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* Apologies for the lack of formatting in this interview. The Ning site unfortunately will not preserve spacing and formatting when publishing blog entries.

Larry Korn is a soil scientist, agricultural consultant/activist and permaculture designer who lives in Ashland, Oregon. He lived in Japan for four years, two of them on the farm of Masanobu Fukuoka. Mr. Fukuoka developed a unique way of natural farming that involves no plowing, no agricultural chemicals, no mechanical weeding or prepared compost. He doesn’t flood his rice fields as farmers in Asia have done for thousands of years and yet his yields are comparable or exceed the most productive farms in Japan. Mr. Korn translated and edited Mr. Fukuoka’s landmark book, The One-Straw Revolution.

I met Larry during a permaculture course at the Sahale Learning Center in southwest Washington in February. Following is a slightly edited version of our conversation.

David: What led you to get involved in sustainable agriculture?

Larry: I grew up a city boy in Southern California and was always interested in Asian culture. I studied Chinese history at UC Berkeley in the late 1960’s. After I graduated I decided to travel to Asia for an adventure to see what it was like there. I met Japanese friends from the back-to-the land movement while I was in Japan and spent time hitch hiking from one rural commune to another. I fell in love with nature and with gardening and farming. I returned to Berkeley and got a degree in soil science and plant nutrition. Everything I have done since then has involved plants and soil.

David: How did you happen to meet Mr. Fukuoka?

Larry: I had heard of Mr. Fukuoka on my first visit to Japan from the commune people and from friends who were studying at spiritual centers. They all had great respect for him, but no one had actually been to his farm. When I returned to Japan in 1974 I lived with friends on a farming commune in the mountains north of Kyoto. We used the organic techniques farmers used there until the end of World War II. Finally I decided to travel to Shikoku Island to see Mr. Fukuoka’s farm for myself.

David: Why did you decide to live there?

Larry: At the time Mr. Fukuoka was accepting students to live on his farm to learn about his techniques and his back-to-nature philosophy. When I saw his rice fields, which hadn’t been plowed for more than 25 years, and his citrus orchard, which included a riot of plants such as weeds, clover, vegetables and herbs growing in the spaces beneath the commercial Mandarin orange trees I pretty much stopped what I was doing to learn more about it. Besides, it seemed like a lot of fun and I was out for adventure.

David: What was it like living on Mr. Fukuoka’s farm?

Larry: There were about six or eight of us living in crude mud walled huts at any given time. We worked in the orchard chopping firewood, cutting the groundcover back, thinning fruit, harvesting, taking care of the chickens and the goats or whatever the seasonal jobs were at the time. We also managed the rice fields. Mr. Fukuoka grew rice and barley in the same fields each year. He had a continuous groundcover of white clover growing under the grain and returned all the straw to the surface to act as mulch and create green manure.

Mr. Fukuoka instructed us on things like farming techniques, how to care for tools, and most importantly the philosophy that led him to farm in his unusual way. He gave us 10,000 yen each month (about $35 then) to buy things like soy sauce and vegetable oil which are not practical to produce on a small scale. Otherwise we lived entirely on what we produced in the rice field and the orchard. It was a lot of work but all together a wonderful time and a great experience.

David: Tell me about The One-Straw Revolution. How did you decide to translate it and how did you get it published in the United States?

Larry: Mr. Fukuoka was respected as a philosopher in Japan at the time but his farming techniques were generally considered eccentric. His orchard and fields did not look like the neat well-kept farms of the typical Japanese. But those of us who worked there knew how important his example could be to the rest of the world. The One-Straw Revolution had just come out in Japanese so three of us decided to translate it into English.

Once we had a decent manuscript I brought it to the United States to find a publisher. I managed to get a copy to Wendell Berry. He took the book under his wing and made sure that everything went right with it. Besides writing the preface, Wendell also worked with me for over a year on the copy editing. The book has now been translated into about 25 languages, all from our English language edition.

David: You had an opportunity to study both with Mr. Fukuoka and Bill Mollison, the founder of permaculture. What is the difference between natural farming and permaculture?

Larry: Fukuoka began his work in natural farming in the late 1940’s. Permaculture One, Mollison and Holmgren’s first book about permaculture, came to the United States in about 1980. One could say that Fukuoka’s farm is a perfect permacultural model. It incorporates all of the interconnected features and functions that permaculture teaches. But there is a fundamental difference. Permaculture is a design methodology. The designer, after careful observation, taking into consideration the various characteristics of the site, the soil and the water situation, the influence of the sectors such as aspect, wind, danger from fire and so forth, consciously creates a design. Then the design is implemented with the knowledge that the design will change over time in line with natural succession.

Fukuoka sees the human intellect as the main culprit in separating humanity from nature. He would rather keep human decision making as far out of the picture as possible. “People use their intellect to try to improve upon nature and you see the result.” Sure, he tried experiments but only to allow nature to show him the way. And yet he and permaculture arrived at essentially the same place. I think that is because they both use nature as their model and it can only lead to an ecological way of farming. I wrote an article about this which is posted on my website

David: What are your favorite plants?

Larry: That’s a little like asking which is my favorite child or niece or nephew. Wait a minute; I do have a favorite plant. It’s the coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirons). It is probably because I spent so many family camping trips to the redwoods when I was a kid. If you have never visited the old growth redwoods in Northern California you should. For me it is the closest place to heaven on earth.

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Comment by Heather K on May 18, 2010 at 4:13pm
May we live aware & within the power & diversity & beauty of nature that our bodies birthed from ….
may our life & death allow for more beauty than what we destroy.....

Great to read your dialogues!

“ …..May we remember that humans are within the cycle of nature. We have the choose to destroy or change what has been created (the power of the blade), or the choice to co-create & nourish life (the power of the chalice).
I embrace the Beloved Mystery - of Spirit - of Life - of Creation...
We may have been created from stardust and to stardust the body may return.”

above quote from- “Garden-Servant Update: fertility, nourishment, & water in temperate climate mid-spring”

I'm starting to read “ The Lost Language of Plants” by Stephen Buhner.

I can recommend these books too:
Kinship With All Life – J. Allen Boone
The Tracker – and other books by Tom Brown Jr.
Behaving As If The God In All Life Mattered – Machaelle Small Wright
The Findhorn Garden- by the Findhorn commmunity
Song of Songs
Comment by Christie Cassel on May 18, 2010 at 3:47pm
I agree too. It seems as technology advances, spirituality degresses (as connection to nature is cut off). To be even more dichotmous, science and technology improves quanity of human life while diminishing quality of life. The problem is that technology doesn't stop; it advanaces at an escalating rate. It makes me want to drop out of society and live off the land, but I feel socially responsible to participate in movements that intend to bring us back to balance.
Comment by David Pike on May 18, 2010 at 3:17pm
Fukuoka tended to slam the negative impacts of technology and science...and I tend to agree with him. Somewhere along the way, science and technology stopped improving our lives and started destroying them. Cultures which are aware of this - and opt not to use destructive technologies - are more advanced than mainstream culture.
Comment by Christie Cassel on May 18, 2010 at 1:46pm
So, permaculture is modeling indigenous cultures while taking into account explosions in the population?

Were all humans living in harmony with the environment prior to The Industrial Revolution? Maybe the Amish, Mennonites, and Hutterites were onto something! ; )
Comment by David Pike on May 17, 2010 at 7:43pm
Just to continue with a contrasting opinion...Who is to say that humans are not nature or natural? We are as much a part of this planet and universe as anything else. For many thousands of years humans lived in complete harmony with nature, it is only within the last few hundred that we have strayed...I would share my opinion and say that we are animals - the same as all other animals, we have just made different choices in our use (and over-use) of the earth.
Comment by Christie Cassel on May 17, 2010 at 4:11pm
On blog formatting, I empathize with the frustration of formatting lost. Sometimes using a simple text program like Word Pad has better results than copy and paste from Word. It may be worth a try for future blogs.

On this permaculture debate, I think permaculture can get misunderstood because it is essentially an impossible ideology. We are humans, imperfect destructive beings by default. We are not nature or even natural, but working toward that ideal with nature as our teacher is at least beneficial, if not the entire goal of our existence. Just as religions cannot prescribe a perfect spiritual path for everyone, permaculture cannot design perfect agriculture and means of living in harmony with the environment, but the goals are spot on. We'll get there... maybe in the next dimension!
Comment by Heather K on April 17, 2010 at 12:01am
Great interview David! And thank you Larry for your time in responding to the questions!
I especially enjoyed reading the thoughts in regards to the different approaches between permaculture designing and natural farming.
As I am a wild human being who's mind enjoys the global principles of permaculture - my body & soul resonate more strongly with the intuitive actions of my hands & heart listening & touching & walking on the earth. I have long referred to my 'style' of co-creating in the earth-garden as “Ecological Chaos”...reflecting both natures order & creative-chaos.

I'd like to carry our conversations back over to our natural farming discussion in the Garden/Group.
I plan to forward on both of these blogs out to many on the TW list, to inspire folks to attend one or all of the 3 afternoon/evening days with Larry Korn in May 2010, currently posted as an event.

All – Be sure to follow more of our pondering on natural farming on our Organic Gardeners/Growers group discussion at: under title of 'Natural Farming in the Pacific Northwest-Technique & Philosophy'.
Comment by David Pike on April 16, 2010 at 6:44pm
I would also disagree with the concept that we cannot pick and choose what we want to utilize from permaculture. Even small pieces of the permaculture puzzle can be beneficial to both land and people, we don't have to take the whole design concept. Permaculture is essentially a whole lot of good ideas stacked together to form a cohesive and symbiotic design - but we don't yet know exactly what that ideal design is - so what's the harm in using a few good ideas here and there?

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