Sustainable Farming – Organic and Natural Farming

Sustainable farming is an important concept in natural farming to maintain health of soil, crops and various living organisms. It also helps to decrease dependence on limited non-renewable resources such as petroleum based products and importation of organic materials.

Do you think importing fertilizers, pesticides and minerals both chemical and organic from the other side of the globe is sustainable while we can improve our soil fertility by cover crop and understanding of weeds? Today it is very difficult to find things that do not use petroleum in their production, but at least we can choose ones that use our limited resources more wisely.

Natural farming is a nature-centered farming approach to organic farming. To my understanding organic farming is a broader category that allows usage of imported organic fertilizers and pesticides as well as tillage and removal of weeds.

Nature-centered farming

What does it mean by “nature-centerd farming”?. Natural farming first teaches you to shift your viewpoint from human-centered production to “Nature-centered production”. As long as a farmer tries to grow crops, he will see competitions and conflicts in the field.

One example is that a farmer continuously feeding leaf crops like tea, cabbage, lettuce, etc high soluble-nitrogen based fertilizers. This sets the plant internal balance off to keep it growing with no regard to seasonal growth and its life stage. This is very apparent in perennials like tea that goes through seasonal life cycles of leaf growth, flowering, seeds. Generally, farmers maintain high fertilizer application to discourage setting flowers and seeds, and considering stress on plant causes flowering and fruiting.

Some people grow tomatoes with great plant growth with no tomato fruits. What is happenening with this tomato plant? Tomato lost its own memory and identity in nature to produce fruits. This is often seen in corns and many other fruiting vegetables.

This control of plant is what I mean by human-centered production while respecting and appreciating the plants as they are is “Nature-centered production”. Mr. Fukuoka further criticizes the use of intentional pruning to change the natural shape of fruit trees to higher yeild.

As Mr. Fukuoka mentions in his book “(pronounced mu in jp, wu in ch, meaning ‘nothing’ or ‘without’) Vol.3, Natural farming practical guide” (sorry only available in Japanese), “In the natural world plants can coexist and flourish together. However, in human eyes coexistence of plants appears as a conflict, therefore to grow one plant, the others become weeds, and to grow their crops, weeds need to be removed.”

“Natural farming requires much less labor and costs (than science based chemical and organic farming). and the ultimate goal of natural farming is absolutely no costs, no labor.”

“Crops produced by natural farming and this farming practices both contains no potential factor of pollution and its soil fertility is everlasting.”

People are becoming more aware of what the world is facing. Climate and energy crises, environmental degradation, food security, food contamination…. Problems are endless. We have to really see what we are doing for ourselves and for the environment.

Approaches toward sustainability at Mauna Kea Tea

Maintaining healthy soil is one of the most important sustainable farming practices at our farm. Knowing that the natural world does not behave perfectly as we picture, we pursue these natural farming principles as much as possible.

Nature-centered farming

  • Humbly observe the natural environment as it is in a natural state.
  • No Till. We let nature build soil top down with various types of weeds. Occasionally, larger trees and shrubs are used to get down deep.
  • No Fertilizers. We grow our own fertilizers on site in the form of weeds, which reduces necessity to transport bags of fertilizers and additional energy used and CO2 released to produce fertilizers.
  • No Weeding. In other words, we grow crops in controlled cover crop and weed environment. Understanding types of weeds and their behavior is the key to healthy soil.
  • No Pesticides. We first look at the causes of problems instead of merely treating symptoms.

We also encourage interns and creative minds to take initiative in new direction of natural farming practices, projects and lifestyle.