The Maddening Simplicity of Good Food

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Sometimes it's hard to spot the food from the weeds...
Okitsu-san's Natural Farm on the Right, a conventional farm on the left (Photo: P.M. Lydon)
Okitsu-san’s Natural Farm on the Right, a conventional farm on the left (Photo: P.M. Lydon)

At the end of a week with Shikoku-based natural farmer Okitsu-san, my body is still smarting in places from the work of weeding — as a natural farm, this place has some major healthy weeds — but my mind is refreshed. The experience this week, which consisted of days in the field, and nights conversing with Okitsu-san over dinner, showed me much about the ‘truth’ behind natural farming. Perhaps even as much as the past year-and-a-half of research and interviews for The Final Straw documentary.

It’s funny, because the concepts which these farmers live by are so frustratingly simple, that it has been a difficult thing for the logical side of my mind to comprehend; everything always had to have some comlex series of reasons behind it, some logical truth that could be put into formula, or at least organized prose and thesis. But that’s not how natural farming works.

It’s more simple than any of that, and although this simplicity is the key to an amazing concept, it is also the issue behind our general lack of understanding. We don’t want to turn our neat and tidy system of categorical life management off, because it will confuse our world too much. For many, natural farming is a ‘simplicity’ overload.

Even the few small pieces of natural farming that you can view in a logical way seem again, far too simple. If we take the ‘distribution’ piece of natural farming, for instance, and place it against the system we know, we get something like this:

Food Distribution Systems: Modern Farming vs Natural Farming (illustration, P.M. Lydon)
Food Distribution Systems: Modern Farming vs Natural Farming (illustration, P.M. Lydon)

And that’s being generous to modern farming. Again, maddening simplicity. It is absolutely absurd to think of what our food goes through before it gets put into our stomachs… and this graphic is just distribution, nothing to speak of chemical treatments, pesticides, engineered seed, etc…

Okitsu-san put it in words last week over breakfast, the main concept of why he is a natural farmer:

Do I grow plants to make money? (he laughs at the absurdity of this thought… no farmers in Japan make much money) The first thing, the most important thing for a farmer, is to make healthy plants and healthy people. That is the center. That is the only way.

I feel like this is the main difference between ‘our’ system — the one that most Americans and I grew up with — and his system. Of course, he must make a living, but his priority in life, his goal, is to make healthy food for people to eat. Our goal in the U.S. is typically to make profit first, then, well, maybe we can label something ‘organic’ if we can profit from it, and if the organic associations, cohorts, and related industries can also profit.

Whether food is healthy or good for people, whether it benefits people… or whether it drives them to heart attacks, cancer, or other illness, well, that’s not really of concern to the modern food industry. Really. This is reality for all of us, unless we grow our own food, or get it directly from a farmer we can trust — it’s worth noting here that a majority of natural farming customers actually visit the farm where their food is grown. If we think about what products are on the shelves of most modern grocery stores… at least 99.9% of it, even the ‘health’ food, is all either chemically-produced, or in some way ‘marginalized’ in quality in order to maximize profit, travel well, and come to you bright, shiny, and all year round.

This is the truth of how our system functions, and even if we want to eat healthy, most of us can’t, because there are not enough farmers like Okitsu-san out there…

Not yet, that is.

The Final Straw, our documentary on natural farming and the future of food continues filming this month, and then we jump into fundraising, awareness, and the post-production phase.

If this post touched on something you care about, you should pass it on to others who you care about, and also immediately sign up for The Final Straw Newsletter. Honestly, it will be well worth the price of free, and you’ll get the latest on our progress and events coming to you area.

I’ll leave you with some photos from Okitsu-san’s beautiful farm. It was a pleasure to spend the week here:

Patrick and Okitsu-san at his farm in Awa, Shikoku.
Patrick and Okitsu-san at his farm in Awa, Shikoku. (photo: Mrs. Okitsu)
Okitsu-san and his wife at their natural farm in Awa, Shikoku.
Okitsu-san and his wife at their natural farm in Awa, Shikoku. (photo: P.M. Lydon)
Mr. Okitsu's Natural Farm in Tokushima, Shikoku, Japan
Mr. Okitsu’s Natural Farm in Tokushima, Shikoku, Japan (photo: P.M. Lydon)
Mr. Okitsu's Natural Farm in Tokushima, Shikoku, Japan
Mr. Okitsu’s Natural Farm in Tokushima, Shikoku, Japan (photo: P.M. Lydon)
Flowers and bugs galore in one of the fields that is 'on break' at the natural farm.
Flowers and bugs galore in one of the fields that is ‘on break’ at the natural farm. (photo: P.M. Lydon)
Sometimes it's hard to spot the food from the weeds...
Sometimes it’s hard to spot the food from the weeds… (photo: P.M. Lydon)
Mr. Okitsu's Natural Farm in Tokushima, Shikoku, Japan
Mr. Okitsu’s Natural Farm in Tokushima, Shikoku, Japan (photo: P.M. Lydon)
Mr. Okitsu's Natural Farm in Tokushima, Shikoku, Japan
Mr. Okitsu’s Natural Farm in Tokushima, Shikoku, Japan (photo: P.M. Lydon)
Monthly farm class at Mr. Okitsu's Natural Farm in Tokushima, Shikoku, Japan
Monthly farm class at Mr. Okitsu’s Natural Farm in Tokushima, Shikoku, Japan (photo: P.M. Lydon)

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