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and, Farmer, Community: A Sacred Trust
To Create Heaven on Earth

Published in the September/October 2007 issue of Orion magazine

Susumu Hashimoto is the happiest person Ive ever met. His smile is constant and electric. Even in the rain, his face seems to glow. He attributes his deep joy to being a farmer, a life he began envisioning at seventeen. Considering that farming in many places is characteri ed by debt, dispossession, and even suicide, it struc! me as odd for a city boy to dream of agriculture. "nd yet that was Hashimoto# he saved up money for years wor!ing as a deliveryman, all for the chance to rent a scattering of fields in a village fifty miles south of $sa!a, %apan. Hes thirty&seven now, and sure hell be a farmer forever. Hashimoto will gladly'gleefully'e(plain. )*hat I do is more than farming. Its learning how to care for life and improve society,+ he told me. )I believe the farmer is the closest servant to ,od.+

Intrigued, I as!ed him what he hoped to accomplish through his wor!. )*orld peace,+ he replied, then smiled and waited for the ne(t -uestion, as if there were nothing more to say. Hashimoto is not alone. *hat he does is called shizen nouhou, or natural agriculture. Its part of the devotional practice of the spiritual group Shumei, which claims ./0,000 members in %apan and around the world. I was writing a boo! about natural agriculture when I met Hashimoto, and the research felt li!e crac!ing a code. *henever I as!ed about someones practical objectives, I got an answer as enigmatic as Hashimotos. *hile interviewing a panel of natural agricultures official leaders, all of them in gray suits, none of them spea!ing English, I as!ed the -uestion, )*hat are your short& and long&term goals1+ 2heir interpreter replied, )*e have only one goal# to create heaven on Earth.+ "fter months of perple(ing conversation I reali ed the problem. I was approaching natural agriculture as a way of farming, li!e dry&farming or biodynamics. Instead, I needed to absorb the critical piece that Hashimoto had offered# natural agriculture is more than farming. 2he practice is based on the teachings of 3o!ichi $!ada, whose uni-ue philosophy came as a response to living through the two world wars. He believed that healing the world would come from relearning how to respect life. $ne of the avenues $!ada chose for this was agriculture, which he saw as humans fundamental connection to the natural world. He taught that humans ought to stop treating the Earth as a thing to subjugate and instead adopt a relationship of humble coe(istence. 2hrough his new way of growing and eating food, humans would learn to trust in the Earth to sustain them, and in return agree to care for it. "s people learned to show respect, gratitude, and compassion toward the natural world, they would do the same for all beings, including their fellow humans. So while on the surface natural agriculture loo!s li!e plain old farming'planting, harvesting, selling'it is actually, as Hashimoto said, a way of learning to care for life and improve society. 4ather than try to control their land, natural agriculture farmers largely surrender themselves to their environment. *hen insects descend, for instance, instead of spraying the pests, farmers watch them, trying to learn how to ma!e the plant stronger so it can withstand future pests'even at the e(pense of the crop in the field. 2hey eschew additives of any !ind, including compost. In their eyes, adding something to the land means you dont trust its inherent power. Instead, they rearrange their plans to wor! with what the soil gives them naturally. It means lower yields, but their goal is not -uantity5 it is to cultivate compassion, respect, and gratitude. *hile the food these farmers produce is a sacrament, its also the daily bread for thousands of nonfarming Shumei members. In the greater 2o!yo area, a networ! of eleven farmers feeds fifteen hundred urban families, supplying all their produce, rice, and soybeans. *ere the farmers going it alone, they would fail5 the growing practice re-uires too much labor for too little product to sustain a conventional business. *hat ma!es natural agriculture wor! is that its practiced by farmers and consumers ali!e. *hile the farmers farm, the consumers create a support system that enables the farmers to focus on spiritual priorities rather than production. 2he traditional

hierarchy of agriculture'land serves farmers, farmers serve consumers'is replaced with a three&way partnership. Consumers run the distribution system. 2hey ta!e orders, collect money, pac!age, sort, and deliver. 2hey publish newsletters, organi e farm tours, and host celebrations. 6ecause supporting the farmers means adopting a seasonal diet, they give coo!ing classes. 2o replace commercially processed foods li!e miso and tofu, they learn to process soybeans at home. "nd when farmers need them in the field, they become farmers, too. Hashimoto tells a story from a few years ago, when he was barely brea!ing even. He wanted to plant more rice, but could hardly !eep up with the weeds in the paddies he already had. 2hen it came to him# he would rent more fields and adopt them out to his customers. "fter he planted, they would do the weeding, as well as contract to buy a years worth of the rice at a price that reflected their paddys total yield'incentive to do their wor! well. His customers werent naturally drawn to farming'these were people with clean fingernails and suburban lives'but Hashimoto convinced them with his fervor. 2en people signed up, and throughout the summer they wor!ed, barefoot and bent over in the bla ing sun. 2hey spent far more time there than anyone had predicted5 some drove five hours just to get to the farm. In the end, the price for their rice was mar!edly higher than in a supermar!et, even for organic. 6y conventional standards, not a great deal. 7et the ne(t year they all signed up again. 2urns out they had enjoyed every minute. 2hey had brought their whole families, and their children had relished the chance to catch frogs and s-uish mud through their toes. 2he families had as!ed Hashimoto to teach them to do more than weed. $ne man, Hide!i $onishi, had even driven out in winter to visit his fallow field. "fter planting the ne(t spring, Hashimoto watched him photograph the seedlings as if they were his children. 2he e(tra rice !ept Hashimoto in business, but what mattered more to him was the new crop of people in his fields. He e(plained that as a natural agriculture farmer his wor! is to care deeply for plants and land5 in doing so he produces not just food, but love. Every person who joined him meant that love multiplied. He told me that little by little'family by family'that love would lead to something bigger. 2hen he smiled, and there was nothing more to say. /

!ntroduction Harmony Natural Processes Organic & Natural Moving Beyond


Our modern food system has obscured our relationship to nature, leading us to believe we are rulers of the environment rather than integral parts of a larger whole !n its most basic

sense, "humei Natural #griculture farming is the process of correcting that$returning us to a relationship of cooperation with the rest of the natural world How does it wor%& 'he simple answer is that it(s always different $each farmer creates something uni)ue 'hat(s because Natural #griculture is not a method for growing food, it(s an individual relationship with nature !n conventional agriculture, the natural world is shaped to fit the needs of the farmer, improved or tamed as necessary to produce the desired food crops at a profitable rate !n contrast, Natural #griculture is the practice of building a balanced partnership with the soil, plants and other living things on and around a farm Perhaps the most challenging part of the process is abandoning the perception that we are superior, and that the farmer(s wor% is to improve plants and soils 'he first lesson of Natural #griculture is that nature already has all it needs to survive #nd so Natural #griculturists eschew chemicals, hybrid seeds, manure and other additives to the natural system !nstead, they recognize that plants and soils have a natural ability to heal and sustain themselves 'heir wor% is to optimize conditions for their *partners+ to use those abilities, for instance by saving and replanting seed so that a plant can adapt to its environment over successive seasons and improve its resilience to the changing climate ,ounder Mo%ichi O%ada called Natural #griculture *the art of agriculture,+ for it entails more than the familiar duties of farming 'he best practitioners are adept at weeding and plowing, but -ust as important is the less tangible wor%, such as carefully observing plants, soil and insects to understand how they interact 'his %nowledge enables farmers to shift the system toward growing their plants healthier in a more environmentally sustainable way, without bringing in any additives from the outside Of course this relationship between farmer and farm is necessarily influenced by the farmer(s bias toward certain plants. the very premise of agriculture is to influence the natural world to produce more food for consumption for self/sufficiency or to generate income 0hat ma%es Natural #griculture different is that it redefines that behavior1 it is necessary that we ta%e to survive, but a Natural #griculturist balances that act with gratitude, humility, and compassion 'his very conscious interaction with the natural world is essentially a practice of respect, one that informs all aspects of life

Shumei Natural Agriculture: arming to create hea!en on earth

"ntroducing a new series that e#plores in depth a spiritually$ based agricultural mo!ement in %apan& wea!ing together history& 'arm pro'iles and spiritual dreams to tell the story o' an indigenous organic agricultural mo!ement dri!en by something more comple# and intangible than better yields.
By 2reg Bowman, 'he New ,arm3 Online 4ditor

(he 5odale !nstitute3 and "hin-i

"humei%ai 6based in "higa, 7apan8 have wor%ed together formally for five years to -ointly promote the role of regenerative agriculture 'hey share the belief that farming of this type can contribute significantly to a restored environment, human health, vital communities and a more peaceful world

)oming ne#t:
"ntroduction: arming measured by a di''erent yardstic* altogether +,art " - ,art "" - ,art """.
How did an agricultural movement develop in %apan that is defined less by commercial success than by close harmony with nature1 2o tell that story, you have to understand the history of farming in %apan.

/ei0i 1urota: 2ishima "sland +,art One - ,art (wo.

The island itself has an undeniable mystique a place where you pass through pleasures like scanning the dial. 4eiji 3urotas long e(perience here allows him to do less farming activity than in years before, and to still be the deft master orchestrating life in the fields to be more vibrant and productive than ever.

3asuo (arumi: u*uo*a ,re'ecture

You must observe what happens in the field that is your greatest tool.7asuo 2arumi planted traditional cover crops to help heal his land from agri&chemical damage. He uses persistent observation and his e(tensive line of farm implements to practice his version of 8atural "griculture.

Nobua*i Na*ayasu: 4yogo pre'ecture

!n the lotus root pond there are power poles rising literally out of the water" their peaks taller than the blue mountains in the distance.9arming between chemically treated plots in an industrial area, 8obua!i 8a!ayasu nourishes his soil with loads of tree trimmings as he passes on the heart and philosophy of 8atural "griculture.

)hiba pre'ecture
#atural $griculture consumers make sacrifices to allow the farmers to %oin craft and spirit in a fashion unfettered by$%$3/shumei&/gregintro.shtml finances. $samu 7oshino survived a )cold tur!ey+ switch to no&chemical, no& input farming than!s to supporters who were willing to pull his weeds, but had to be convinced to buy his crops.

(o*i 2uroiwa: (sumagoi /egion

&he kneels in the dirt as if in casual prayer" and her ''(year(old hands dig without tools) scratch on either side of the carrot top" then wiggle" slide" and toss into the small pile on her way to the ne*t http://www.shumei"'lications/#arming.html one. 2o!i :uroiwa carries the torch for 8atural "griculture in the midst of ;,000 acres of chemical cabbage, and wins the hearts of her tofu&producing sister farmers to supply the Shumei Natural Agriculture: local school with ,3$&free arming to create hea!en on earth soyfoods.

1orio*a )SA: arming measured by a di''erent yardstic* "wate ,re'ecture altogether The +,&$ leaders-.

ad%ustments centered in not%apan that 4ow did an agricultural mo!ement de!elop around appeasing is de'ined less by commercial success than by close consumers" but around harmony with nature5 (o tell thatthem story& you to drawing closer to ha!e the things that repelled understand the history o' 'arming in %apan. "n this 'irst them. "fter consumers installment o' a three$part series& 6isa 4amilton went to the fields then describes the geographic and religious realities learned new recipes in the that !itchen, they bought food 'irst shaped 'arming in %apan. from 7oshinori 2a!ahashis CS" more gladly. 8ow#ugust its 7y 6isa 1. 4amilton , Posted 99, members happily rent land to grow their own health& 8hy this series about Shumei Natural Agriculture on giving food in the more New arm.org5 economically challenging times of %apans <=st Century. The idea that our health could possibly be related to the soil


is an extremely radical one. It hasn't been discussed much in medical literature. It isn't recognized as important by your family physician. It isn't taught in high schools or colleges. If you would ask the Department of Agriculture Is our health related to the soil! It would answer "es but from that point on they and I ride on different trains. They actually belie#e that to obtain health from food$ you ha#e to use chemical fertilizers to build up the soil's fertility. I shall try to show how

ridiculous that attitude is.% $ 7 ! 5odale, 'he Organic ,ront 6<=>?8

"n retrospect they are called pioneers, but in the actual moments
that the world(s innovators seize history in their hands, the titles are less glamorous1 loon, fool, heretic @et both sets of names grow from the same idea, that the person in )uestion has proposed a reality different from what we find familiar and comfortable 0hen 7 ! 5odale introduced non/ chemical agriculture into North #merica(s burgeoning agribusiness system, there simply was no room for it 'he prevailing definition of what was true$that agricultural wealth re)uires chemical additives$by default made organic methods false 0hat ! would have given for this insight on my first day in 7apan ! was visiting farms that practice Natural #griculture 6N # 8, a nascent movement promoted by the "humei faith, mainly in #sia ! was sent there to unravel the mystery of how it wor%s, meant to return home with practicable techni)ues and hard facts and numbers But after hours of dead/end )uestions and answers as solid as smo%e, ! sat down and wrote this1 *Maybe it is because ! am a foreigner and they don(t want to get that personal Maybe it(s because !(m not as%ing the right )uestions, either because ! don(t understand the culture or because ! don(t understand N # But here is what ! really thin%1 ! thin% N # doesn(t wor% that well + !n a way, ! was correct 0hen evaluated using conventional 0estern definitions of what farming is and does, Natural #griculture doesn(t score very high But it doesn(t try to 'hat(s because it(s not simply a different method of organic cultivation, li%e dry/farming or 2row Bio/intensive !n fact, its proponents will plead with you to understand that it(s not a method at all. it(s a philosophy !n abstract it sounds li%e organics in this country1 no chemicals. reliance on the strength of plant and soil. wor%ing with nature, not against it @et the guiding principle behind these tangible directives is more slippery 'he ultimate goal is to create a heaven on earth, and so Natural #griculture aims to create systems as close as possible to what nature would ma%e on its own

#s practiced by the "humei Natural #griculture Networ%, this means no additives, not even plant/based sprays or fertilizer 'he only thing laid on

the soil is plant matter, and that only to regulate soil temperature and moisture. manure is verboten 4ach farmer ta%es stoc% of the tools available to him naturally$be they insects, rainfall, tractors, soil fluffy or dense Playing the role of stewardAfacilitator, the farmer configures those tools into the system that produces as much food as possible without causing damage that nature can(t easily repair itself 4ach farmer(s techni)ue is vastly different, but one thing is the same1 yields are e)ual to or // more often // lower than those on organic or chemical farms One could close the boo% there, pronounce the concept a bust, and move on But remember the lesson of 7 ! 5odale1 Natural #griculture doesn(t ma%e sense when -udged by our priorities, but does that ma%e it wrong& 0hat if the thing that(s wrong is the )uestions we are as%ing of it& 'he 0estern perspective on what ma%es good farming is rooted in the age/old tradition of trade #s devoted and conscious as we might be, our definition assumes farming to be a commerce/based activity1 grow food, eBchange it for money Natural #griculture, on the other hand, grew out of the teachings of Mo%ichi O%ada, a mid/9:th/century spiritual leader and pioneer of 7apanese organic farming He redefined agriculture as a faith/ based pursuit, in which the philosophy is the motivation, the techni)ue, and the measure of success !t follows that 0estern farming and Natural #griculture have different definitions of success !n simple terms, our minds -udge an agriculture by its ability to ma%e money 'hose with ecological consciousness -udge it e)ually by its respect for the 4arth 0e evaluate a techni)ue in terms of productivity, resultant fertility, and its product(s )uality. the pinnacle mar%ed by deep color, fine teBture, compleB flavor, and optimal size$ usually the bigger the better Measured with this ruler, Natural #griculture comes up lac%ing !ts independent farmers are not competitive in an anonymous mar%etplace, their production is generally less, and, by our definitions, their soil fertility and crop )uality are generally lower

A di''erent yardstic*
But what if the goal of )uantity were replaced with the goal of building a

9(he %apanese 'oothills amble toward all coastlines& lea!ing cities and people and 'arms to perch on the edge o' the water. "t is an undeniable geography& one that resists manipulation and instead insists that you play by its rules.9$%$3/shumei&/shumei&.shtml