A Japanese perspective on organic farming (3)

Further excerpts from Tateno-san's book on organic farming in Japan...

Is organic agriculture a philosophy?

If we are going to say that organic agriculture is not really agriculture as it is practiced today, then what is it? I would like to propose that organic agriculture is a philosophy. “Philosophy” may sound a little too difficult, let’s say by “philosophy” we are talking about a way of life. I think it is possible to say that organic farming is a way of life which transcends the work of “farming” itself. So, what is the organic way of living?

First, it requires moving away from a way of thinking dominated by the principle of competition and human-centeredness, and choosing a path that leads to a life of mutual understanding, a principle of living together, in the symbiosis which is inherent in life.

To really live the life of organic farming, a change of thinking is necessary. Just as our contemporary society is based on modern ideas, so is contemporary agriculture. We cannot simply change our thinking about farming--we need a complete, radical reversal of values in all areas of our lives. If we are not constantly aware and watchful, we will find ourselves carried away in the current of modern society’s principle of competition.

7 shifts of value for an organic way of life

(1) From big to little

Sound thinking tells us that bigger is better. In nearly everything, including agriculture, all things move from small to enormous. But, as E.F. Schumacher writes in Small is Beautiful, and in organic agriculture as well, this value is reversed. For the organic farmer, a small field is preferred over a large one, and in terms of management, small scale is better than large scale.

(2) From more to less

The belief that more is better than less can be attributed to human avarice. Almost anybody desires more of something. When we think of energy and environmental problems caused by this desire, however, it becomes necessary to find the value in less rather than more.

(3) From fast to slow

In today’s society, everything moves quickly. Faster is better. Yet recently, the idea that slow has value has taken root. The concepts of slow food and slow life have led to a reconsideration of values. In the world of organic farming, moving slowly and taking one’s time are very important.

(4) From strong to weak

The notion that the strong win is said to be a pillar of our competitive society. Moreover, in the natural world it is thought that the strongest prevail: the “law of the jungle” dictates that the strong eat and the weak are eaten. However, recent work by ecologists have countered this theory. For the weak of the world, survival is the most important thing, and the weak must rely on others and live in harmony if they are to survive.

(5) From new to old

In traditional society, old things were valued, while in the mass production, mass consumption model of full capitalism, value is placed on the new. This excessive, never-ending demand for new things has lead to environmental destruction. In organic farming, old things are valued for the weight of times they’ve been used, for their history.

(6) From pure to mixed

We place high value on “pure,” but when we think about it with the logic of nature, mixed has a better ability to adapt to the environment than pure. Organic farming avoids a monocrop of a single pure variety; many mixed varieties are planted together. The balance of life is important, and nature finds harmony, not discord, in a mix.

(7) From product to process

In contemporary society, we are usually after results, and we are expected to show them in our work. In the worlds of business and sports, value is attached to the final result, not how much effort is made. In agriculture as well, only the final product is accorded value. Whether or not in the process of growing this food, chemicals harmful to the environment were used; whether or not it was grown in a greenhouse or organically produced, the tendency is to place importance only on the final value—the price.

In organic farming, process is more important than product. Even if the product is not good, if the harvest is small, if in the process of making that food, an abundance of life was fostered and raised up, or if many insects could live by eating that food, then the effort was by no means wasted. In fields and rice paddies, the process is to improve rather than plunder the land, to leave the place better and more bountiful, more full of life than before.

Part 4