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One Straw Revolution – A Book Review

Last night I finished reading The One-Straw Revolution by Mansanobu Fukuoka.  This book is part autobiographical, part philosophical, and a very small part practical application.

As a young man, Mr. Fukuoka worked as a research scientist.  He worked hard and long hours, and also enjoyed the night life after work.   Burning the candle at both ends led him to fainting at work.  Eventually he got very sick and almost died in the hospital.

After his close brush with death, he found a new inner truth.  He found that all of his life has been meaningless.  All of his pursuits, all of his work has been for nothing.  This thought could either be depressing or freeing.  I found the thought depressing.  He found this new personal truth set him “free”.  After he left the hospital, Mr. Fukuoka went to his job and quit.  All of his peers thought he was insane.

He then went and lived on his parent’s farm.  While there, he was in charge of the citrus trees.  He decided that since everything in life was meaningless,  he did not have to care for the trees. The lack of care caused all of the trees to die.  Needless to say, his father was less than happy, and Mansanobu Fukuoka had to look for work off of his father’s farm.  He eventually came back to living on a farm, and began the “no-work” farming method.  This method was planned out a little more, and he started experiencing great success with is farming methods.

This “no-work” farming method was actually quite a bit of work.  But he used no chemicals.  He grew rice without flooding the fields.  He used a cover crop of white clover and mulched with long straw.  He then scattered seeds around that were covered in clay pellets.  The clay pellets protected the seeds from rotting or being eaten by slugs  or other garden creatures.  His results were very good and comparable to his neighbors who used chemical means on their fields.  He harvested his yields using hand tools.  Nothing more.

He decried the “organic” farmers of the West (AKA Americans) as taking too much work.  The idea of composting seems like too much of a hassle. He felt they didn’t get it.  He said they could scatter the straw on the fields and essentially let the waste compost on it’s own without all the extra work of formal composting.

Other than those basics, I didn’t really get any major “how-to” take aways.  I got a lot of philosophy though.  Some of it was esoteric.  Okay, most of it was esoteric and I didn’t quite grasp what he was trying to say.  and I disagreed with some of his philosophical thoughts.  It would not be how I chose to live.  He is against what we would call progress.  From his book he stated that if our economy has an increase in growth from 5% to 10% are we twice as happy?  I agree that wealth doesn’t make us happy, but it does allow us to make more choices.  Sometimes these choices can allow us to live happier lives.   He lived his life (as far as I know) living up to his ideals.

While he expressed discontent with the way the world was doing things, he seems much more at peace with it than the Nearings from the Good Life seemed to be.  Back in the 1970s, he predicted the human race would have experienced great losses and have a sad and futile future.  Thank God he was wrong, I’m really liking being on this planet right now (and writing these blog posts for you to read).  We do have to remember, this is a Japanese human who lived through World War II.  That means that he lived through the nuclear bombing of his country at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  It’s quite easy to understand how anyone who lived through that would believe that catastrophe is just around the corner.

Overall the book was a good read.  I think it will help you to become a more well-rounded gardener, and it will help you to think about your land in a different way.  However, I don’t see myself ever referencing this book for the sake of my land.  I’m glad I read this book, although I don’t see myself using any of the techniques.  His methods have been critiqued for being hard to follow and unsuccessful unless they are followed exactly.  I believe once you understand how all of his methods work, it works well.  I also believe if you don’t do it exactly his way, you may be looking at failure (even though that’s the road to success, as I talked about here).

Do I recommend you read it? If you want.  If it interests you.  I don’t consider this a must read.  I consider it a “pretty good if it’s lying around” kind of read.  Keep in mind, a lot of folks disagree with that.  So, if you are in the mood for a philosophical book with some gardening ideas, pick it up.

The Good Life – A Review

Recently, I received a very thoughtful gift, the gift of a book.  The book was two separate works within  The Good Life: Helen and Scott Nearing’s Sixty Years of Self-Sufficient Living.  The first section of the book is entitled The Good Live Project.  In this part of the book, Scott and Helen Nearing decided to move from New York City into rural Vermont during the Great Depression in the 1930s.  They began building a homestead and working the land.  Scott was in his late forties/early fifties when their adventure begins.

Within in the book they describe how and why they:

  • Allotted their time in the most efficient ways
  • Constructed stone buildings
  • Ate a fully vegetarian diet (It seemed most vegan to me)
  • Got the most from their garden
  • Believed in a No-Money, take only what you need economy

This was also their personal story.   This is a couple who lived as city folk and moved out to the country and started an entirely new way of life.  While this is probably the first “back to the land” movement book, I think it is important to point out that large portions of the American population were not “back to the land”, but “never left the land”.  My great-grandfather built his barn and home from wood milled from his land.  He then made a living as a farmer for years afterward.  Although he did not adhere to the strict rules laid down by the Nearings, he lived off the land on the east coast, in the country, a little further South than the places the Nearings called home. And I would bet his political leanings were not aligned with the Nearings, but I do not know. (and I want to avoid any discussion of politics on here, as I hope this blog is useful/informational/entertaining for you no matter how or if you vote)

While this book was inspiring, and helped me to see ways to make my homestead flourish, it also made me a little disillusioned at the idea of homesteading.  The design of their life seem too strict and rigid.  They were so rigid in their work schedule that if someone stopped by to talk while they were working, they would continue on and/or be mildly annoyed.  The person could either stay and help or leave.  While this does lead to very productive days, it would leave my day feeling empty, I suppose.   Furthermore, they criticized the surrounding farmers who would take time out of their work to talk.  The tone of the book seemed to be that either you agree with the Nearings (and I believe it was mostly Scott) or you were a fool.  They were very harsh on the native Vermonters for their ways, their thoughts, their drinking, eating and working habits.

I can understand falling into that “I am doing it right, and you’re silly” train of thought.  I have done a lot of research on the how’s and why’s of my daily life, and therefore I do things certain ways that may be different or require more work than the mainstream’s habits.  When I see folks making different decisions that are easier in the moment, I feel the need to justify to myself (to myself) why the path I chose iss right for me.  The balance of doing this while not judging those folks is something I am practicing and learning.

The book includes details on how the couple built their homes and buildings out of foraged stone.  This was very instructional, and I believe you could use this to help if you are interested in construction of a stone structure.  I am not, so I skipped through much of this.

The Nearings moved from Vermont to Maine when they found the area was becoming a little too built up for their liking.  I admire their courage to start over again at an advanced age. Part Two of the book, Continuing the Good Life, begins with this move.  For me, the couple became more likable in part two.  I’m not sure if it was their advanced age, or maybe they were more settled in their ways, or perhaps I just got more used to their writing style.

In both parts of the book, the Nearings’ diet was discussed.  They ate simply, from the land and they at as much of their diet as fresh as they could.  The way they discussed the plight of DDT, the disease caused by processed flours and sugars, and the importance of a healthy diet, it seemed like it was something out of a modern day “diet visonary” such as David Wolfe .  As far as how well their mostly vegan diet worked, I would have to say pretty darn well.  Scott worked hard around his homestead through his 90s and died when he was 100-years old.  He died by choice after “fasting for a month and a half“, which, to me, means he starved himself to death.

Along with the simple, mostly vegan diet, he and Helen, who lived until the age of 91, fasted one day a week.  He also attributed good health to meaningful work.  I fully agree that living your purpose and making a positive difference in world leads to greater personal health.

This book did expand my gardening knowledge.  Specifically, how to extend the season and create healthy soils using compost.  I have pages ear-marked for easy reference for my gardening needs over the years.

Overall, the book was entertaining and informative.  While I didn’t agree with all of their thoughts or ways of doing things, I absolutely learned and had the opportunity to challenge my current opinions.  It is definitely worth the time to read this.

The Nearings’ left a legacy at their old Maine homestead.  The Good Life Center is still running to this day, 10 years after Helen’s passing and 20 years after Scott’s passing.  They are taking applications for interns in the upcoming season.

Helen wrote two more books I would like to explore:




Barnheart – A Book Review

I previously posted this on my old blog.  I decided it would be good to re-post it.

 I got Barnheart: The Incurable Longing for a Farm of One’s Own from the library. This is a wonderful memoir by a formerly local woman, Jenna Woginrich.  In her previous, book she mentioned she went to Kutztown University and in this book, she reveals she grew up in Palmerton, PA.

The book starts with Jenna uprooting her homestead in Idaho and moving to Vermont to start over due to job loss.  She moves into an old rental house with some acreage and starts to make her dream come true.  Vermont holds a lot of challenges for a starting farmer including the harsh winter and urban folks who only want “pretty farms” as neighbors.  Jenna ends up being forced from her rental property by her landlord when the landlord wants to reside in Jenna’s current home.  Jenna takes you through her journey of reestablishment.  She rebuilds her farm twice throughout the span of the book.

The book is honest about her struggles.  She is introspective and inspiring.  When I was single, I dreamed of a homestead, but could never imagine accomplishing this without the help of a partner.  She threw caution to the wind, and chased her dreams.  She has more responsibility on her shoulders without a partner to lean on. Jenna shares her frustrations of being alone, but she has  dream and won’t let anything stand in her way.

Jenna goes from nothing, to a full garden, a flock of sheep, chickens, and bees all while learning some lessons about farming along the way.

This quick read (under 200 pages) lets you share in her adventure.  I enjoyed reading about her passion for her lifestyle, although I did have to roll my eyes at the thought of Palmerton being suburban.  Palmerton does have a downtown, but it is about as small town as it gets and I would consider rural.  Palmerton is surrounded by farm and woods.  But it made for good reading when she described her sister’s horror at the thought of eating a turkey Jenna raised herself.

I would recommend this book for light, fun reading.  It was an enjoyable read from someone who harbors the urge to homestead.  You can follow Jenna on her blog where she has added to her farm.

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