Rice planting at Seonghyun Choi's farm, Hongcheon, South Korea

Study Materials

A work in progress selection of study materials for understanding the roots of today’s social, ecological, and economic issues. It is in no way comprehensive, but this Final Straw ‘course’ if you will, gets you up to speed on how the human-built world is functioning, why, and how we might create change.

1. Modern Agriculture and Sustainability

A ‘prep-course’ for anyone interested in digging into the concept of “Food, Earth, Happiness.” These resources will help you get your feet wet in understanding contemporary social and ecological issues related to the food and agriculture industry.

1.1 Ecological Issues Related to Agriculture

The Lowdown on Topsoil: It’s Disappearing — Seattle PI
Farmers and scientists on the loss of topsoil and how no-till farming can help

Slow Soil Erosion Threatens Human Health and Welfare — Cornell Study
As a result of erosion over the past 40 years, 30 percent of the world’s arable land has become unproductive.

Industrial Agriculture: Outdated and Unsustainable — Union of Concerned Scientists
A growing chorus of agricultural experts—including farmers as well as scientists and policymakers—sees industrial agriculture as a dead end, a mistaken application to living systems of approaches better suited for making jet fighters and refrigerators.

Oceanic Dead Zones Continue to Spread — Scientific American
Learn what ‘dead zones’ are and how agricultural chemicals contribute to this growing issue.

The True Cost of Cheap Food — Professor Timothy Wise, Tufts University
What does cheap food have to do with widespread hunger and ecological issues? The answer is: astoundingly more than you might think.

The Dangerous Disconnect Between Economics and Ecology — Professor William Rees, University of British Colombia
How the world economy is depleting the earth’s natural resources, and why economists cling to models that make no reference whatsoever to the biophysical basis that underpins the economy.

GMO and Seed Patents are Not the Answer — Charles Eisenstein, Guardian UK
Western-style agriculture faces a mounting crisis … calling us toward more ecological farming methods that draw from the world’s ancient agricultural traditions.

1.2 A Look at Industrial Farming, from the Outside

Hidden Costs of Industrial Agriculture — Union of Concerned Scientists
From drinking water pollution and oceanic dead zones to soil and biodiversity loss, this short piece brings to light some of the environmental and social costs of industrial agriculture.

Modern Agriculture – We Need Biodiversity — The Guardian
Crop-breeding innovations are merely a short-term solution for falling yields, say farmers and scientists. Only agricultural diversity, not biotechnology, can ensure food security and resilience.

GMO Promise Falls Short – New York Times
After decades of use and far-fetched promises, GMO seed has yet to show significantly better performance or lower chemical use than traditional seed breeding, and it certainly has not shown itself as a necessity to “feed the world,” as company spokespersons often claim.

Permaculture and the Myth of Scarcity — Charles Eisenstein
Do we ‘need’ pesticides, fertilizers, and GMO seed to feed the world, or is it possible to grow more than enough  food to feed the planet through sustainable practices?

The Story of Stuff — Annie Leonard
A movement of education and consumer action, the content here helps us understand our issues with consumption. These concepts help us understand why local, sustainable, regenerative practice must be at the root of agriculture and the production of all products.

2. Social and Ecological Solutions

A progression for developing/deepening our thinking about possible answers to our most pertinent social and environmental issues, seen through a lens of respect for our food, our earth, and our happiness. The section begins with general ideas and progresses to specific applications and how the natural farming mindset can offer cures for the root causes of our issues.

2.1 Issues of Scale

Poverty, Food Production, and Globalization — Dr. Vandana Shiva
A lecture series presented by the BBC brings awareness to the realities of globalized agriculture, and offers the direction that small-scale, environment-aware farming as the only solution for our long-term survival as a species.

Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered — E.F. Schumacher (PDF | Print)
From an economics point of view, the story of how our economy functions without regard to humanity or the environment, and how our thinking might be moved towards an economy where people and environment are the focus.

Small-Scale Traditional Farming Only Way to Avoid Food Crisis – United Nations / Yes Magazine
Scientific research increasingly shows how agroecology (regenerative, natural farming, permaculture) offers environmentally sustainable methods that can meet the rapidly growing demand for food.

The Case for Small Farms — Institute for Food and Development Policy
How small-scale farming is many times more efficient than industrial farming and why it might hold within it, the future of farming.

Low Input Farming, Diversity is the Key — Ecologist
The future of how we grow food is in small scale, local, diverse and resilient agriculture. The opposite of where we have been heading for the past 100 years.

2.2 The Environment: Connect and Respect

Benevolent Universe — Resurgence and Ecologist, Satish Kumar
A call for a new environmental movement which looks upon the earth with benevolent eyes.

Health Should Govern Food Policy — BBC
How current policy is neither efficient nor delivering good human and environmental health

We Need Regenerative Farming, not Geoengineering — Charles Eisenstein, Guardian UK
There is a need for humanity to seek a a humble partnership with nature if we are to avert disasters related to a changing climate.

Ecologists, Traditional Farmers, and Sustainable Agriculture — Miguel Altieri, UC Berkeley / United Nations FAO
For centuries, traditional farmers have developed diverse and locally adapted agricultural systems. This report takes a look at how today’s ecologists are learning from and applying their traditional wisdom.

Tending the Wild — M. Kat Anderson, UC Davis / U.S. Department of Agriculture
A wealth of information on native land management practices that dispels the hunter-gatherer stereotype long perpetuated in anthropological and historical literature.

Farmers, Chefs, and Lawyers: Building an Ecology of One — Patrick M. Lydon, The Nature of Cities
Today’s best science echoes a view that many wisdom traditions and religious doctrines hold. Together, they are building new vehicles for commerce, economics, social actions and interactions that support social and environmental wellness.

2.2 The Heart: Natural Farming

The heart of Final Straw: Food, Earth, Happiness is Natural Farming. But you don’t have to be a farmer (or even an aspiring one) to appreciate and gain much from these resources. The ideas behind books like The One Straw Revolution and indeed, behind Natural Farming in general, are more of a ‘way of looking’ at life and the earth. The lessons learned here can be applied to nearly any career in the world.

Final Straw: Food, Earth, Happiness — SocieCity Films
Our documentary film, exploring the lives and minds of modern day natural farmers in Japan, Korea, and the United States.

The One Straw Revolution — Masanobu Fukuoka (PDF | Print)
This Japanese farmer/philosopher is one of the fathers of the sustainable farming movement and the central figure in Natural Farming. This bestselling book offers more than a way of looking at farming, it offers a way of looking at life, Fukuoka’s words are just as applicable to artists, lawyers, and software developers as they are to farmers.

Sowing Seeds in the Desert — Masanobu Fukuoka
A follow up to The One Straw Revolution. This book was only recently released in English, and offers more information on healing our current crisis, and a recounting of efforts to re-vegetate desertified and over-farmed lands.

Bhaskar Save, the Gandhi of Natural Farming — Resilience Journal
IFOAM calls him one of the most outstanding personalities in the organic world. This short article about India’s most prominent natural farmer is a good introduction to how the small, diverse, natural farm can feed the world in a sustainable way, without external inputs such as modern chemicals or fertilizers.

Masanobu Fukuoka’s Natural Farming — Larry Korn
Excerpts from Final Straw’s interview with the American author and permaculture icon who lived with Fukuoka in Japan for two years. We talk about his time in Japan and about applying Fukuoka’s concepts, not just to farming, but to life in general.

Committed to Natural Farming – Times of India

Where to Learn Natural Farming?

For natural farming learning experiences in Japan, the Akame Natural Farm school (started by Kawaguchi Yoshikazu, but now run by his former students) is a donation based organization which is generally open to the public once a month. This is a good place for long term learning. Although Kawaguchi himself is not directly involved with Akame recently, he does hold informal farm days at his personal farm in Makimuku every few months.

In Japan

Most of these resources are in Japanese, and English will be limited at most of the farms:

– The Akame natural farm school website: http://iwazumi.sakura.ne.jp/
– A site recently created by a team of people working with Kawaguchi san, meant for natural farmers to learn and share information with each other: http://shizen-nou.jimdo.com/
– A list of natural farms in Japan that welcome visitors and/or have teaching components http://iwazumi.sakura.ne.jp/rinku/rinku2.htm
Morning Dew Farm is a natural farm in Kobe that often has an English speaking assistant, and regularly visits the Kobe Farmer’s Market.
– Suhee and Patrick, directors of Final Straw: Food, Earth, Happiness are based in Osaka, Japan as of 2018, where we run an ecological art lab and urban garden called The Branch. The public are welcome to stop by during open hours http://branch.sociecity.org

Elsewhere (in English)

– Larry Korn is the most well-known of instructors in the English-speaking world, having spent multiple years living on Fukuoka Masanobu’s farm in Japan, and leading the translation of the book The One Straw Revolution from Japanese to English. He often teaches courses on natural farming, both in the U.S. and abroad and can be contacted through his website: http://www.onestrawrevolution.net/