Shumei: A Natural Agriculture Cult


The Beginnings of Natural Agriculture

Because permaculture aims at growing food with minimum impact on ecosystems, the ideal of natural agriculture seems embedded within its philosophical roots. Indeed, Japanese farmer and philosopher Masanobu Fukuoka, promoter of natural farming, was a great source of inspiration to permaculture co-founder Bill Mollison. Fukuoka-sensei promoted a form of agriculture where Nature is the farmer’s partner and not simply matter to be controlled. As permaculture leader in the United States and former disciple of Fukuoka, Larry Korn puts it: “People generally think of natural farming as a technique first and a worldview, as secondary. That is exactly backwards.”  A Buddhist teaching reminds us that we are similar to beggars sitting on treasures because everything we need is already available to us. Natural farming is a practical demonstration of that vision.

Fukuoka-sensei was not the sole pioneer of Natural Farming. Another Japanese intellectual, Mokichi Okada (1882-1955), a naturalist, art connoisseur, philosopher, and former member of the Oomoto sect advocated the practice of Natural Agriculture as a cure for humanity along with the practice of Jyorei – an energy healing technique – and the appreciation of beauty in Nature and the Arts. Today, Shumei International is a spiritual organization dedicated at transmitting Okada’s message, whose several farms worldwide grow food in the spirit of Meishusama, the “master of light,” with the firm intention to feed and heal the world. As an environmental history student, I became interested in Okada’s teachings and decided to experience Natural Agriculture while taking advantage of the mild coastal California climate, WWOOFing at Santa Cruz Shumei farm.

Natural Agriculture’s Guiding PrinciplesShumei Santa Cruz Farm

From our realization of our fundamental oneness with all things arise Love, Gratitude and respect for Nature, which lay at the foundation of the Natural Agriculture (NA) movement. Since the soil is perceived as a living organism responding to the farmer’s feelings, NA encourages farmers to adopt a loving attitude. Okada outlined the main guidelines of NA in 1935, which he believed he received as a revelation from God although subsequent observations support his teachings. He deemed the tendency to control and suppress illness in the human body, or insects and disease in plants, as contrary to the principles of Nature. Hence, the first guideline of NA prohibits the use of any chemicals, fertilizers, or manure. Natural compost made of grasses is used in order to keep the soil warm and moist, not with the intention to add nutrients. Endowed with natural energy, the soil is empowered to grow plants without additional inputs.

The second guideline is about using pure seed lines. Because quality seeds will produce healthy plants, farmers are encouraged to save seeds of locally grown varieties in order to increase their purity and connection to site-specific environmental conditions.

NA’s third guideline, continuous cropping, dictates that the same type of crops should be grown in the same location from year to year because the plants will continue to adapt to that location over time. Following those three main guidelines will consequently help decrease the amount of harmful insects or undesirable weeds. Nature sets the balance between insects harming plants and those benefiting plants through pollination or predation on harmful insects. It simply does not make any sense to use pesticides considering pests’ natural self-regulation. Eliminating fertilizers – which constitute an attractive diet for insect pests – also helps regulating pests. Besides, a healthy plant has the capacity to overcome insects.

As for weeds, they are merely a part of agricultural ecosystems. Okada stated that eliminating fertilizers will make plants for human consumption more competitive than others since the soil characteristics will change and native plants grow differently. Learning about weeds’ characteristics, the Natural Agriculture farmer can also make use of them since they provide an indication of the soil conditions, and in many cases enjoy the edible, nutritious so-called “weeds.”

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