a balance to the bodily systems that ultimately affects one’s whole well being.

Thus Natural Agriculture involves more than agricultural technique; it means changing the way one thinks about Nature. It means relating to the natural world through one’s heart, not only one’s head. And it means listening, respecting and responding to, rather than dictating, the needs of Nature. It leads to the development of a lifestyle that creates a harmony with oneself, one’s community and environment.

Through the practice of Natural Agriculture the producers and consumers of food develop a unique relationship, based on a support system of deep appreciation and gratitude. The exchange of gratitude within this community becomes a key element to its success. Indeed, consumers suddenly realize their relationship, through the farmer, to the soil, seed and subsequent agricultural product. Similarly, as the farmer works the soil, he or she is mindful of the consumers who will eventually eat the produce. This process of exchange forms a bond that benefits each person in the chain.

The farmer/consumer relationship is a vital link, which when activated can lead to a much healthier, more wholesome and aware mode of living, as well as a greater understanding of community.