Natural Farming, Living Soil, No-till, Permaculture, Bokashi, and more...
Did you know that to be certified organic in the United States, only 70% of your ingredients must meet FDA standards? Add to the fact that those standards are some of the lowest in the world, and one might begin to question just how good organic really is.
On our farm, we go beyond organic. We source all of our inputs from the farm itself, from undisturbed wild environments, or from small, local, organic farmers. No store bought nutrients. We practice no-till permaculture that focuses on the soil food web. By creating a true living soil, every ecological system is allowed to thrive. Through various bio-remediation projects, we have seen the return of bees, butterflies, birds, and other wildlife. It is easy to see, with this method of farming, how food is medicine.
Natural Farming: Introduced in 1975 by Japanese farmer Masanobu Fukuoka in his book The One Straw Revolution. It is described as "do nothing farming". Like permaculture, it emphasizes working along side nature by mimicing her ecosystems and encouraging diversity of living organisms; from the bacteria and bugs in the soil, to the rodents, reptiles, and amphibians that crawl on top of it, to the larger animals like fox, racoon, deer, and bear, even the birds in the sky. Fukuoka's principles include no-tillage, no fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides (even organic), and no weeding or pruning. "Weeds" like clover are left for their nitrogen fixing abilities, while others are "chopped and dropped" to serve as a mulch to suppress weeds and return nutrients to the soil. This decomposing organic matter in turn feeds the soil food web. Chickens, ducks and other fowl are allowed to roam cage free through the fields, keeping pest levels at bay, while simultaneously aerating and fertilizing. The same can be said for ruminant animals such as sheep, goats, and cows; as their grazing aerates and fertilizes the soil as well. Aquaculture can be used in a similar fashion. The "waste" material after harvest is used as animal feed or bedding, or as a mulch.
Today, there are numerous versions of natural farming being practiced. While we do hold true to most of Masanobu's philosophy, we do prune shrubs and trees on our property. We also incorporate strategies from other organic permacultural philosophies such as Korean Natural Farming.
Permaculture: First referred to by Bill Mollison, professor of biogeography and environmental psychology at the University of Tasmania, permaculture is "The conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive systems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems. It is the harmonious integration of the landscape with people providing their food, energy, shelter and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way.” The term was coined by he and David Holmgren in 1978.
In other words, permaculture is a form of "permanent culture" which stresses the importance of morals and ethics when interacting with the world. It strives to live in harmony with nature by mimicking ecosystems, which in turn breeds diversity, thus bringing stability and resilience to pests, drought, and disease. Think of the way many native Americans farmed and hunted the landscape.
Integral concepts to permacultural practices include planning your farm, food forest, or garden. Knowing what to plant & where allows for strategic use of cover crops and companion planting as well as water conservation systems such as Hügelkultur or ponds. A closed loop system is the ultimate sign of success with a permaculture project, as it is a sign of few expenses and zero to little waste. The mantra of permaculture is to "let nature do the work".
Korean Natural Farming: Just as it sounds, Korean Natural Farming (KNF) is quite similar to Natural Farming. It should be, as it's founder, farmer Han-Kyu Cho traveled to Japan to learn the ways of Fukuoka and others. KNF shares key principles such as ethical cohabitation, growing crops according to your climate and geography, using no-till practices, and encouraging ecological diversity. Master Cho's methods differ in that he uses locally and ecologically sourced materials to create man made, fermented farming inputs.
Simply put, KNF aims to replace organic store bought nutrients with those harvested and prepared from your own locale. The philosophy is founded on Indigenous Micro Organisms (IMOs), i.e. probiotics for your soil food web. Additionally, specific plant foods can be crafted for every occasion. There are ingredients geared toward vegetative growth, flowering, and fruiting; recipes for when a plant is sick, or when it shows signs of weakness, and even formulas to improve temperature or drought resistance. This is the technique most used on our farms.
Master Cho opened the Natural Farming Life School in 1995. Since then, more than 20,000 students have been trained in the ways of KNF. Hawaii was quick to implement these practices. You can follow Chris Trump's YouTube channel to learn more. Chris was personally trained by the Cho family and has brought that knowledge back to America. Drake has done a fantastic job contributing to the website and classroom.
The Soil Food Web: refers to the network of living organisms that call your soil home. Having studied the subject for more than four decades, Dr. Elaine Ingham is considered one of the world's most foremost soil biologists. She has assisted the likes of the Rodale Institute, where her "revolutionary approach has been used to restore the ecological functions of living-soils all over the world, ensuring healthy, strong plants and super-nutritious food, whilst eliminating soil erosion and the need for chemical inputs". The Soil Food Web approach has been used successfully on 5 million acres worldwide, reducing costs and increasing yields up to 300%.
The soil food web resides at the heart of permaculture practices. It is a key reason behind companion and cover crops. It is the driving force behind natural farming methods. The biology that resides in the soil is responsible for converting inorganic compounds into organic plant food, as well as preventing disease. Without a respect for this ecosystem, a healthy, strong, and prosperous garden is impossible without the use of man made inputs.
Bokashi: Frowned upon by the likes of Elaine Ingham, bokashi is a Japanese form of anaerobic composting which translates to "fermented organic matter". It includes items not added to your traditional compost bin. Bokashi's value is in it's ability to "pre-compost" cooked foods, meats, dairy, and fats. While dangerous when allowed to grow out of control, anaerobic microbes are found everywhere in nature and do have their place in the nutrient cycle. When used properly it will add to the diversity within your soil. By inoculating a locally produced bran (wheat, rice, etc.) with an anaerobic probiotic such as EM-1, and utilizing an airtight compost bucket, one can easily ferment these foods. After the fermentation process, the pickled compost can be added to your soil. Within a few weeks, that soil will have a flourishing food web and will be ready for plants.
Effective Micro-Organisms (EM-1): Dr. Teruo Higa is a professor emeritus at University of the Ryukyus in Okinawa. While working to germinate mandarin orange seeds for his doctorate, he discovered a combination of naturally occurring microorganisms such as lactic acid bacteria (LAB), yeasts, and phototropic bacteria that enhanced seed germination rates. A rare feat at the time without chemical inputs. He called this combination "effective micro-organisms" and created a product in 1982. It has since been used to clean and repair soil and water environments. EM-1 is a people-friendly and environmentally safe probiotic that feeds the soil food web. The formula has been shared to the public and the ingredients can be easily collected in order for one to make their own batch. Due to the presence of phototropic (anaerobic) bacteria and LAB, it can be used to inoculate bran for bokashi composting systems. We make our own EM-1 for our bokashi bin and to supplement our other probiotic soil amendments.
Vermicomposting: A fancy word for composting with worms. By utilizing certain species of worms, we can quickly turn organic kitchen scraps and garden waste into "black gold" in a short amount of time. This compost, made up almost entirely of worm castings (worm poop) when finished will have a pleasant, earthy aroma. The University of Clemson found vermicompost to add nutrients to the soil, improve soil structure, aeration, and water retention, as well as add numerous beneficial microbes. Producing humic matter rich in nitrogen, calcium, magnesium, potash, as well as other trace minerals, and high levels of humic acid, vermicomposting is a perfect strategy to implement into a permaculture system. Worms' unique ability to feed the soil food web makes it an invaluable practice.
Aquaponics: Floodplains and riverbanks produce some of the most fertile soil on the planet. Apart from the constant moisture, rivers also provide the flora with a vast array of nutrients due to the fauna's waste, and decomposing dead matter. Aquaponics aims to mimic this amazingly efficient natural system. On our farm, the species of fish are carefully selected based on growing environment. Then a specially designed, homemade and organic feed is created for each species chosen. Our fish tanks are designed to look like a riverbed. We include lots of substrate for the microbes to colonize; along with larger stones, live plants, and tunnels to supply the crustaceans with protection. Floating rafts provide a bit of shade while housing aquatic plants like watercress. On the farm we grow duckweed as well as various phyto and zooplanktons. We also breed a few bugs. These are all given to the fish as additional "treats" that they would normally have access to in their wild habitat. Our systems are powered by solar energy and filled with harvested and filtered rainwater. The grow beds contain our own medium blend of lava rock, peat, coconut coir, vermiculite, biochar, and even worms!