Welcome to Beech Hill’s ‘Infrequently Asked Questions’ section. Today we shall be covering the following relatively unpopular, but none the less worthwhile, query: ‘How would you explain natural farming through the medium of shoe size?’
I’m glad you asked.
What size are your feet? UK 9? 10?
Maybe European 43? 44?
Maybe that’s not precise enough for you. 28cm. 295mm.
Are they both exactly that length?
What about respective widths?
What about lumps and bumps and character?
What about in the morning?
What about after a long hike?
Of course a simple numerical method of standardisation makes sense. Humans need their feet to be protected from their environment. We all need to walk around in comfort. We need properly-soled, sturdy footwear for the rough and hard surfaces of the outside – and often inside – world. Cement, stone, wood, and weather need proper shoes. Fashionable shoes. Quite possibly shoes for different purposes, different occasions. Relatively few of us now know a cobbler, or can afford handmade footwear. Custom-made, relatively adapted, unique. Shops need to stock lots of sizes of particular styles of shoe to make it worth their while, and most of us just about fit into one of the standardised brackets. Close enough as makes no matter. Suited and booted we step out onto the pavements of this brave new world. Right?
But hold on a minute. We’re putting horse and cart both before the essential first question: Where are we going?
How we get where is important, but if we start with blind assumptions (the world is too rough, shoes are essential and convenient and efficient) we’ve already crafted a particular lens which will shape how and what we see. The underbelly to this iceberg looms: What unforeseen, unpredictable patterns ripple outwards from this deviation from a natural, barefoot course?
There are undeniably good arguments for protective and comfortable footwear in most worldly climates. But there is a problem when we assume that we all need footwear all of the time, build an infrastructural environment suited to such protected bipedal travel, adjust footwear to the infrastructure etc etc. (This is, naturally, an oversimplification: We also have skateboards).
‘Traditional farming’ would be to look at someone walking in shoes for a few minutes, and seek to improve the shoe to compensate for any apparent rigidities/inefficiencies of movement so the person can get where they’re going faster, whilst putting in a planning application for a nice, straight highway. ‘Natural farming’ would first get them to step out of their shoes and walk around for a long time in their own territory, observing closely how the body moves as it settles into a new and older rhythm, recognising the cleverness of evolution, of how similar bodies have been moving and developing for tens of thousands of years, before making subtle and iterative suggestions. A suggestion might still be to put on a pair of shoes. But it might very well also be to change the destination. Stick around, plant a veg patch. The mall is lame anyway.
Perhaps we would still induce - not deduce - that shoes are often functional. But shoes paired with natural, mindful walking, because what are all the unintended consequences of mindless shoefulness, invisible to the mindlessly shod?
There is a strong chiropractic correlation between shoes and structural misalignment.
We stomp around because we can, until we can’t. Unsoftened by rubber, our heels dance more softly with the ground. Our ankles, knees, hips, and shoulders roll more. We move more slowly. We feel the terrain. The terrain feels us. We are in relationship.
The Maasai are said to have one of the most fluid and structurally sound gaits in the world, covering 60km a day with ease – barefoot wandering wonders. (Naturally, people have designed a shoe for that).
Unshod, our feet are in continual ionic exchange with the ground beneath our feet 
– we earth, literally and mythically.
How might that reverberate through our culture, our world?
The paths we choose would probably be softer – the lively grassy verge beside the totalitarian pavement. We might notice more of what’s going on, without and within. Perhaps there would be fewer patios and more gardens. Less hurrying and more bumbling. Shallower steps, deeper breaths.
Perhaps we might ask for the consent of the earth upon which we walk. Re-member that our bodies are the land in motion, the land's own reciprocal dreaming.
Tread softly, for we tread on our dreams.
Put on a pair of shoes
and you walk differently.
Consider the boxer: bludgeoned to death
by softening gloves.
Were these boots made for walking
before our feet were?
Before our flesh, bone, and fluid were?
Oh, not to be separated
from the earthy dimensions
by so thin a sole!
 Fukuoka Masanobu, The One-Straw Revolution: An Introduction to Natural Farming (Rodale Press, 1978)
 https://www.spine-health.com/wellness/ergonomics/shoe-insoles-lower-back-pain; https://www.netdoctor.co.uk/healthy-living/wellbeing/a26805/shoes-affect-you-health/; https://www.orthofeet.com/blogs/news/how-your-feet-affects-your-spine-and-back-pain