One Straw to Save the UBC Farm

The essence of Fukuoka’s method is to reproduce natural conditions as closely as possible. There is no plowing, as the seed germinates quite happily on the surface if the right conditions are provided. There is also considerable emphasis on maintaining diversity. A ground cover of white clover grows under the grain plants to provide nitrogen. Weeds (and Daikons) are also considered part of the ecosystem, periodically cut and allowed to lie on the surface so the nutrients they contain are returned to the soil. Ducks are let into the grain plot, and specific insectivorous carp into the rice paddy at certain times of the year to eat slugs and other pests.The ground is always covered. As well as the clover and weeds, there is the straw from the previous crop, which is used as mulch, and each grain crop is sown before the previous one is harvested. This is done by broadcasting the seed among the standing crop…

Fukuoka’s method and philosophy is about small scale farming, yet he claims “With this kind of farming, which uses no machines, no prepared fertilizer and no chemicals, it is possible to attain a harvest equal to or greater than that of the average Japanese farm.” (The One-Straw Revolution) Masanobu Fukuoka

Chances are if you’ve been periodically tuning into the campaign to Save the UBC Farm your impression is that the university is acting reasonably and things are on their way to being resolved. The farm has gotten good press. UBC heavyweights have been quoted making positive noises. It is therefore, a distressing experience to give a close reading to the latest vision and options document put forward by the good folks from the office at  Campus and Community Planning (Look for the jauntily titled “Phase 4 Consultation Discussion Guide.”)

For those of you keeping score we are now at phase 4 of a 6  phase process underway at UBC comprised of  many feedback documents, workshops, open houses, presentations to the Board of Governor’s and doubtless 1000’s of meetings. The Board will vote on the final plan sometime in 2009.

Which I guess means we are 2/3 of the way to a plan being adopted to direct the next phase of development of the campus of our public university (barring total global economic collapse or something crazy like that).  But wait — how can that be? Not one of the 3 options put forward in this latest opus include the current 24 hectare farm in its current location.

That’s right: not one option actually “saves the farm”. That option has been eliminated.

So what message did the folks at Campus and Community Planning take from all the thousands of hours of volunteer time dedicated to saving the farm by folks in the community and at UBC, all the public education at events, the thousands of signatures on petitions, the press, the letters and yes, the meetings, dedicated to saving the farm?

Maybe an 8 hectare farm, not necessarily in its current location.  I suppose the idea here is that the fields (the productive part of the farm, one presumes) can be packed up on a truck and dropped in a new spot, minus unfortunately the forest, the hedgerows and the gathering and teaching places, indoor and outdoor, for humans.

I am experiencing cognitive dissonance. And so back to Fukuoka: what I think we meant was SAVE THE FARM! The whole shebang — the system, including the current land-base, wildlife, researchers, the most excellent staff, volunteers, interns and community folk alongside the birds, insects and weeds and the complex connections. Except we want the farm to be truly supported, with all the energy, your ideas, and your funds. That’s what we meant.

This is critical because the research and academic work that is done at the farm happens in a context. A context that includes the study of soil micro-organisms and the laughter of kids in the children’s garden. Researchers at the farm interact with aboriginal elders, folks from the Mayan community, farm apprentices, farmer’s market devotees.

This gives me great hope. It’s research in a context of inter-connected systems, of habitat, of community. It’s permaculture in action.

Paving over this paradise for condos is just so deeply boring. We’ve tried that — paved over and over. Let’s, as a community, let our public university know we’d like to try a different experiment: one where we nurture the complex patterns of interaction, and all the beings, who are part of our last farm in Vancouver, to see what we can learn for the future.

Be creative in expressing your understanding, hopes and expectations! You can of course sign the petition, write a letter to Stephen Toope ( or the Board of Governors, you can learn more about what needs to be done via the Save the UBC Farm listserv:, blog and weekly meeting (check in via the listserv).

Do check Rocks and Water for UBC Farm stories. They write and photograph with energy and zest.

One more quote for the road, from Fukuoka again:

..if modern agriculture continues to follow the path it’s on now, it’s finished. The food-growing situation may seem to be in good shape today, but that’s just an illusion based on the current availability of petroleum fuels. All the wheat, corn, and other crops that are produced on big American farms may be alive and growing, but they’re not products of real nature or real agriculture. They’re manufactured rather than grown. The earth isn’t producing those things… petroleum is!
Masanobu Fukuoka, Mother Earth News interview, 1982[1]