Natural Farming / Permaculture
What is permaculture?
Permaculture has been widely written about elsewhere and better, but is essentially a design methodology that seeks to observe and mimic the patterns and relationships found in healthy, resilient, self-sustaining ecosystems like old-growth forests, in order to provide for long-term human food, fibre and energy needs. The three ethics of 'People Care, Earth Care, Fair Share' guide the practice.
In permaculture's view the future lies not in colonising Mars but in designing harmonious co-existence with the biosphere of which we're actually and already a part.
...and is that different from Natural Farming?
Well... not hugely. And maybe not at all; perhaps it's a purely semantic distinction. However the work that has really fired the imaginations of Iona and Mungo is Masanobu Fukuoka's 'One Straw Revolution'. Whereas David Holmgren and Bill Mollison conceptualised and began co-developing 'permaculture' in the 1970s as a way to deal with real-world threats like climate change, overpopulation, resource-depletion, and environmental-degradation, Fukuoka's independent and contemporaneous journey in Japan stemmed from a different and more spiritual/philosophical path. Having spent years in a lab as a plant pathology inspector, at age 25 he was struck down by acute pneumonia, and was facing death.
"When he finally recovered and returned to work, Fukuoka remained distracted by his harrowing brush with death and he began brooding obsessively about life and what it was meant to be. One night during a long solitary walk on the hill overlooking Yokohama he approached the edge of a cliff. Looking down, he wondered what would happen if he fell from the cliff and died. Surely his mother would cry for him, but who else? Overcome by realization of his failure to acquire five true friends, he collapsed into a deep sleep at the foot of an elm tree.
He awoke at dawn to the cry of a heron. He watched the sun break through the morning mist. Birds sang. At this moment Fukuoka had a revelation: "In this world there is nothing at all." There was no reason to worry about life. As he wrote later, he suddenly understood that "all the concepts to which he had been clinging were empty fabrications. All his agonies disappeared like dreams and illusions, a something one might call 'true nature' stood revealed." (1)
For Fukuoka, echoing much indigenous wisdom worldwide, nature is dynamically balanced and 'as such', and this balance and such-ness manifests wholly and completely at every moment. We are not separate, everything exists in relationship to everything else. We did not create the conditions for life, nor did we create the creativity by which we engage with it, for good or for ill. Indeed discriminating ideas of 'good' and 'ill' are part of the problem – the challenges our world now faces follow directly from the human egoic intellect's myth of separation and attempt to deconstruct, analyse, and 'improve' its surroundings. Controlling rather than observing and honouring. When we label another being a 'pest' or a 'weed' or a 'foreigner' we are linguistically evicting it from our exclusive Garden of Eden, arrogating a divine right to decide who should live and who should die. Who knows best?
"From the pine tree
learn of the pine tree,
And from the bamboo
of the bamboo." (2)
'True nature' awaits our patient and clear presence of mind. Fukuoka's realisation was that the infirmity of our world follows from the infirmity of our spirit, individually and collectively. We are forgetful of our own inseparably interconnected embedded-ness. Natural farming proceeds from and grows towards the spiritual health of the individual, from and to the realisation of Mu ('emptiness'). It was his view, and our hope, that, "The ultimate goal of natural farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings."
(1) Fukuoka, One-straw revolution (trans. Korn, L., Pearce, C. & Kurosawa, T., New York: New York Review of Books, 2009)
(2) Bashō, quoted in Carter, R. The Kyoto School: An Introduction (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2013)
So what about Beech Hill?
It's... very much a work in progress! An aspiration rather than a reality. Although we have been abundantly lucky enough to inherit 27 acres of land, it is becoming clear that degrees in History and Philosophy do not naturally farmers make. As house and land evolve from family home into a new phase of life, we are still learning what potato 'chitting,' seed 'drills', and 'hardening off' even mean.
However, from a state of blissful ignorance we are experimenting, observing, and learning. Vegetable, grain and medicinal herb seeds are being sown; fruit, nut and native woodland trees are being planted; and occasional harvests are being enjoyed. Mostly by the grace of what is already happening in abundance – turns out nettle soup and wild garlic houmous are absolutely delicious.
We wish you well