Introduction to
Farming to Create Heaven on Earth
(Shinji Shumeikai, 2007)


Page 3 of 3

From this foundation, I believe Natural Agriculture can be understood and experienced on three levels, each one more meaningful than the last. It begins with the farming itself.

Any U.S. farmer will probably doubt that this approach, not oriented toward production, can be financially viable. Agriculture as a business works as a set of equations:

Most farmers have these equations carefully calculated in a way that keeps them afloat. Change one element, and the whole thing shifts. To keep it balanced, other factors must adjust. For instance, decrease the additives and yield may fall. The cost of inputs will also decrease, but the farmer may need to ask for a higher price to achieve the same net income. Or decrease the additives and perhaps the labor increases. That might raise the cost of inputs, which would require a higher gross income.

Natural Agriculture is able to balance the equation because of an added element: the consumer. The system works because the people buying a farmer’s products are equally devoted to the philosophy. Similar to the arrangement in a U.S. community-supported agriculture (CSA) program, Shumei consumers ensure a market by buying all of a farm’s food—even when that means receiving pockmarked melons or weeks of nothing but greens. These Shumei consumers increase the price factor, agreeing to pay more than they would in a supermarket. They ease the labor cost by helping in the fields. They even volunteer to distribute the food, which eliminates the external middleman and thereby sends more money back to the farmer.

Sachiyo Nishida, a Natural Agriculture leader from Aichi Prefecture in Japan, explained it this way: “In older days, all the neighbors came to help in the busiest work such as planting rice seedlings and weeding. Everyone cooperated to farm. Likewise, CSA members of Shumei are all willing to help. They don’t mind sweaty, hard work—even for free. Their acquiring a lifestyle in harmony with nature weighs more.”

That’s the key: Shumei consumers are just as committed as the farmers are to the idea of growing food with respect for nature. For them, participating in this agriculture is a spiritual pursuit. It brings them to the field as volunteers, where they learn how much it takes to weed rice by hand or to coddle tomatoes into ripeness. They carry this back to their kitchens, where they reflect on how they cook and where their ingredients come from. They carry it to the table, where they notice what the food tastes like and how much they leave on their plates. And they carry it back into Shumei, where they encourage others to get involved as farmers, consumers, or both.

A member of the Kokura center on Kyushu Island put it well. She said that with a linear, industrial style of food production, only food passes from the farmer to the consumer. When you eliminate the middleman and restructure the process so that the farmer and consumer work together for the same goal, they exchange not only food but love, gratitude, and responsibility.

The result of this is the second level of understanding about Natural Agriculture. Beyond being an approach to farming, it is a new way of thinking about food. In Natural Agriculture, soil, farmer, and consumer are equal partners. No longer is the soil considered lifeless, the consumer dutiless, and the farmer wholly responsible for coaxing life from the former and serving the latter. Each partner is integral. The soil grows and provides. The farmer tends the soil and grows the plants. The consumer participates, appreciates, and educates. The process behind eating changes from being an assembly line to a true food system.

The next step is to recognize this system as part of the larger natural world. Yasunori Sako, who runs the farm at Shumei’s headquarters, describes seeing this revelation among children participating in his programs. They learn to care for plants in the field, and when they leave the farm, they show a new sensitivity toward other plants and creatures. Natural Agriculture teaches respect and kindness; it is a philosophy for interacting with the world and with each other.

This is the third level of understanding Natural Agriculture. It is not just about food; it is a practice that can guide every aspect of life. This way of seeing the ground beneath your feet and the food on your plate extends in rings outward, and eventually you can apply it to everything, everywhere. The goals are health and happiness; the tools are love and gratitude.

The first time a Shumei farmer tells you that Natural Agriculture will lead to world peace, it’s easy to think he’s nuts. But in fact that is the larger goal, heaven on earth. Shumei members believe that gratitude breeds gratitude, that respect and sensitivity are contagious. Natural Agriculture is a process of inspiring those feelings and spreading them around the world. Remember that the concept originally grew like a lotus flower out of the mud of pre- and postwar Japan. Keiko Honjyo, director of the Toyama Shumei center, lived through those challenging years. In 2005, when she was 73, I asked her why she is so devoted to Natural Agriculture.

“Because life depends on it,” she said matter-of-factly. “Following this leads to world peace, and there’s no other choice. It’s a matter of life and death.”

 

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