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Re: [fukuoka_farming] natives/non-natives

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  • Robert Monie
    Reply: Your question raises several critical points about the acceptance of any proposed approach to agriculture. The worst thing any of us could do would be
    Message 1 of 33 , Jul 2, 2002
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      Your question raises several critical points about the acceptance of any proposed approach to agriculture. The worst thing any of us could do would be to accord Fukuoka cult status and blindly accept anything he says or writes (or is thought to have said and written) as doctrinally true. Philosophers raised Aristotle on such a pedestal for centuries, much to the detriment of the progress of both science and philosophy. We don't want Fukuoka to become "The Farmer"as Aristotle became "The Philosopher," so that rather than thinking and trying things for ourselves, we just look in Fukuoka Books for the answer.
      Fukuoka speaks at many levels and in many contexts, some of them more authoritative than others. When he is speaking at a very microscopic and local level, he is most impressive. When he is making generalization's about the supposed worthlessness of Einstein's theories; that is, when he tries to be macroscopic and cosmic, I'm not so sure how reliable he is as compared to, say, a philosopher like Charles Hartshorne or Alfred North Whitehead.
      He stands on firmest ground, I believe, when he talks about his 50-plus years of growing rice, citrus, and vegetables on his own plot of land in Japan, without recourse to tilling, plowing, pesticides, separately prepared compost or soil amendments. His great insight is to use a complex polyculture that intercrops plants on a bed of ever-thickening green manure. He has achieved the environmentalists' dream of an extremely low- to no-input farm that supports continuing growth cycles and almost indefinitely resists soil erosion, weather damage, plant disease, and insect attack. Who would not admire or wish to emulate such an accomplishment?
      On his own modest-sized farm, Fukuoka probably did not create any new approach to agriculture so much as rediscover an ancient approach followed by many of our ancestors in many parts of the world, but largely forgotten by mainstream farmers. At Cornell University, the MOIST (Management of Organic Inputs in Soils of the Tropics) project has occassionally uncovered tantalizing accounts of Fukuoka-like farming approaches surving in isolated cultures such as the Hmong (on the highlands of Vietnam). A Cornell correspondent, for example, reports that "some Hmong farmers claimed (and several others verified this information) that they have been growing the climbing rice bean associated with maize for 100 years on the same land field without having to fallow it." (This account can be read by going to Google.com and typing in "Hmong 100 year rice bean fields.") Advocates of "Forest Farming," such as J. Sholto Douglas, Robert De J. Hart, and Patrick Whitefield are--partly under the influence of Fukuoka--working to recover or recreate this lost knowlege. Where they, and probably even the traditional Hmong, differ from Fukuoka is in their apporach to planning the garden.
      The Hmong probably do not let Nature decide what's going to grow. They have been reading nature far too long for that to be necessary. From millenia of watching nature, they know--at least on their high native fields--that they want to plant maize and rice bean together and that is what they quite deliberately do, just like the forest farmers and permaculturalists. They feel that they got approval from nature to do things this way back from time immemorial. But Fukuoka, far more than most other farmers, introduces into the agricultural mix the element of chance. At the philosophical level, this makes him bolder than almost anybody else, so he will have much to answer for if he turns out to be wrong. One could challege Fukuoka's assumption that "doing nothing" while nature selects from among hundreds of different species' of scattered seedballs is the best way of approaching sustainable agriculture. Suppose, indeed, that nature selects an aquifier-guzzling invasive non-native tree species that wipes out all the native plants. Can this happen? Is Fukuoka's theory akin to Adam Smith's "invisible hand" in classic economic theory that just makes free market economic transactions turn out right?
      To be fair, the invasive trees that Bill Moyers was reporting on probably were not planted in a swirl of seedballs that included ninenty-nine other species. They were most likely planted deliberately by very falliable human beings who thought they would serve some useful purpose (the same mistake well intentioned people made when they planted the invasive kudzu vine or the water hyacinth here in Louisiana).
      A revealing glimpse of Fukuoka's approach is in his 1986 interview "Greening the Desert" at http://www.context.org/CLIB/IC14/Fukuoka.htm He notes that the daikon grows better in some parts of Africa than it does on his farm in Japan. He says that wealth and power overplanted Europe with just a few foods (such as grapes) and ruined the soil with plowing, pesticides, and cultivation. He wants the peoples of Africa to enjoy healthful vegetables, especially greens. So far, so good. But then he makes a giant leap from vegetable gardening to Earth-seeding from space! "One thing the people of the United States can do instead of going to outer space is to sow seeds from the space shuttle into the deserts. There are many seed companies related to multinational corporations. They could sow seeds from airplanes." Now this is a long way from either the Hmong and their enduring rice-bean/maize synergy or the forest farming permaculturalists engineered "layered" gardens.
      This is global action proposed, and we need to be very cautious in evaluating it. Fukuoka is extrapolating from his deeply insightful small farm experience to the perhaps less knowable realm of Gaia. How good is the extrapolation? Who can be the judge? Serious questions, all.
      "J. P." <jpoy@...> wrote: >>>This brings up the whole discussion of natives and the import of other
      non-native species. I assumed that the Fukoka techniques support the
      establisment of native species and avoiding introduction of
      non-native. However I do realize that in my little home garden which
      is the only place I get to try out Fukoka's ideas I am using
      non-native vegetables and fruits.

      Hi, I've been lurking for a while here. I'm reading Natural Way of Farming
      and asked so many Fukuoka questions on another email list that a member here
      pointed out this list.

      in fact, your question is one of the ones I ponder. I live in Southern
      California, where "natives" is an entirely different category than
      "vegetables", most of our vegetable varieties having their origins in far
      wetter climates. I got interested in Calif native edibles and have been
      doing a lot of research on this. Fukuoka's seedball technique sounded so
      cool, yet so many Calif native edibles would not tolerate this treatment.
      for one thing, many of the calif native edibles that the native americans
      foraged here require fire to germinate or to refresh the edible growth. I
      can just see burning my yard annually, here in the middle of Los Angeles!
      ha! I am wading thru his book, "converting" his plant recommendations to
      more appropriate ones for our climate (for instance the black wattle he
      keeps bringing up!) and I have learned a lot about nitrogen-fixing natives.
      only thing is, so far my list is not edible nitrogen-fixing natives, they're
      ornamentals. so pieces of this don't really come together in my mind, for
      my climate.

      I read an article online about Fukuoka wanting to scatter seedballs in the
      deserts of Africa etc, and I sure wonder what he would put in those
      seedballs. again, I think he mentioned only the black wattle, didn't
      mention anything else. but then isn't that a non-native tree in those
      climates, so aren't you facing either (1) watering or (2) invasion of
      non-natives. I recently watched Bill Moyers' program Earth on Edge which
      had a segment about non-native trees in South Africa soaking up all the
      water. when they began chainsawing the non-native forests, the streams ran
      again. so I think the idea of widescale scattering of non-native seedballs
      is really off the mark, environmentally. I think you'd *have* to research
      local plant cycles and harmonies as I have begun to do for our climate, to
      find the nitro fixers, to find the native edibles, to find the shade trees,
      and the understory shrubs, etc.

      I'll have to research the exact source of the quote, but I read (either
      online or in Natural Way of Farming) that Fukuoka said something to the
      effect of "what's a native", as in, it's a bunch of humbug, we could mix it
      all up. let nature take care of it. I would almost begin to go along with
      that idea, for instance if a plant will survive in my xeriscape, then let it
      stay here, regardless of whether it's from South Africa, Australia,
      wherever. but then I turn to the abovementioned Bill Moyers/South African
      trees example and I see that is so wrong on a large scale. these nonnatives
      are doing things to the ecosystems that we can't see right away. also I've
      been doing a lot of research about native wildlife, from birds, to
      pollinators,etc , and some are so specialized in what few plant species they
      eat, that the "mix em all up, and see what survives" concept is contrary to
      maintenance of that aspect of ecosystem as well.

      enough tirade for my first post

      Los Angeles, Calif

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    • Wendy
      Hi all, I just need to briefly interject one point. While yes I agree there are too many people in the world, a bigger problem is overconsumption by the few
      Message 33 of 33 , Jul 4, 2002
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        Hi all,
        I just need to briefly interject one point. While yes I agree there are too
        many people in the world, a bigger problem is overconsumption by the few in
        the so-called developed world, many of whom actually believe all this stuff
        is what they need and are used to, and our push to have the rest of the
        world desire and also be dependant on lots of our junk vs. meeting basic
        needs naturally and locally without destruction and disrespect.

        It is an important note, because it actually places blame and belittles the
        rest of the world and is usually us white folks or other from the "developed
        world" who focus it that way. Meanwhile we consume 40% of the world's
        resources and cause major environmental destruction, depletion, etc. etc.
        Someone told me that every one American born is equivalent to 10 individuals
        in terms of consumption, etc. I believe it.

        I find it important daily to question that which us privileged and spoiled
        believe to be reality in terms of needs, actions, thoughts, etc.

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