It was an extraordinary looking home made flying machine complete with Biggles goggles for the operator. Its constructor had rigged up 5 flymo blades attached to a front beam, itself attached to a set of fork lift hydraulics that allowed it to be raised and lowered following the height of the crop. The noise was extreme and peering through the blades trying to keep straight, plumes of stalk and leaf would fly backwards. I learnt early on the importance of keeping your mouth shut.
Just a couple of generations of chemical weed control has meant that things were allowed to go to seed that farmers never would have allowed before, on the basis that you could spray it all down the year after. Given each plant can generate 50,000 seeds, you very quickly accumulate a vast stock of seeds in the soil that can last for 10s or 100s of years. This is not just a problem for those who stop the treatments. Relying solely on applications of poisons means that the odd weeds that by chance are resistant will go to seed and reproduce. This is what is happening. The response is lobbying from the agri-chemical companies to license stronger and stronger poisons to avert ‘disaster’. Which, aside from being lethal, will only work for a bit before the same cycle happens again.
Several days were spent traversing the fields with the flying machine. As I attempted to keep straight through stalk encrusted goggles, thoughts turned to a technician from the biggest local organic so-called cooperative who had called me in for a meeting during my first days at the farm. Young but not lacking in confidence, she’d assumed, partly perhaps because I played in a tuesday night rock band with one of her colleagues , and partly because she was the go-to-girl for the local organic farmers, that I’d sign on the dotted line to get all my supplies with her. My first surprise was finding two other farmers in the room. The second was when she began laying out her plans for our farm; what was to be grown, how it was to be cultivated, and how the two farmers she’d invited were going to share the work. For a while I listened in stunned silence. Then I asked if she’d mind if a said a word or two. She smiled in a way which said ‘yes but don’t take too long’. I had explained my plans to farm without the plough or fertilisers and made a swift and confident exit. Now I imaged her sniggering as she drove past on her way to work each morning.
Solace came in a book by Masanobu Fukuoka. Compared to what he must have gone through, my feelings of ridicule were a walk in the park. He was a Japanese farmer and philosopher who abandoned his career as a crop scientist when he became convinced that the scientists’ specialisms studying this or that crop disease or pesticide were pointless and ignored the need to view the natural world as a whole. He despaired also of a lack of humility in accepting the limits of human knowledge within the natural world’s infinite complexity. Returning home to put his ideas into practise, he let the farm’s orchards go unpruned and half of them die, convinced that once nature had removed growth that was too dense and therefore weak, a balance would reestablish itself. He did not plow his fields, used no agricultural chemicals or fertilisers, and did not flood his rice fields as farmers have done in Asia for centuries. After a period of transition, his yields surpassed the most productive farms in Japan. His book, the One Straw Revolution, is an occasionally practical but mainly spiritual guide to harvesting the abundance of the natural world. The theme is familiar. Behind the lobbyists and moneymen lie the real solutions and they are free. His book led me to the hundred year old work of an English diplomat in India. Albert Howard’s two books were a revelation, but one which made me realise that all I had done so far on the farm was pointless. The answer had been in front of me in the vegetable patch; when I had replaced the turning and and destruction of the earth with a system that respected and nourished it, the results had been spectacular. At the farm I had slipped into the mentality of scale and machinery which obscures the fact that the fundamentals of placing a seed in the ground and creating the optimum conditions for it to flourish don’t change whether you plant one of one hundred thousand. I now understood that everything begins and ends with the soil and it was there that I had to start.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]