Guest Column — Ask A Farmer: About Korean Natural Farming

ask a farmer By Andrew Plack

What is Natural farming and gardening?

First, we must ask what isNature? Nature is everything, nothing that is escapes this category. All of Human Science and invention are merely specks of Natures construct. Nature is you.

What is the common quality of Nature? Life.

So, this most basic understanding is the key to all answers human kind may pose. In terms of growing plants and foods, all errors occur because this most basic of all understanding is discarded. Nature is complete. There is nothing missing.

All things become balanced in an ever changing dynamic relationship. Nothing extra, nothing without.

So, what is natural farming? Why of course it is following the course of Nature! Sounds a bit mysterious and yet it is what our ancestors did for as long as we have farmed. Indeed most of the world still follows this pattern of sustainable living. It is a hoax that we can do without it. It is a hoax that we need life out of balance to feed ourselves. We don’t need to tinker with Nature, we need to flow within it. Does this solve all problems? What problems? Man kind invented problems, as they did not exist before we created them.

Can we as a society really state that we must destroy whole natural systems to solve problems? Of course this makes no sense. We can help to foster them for all of our benefit however, and with just a little help at that…. not doing too much, and not doing too little, humans may actually become a nurturing catalyst, a partner as we always were.

Farming and growing food and medicine is the same on a small scale as it is on a big scale. First of all, “we” don’t grow food, the dynamic life of plants owes us little, but plant life owes much to Fungus and Bacteria. It is the natural cycle that can be enhanced. Nature is  a highly interactive self regulating state. It is most accurate to say that we do a little and a lot is done without us. It is only our desire that makes the need for any interference at all. Think about this for one second, did people make the forest? They did not, but we can destroy it very well. Now if we desire avocados in the forest, perhaps we need to take a little action. We need to throw out some seed, or plant a seedling, or graft a variety and plant it. The tree does all the growing, we just eat the fruit!

People will do what they want for many reasons. Modern mechanical farming, organic farming with tilling, korean self contained farming, and natural farming, (no till, no weeding, no composting), all of these are just human methods. In terms of growing food, all of these methods have results. They all do something. The only sustainable type is Nature itself. The more we lean towards anything industrial, the less sustainable the practice. We can rely upon industrial farming,(or any industrial means), for only the shortest time, however modern humans understand it the best. Adding things, inventing problems, and embracing a world view based upon dissection are hallmarks of human  thought in the ‘modern’ age.

I am sure this will wrinkle the brow of some who come upon this proposal, but just using data I can support natural farming methods with a modern proof. The most famous modern natural farmer, Masanobu Fukuoka was able to grow more rice per hectare than any other hectare in all of Japan, all without fertilizer and no mechanical means! The argument that this modern way is the only way has been proven false for quite a while now. It is only that society does not emphasize nature and seems unwilling to admit that we are a part of nature and not the central part.

“Creation is like a magnificent orchestra playing the symphony of nature.” – masanobu fukuoka

Mankind did not invent Nature. As a matter of fact, Humans never invented anything, it is all within Nature. Mankind’s only contribution to the world, our only invention is ‘unnatural’. It took us a long time and a lot of fuss, much hard work, but there it is, something actually different. Because we became unnatural, we need to rediscover what is Natural.

At last this article comes upon the part we have all been waiting for….how do you practice natural farming? Well, it is this author’s  belief that natural is a pathway and not a prescription or destination, having stated this we can examine Fukuokas’ guides which are:

— human cultivation of soil, plowing or tilling are unnecessary, as is the use of powered machines

—  prepared fertilizers are unnecessary, as is the process of preparing compost

— weeding, either by cultivation or by herbicides, is unnecessary. Instead only minimal weed suppression with minimal disturbance

— applications of pesticides or herbicides are unnecessary

— pruning of fruit trees is unnecessary

It is beneficial to re understand these  not as rules, but as guides and work towards them, (telling someone not to do too much seldom works out). Instead of looking at these as rules,  become an observer of nature. When asked about a farming problem, Fukuoka often would suggest watching the problem for three years and observing the differences. Nature eventually shows us where everything grows best, he would state.

Of course, doing nothing and not doing anything are different. There is a big difference. If you do nothing,(not being involved at all), Nature is fine.

Without saying, a natural farm or garden does not resemble a formal one. Nature seldom looks like a golf course unless there are sheep grazing it, ( this is the origin of golf of course).  But a food garden does not need to look formal anyway, as the whole idea is food. As I drive the roads of our Island I see more  and more gardens in people’s yards. Inflation and other factors have made the cost of food very high and some of this is the result of it, but of benefit, food grown at home has nutrients that industrial crops do not. Many of these home gardens are messy in appearance, but a closer look reveals many different plants and a lot of food in a small space.

A messy garden is characterized by heavy growth, leaf litter on the ground and intensive use of a small space. Cultures all around the world harbor a garden tradition similar to this. We should all be encouraged that our neighbors are growing food! Hawaii is a treasure. A small yard in Hawaii can grow a lot of food without the use of manufactured chemicals. You will only know it if you grow it.

Happy gardening — Aloha.

Andrew Plack is farming in God’s country on the Hamakua Coast. He studies life and smiles.


28 replies
  1. punated
    punated says:

    What is with this Korean natural farming all of a sudden? Of all the places that are used as “the grass is greener on the other side” examples, how in Puna lunacy did “Korean natural farming” get so much appeal?

    Let’s take the grid, fertilizer, and GMO all together. You know what? North Korea has none of those, a Punatic Paranoids’ dream. North Korean farmers practice Korean Natural Farming because they have no other choice. As satellite photos show, there is virtually no electric grid in North Korea. Yeah, they aren’t being “poisoned” by geothermal stinkiness. But they also have no power for pumps for irrigation, no heavy equipment, no night time lighting, no heating to keep chickens alive through brutal winters. They don’t use fertilizer because it is not available and too expensive. So, what do they use? Human poop, because that is the most available manure. Isn’t this the Punatic Paranoids dream of “paradise”?

    North Korea now has a whole generation that is more sickly than the generation before, they are actually growing shorter due to malnutrition, and there are reports of some areas where human cadavers are used for a meat source.

    So, here we have a model society for Puna Paranoids. No grid, no fertilizer, no farm equipment, no GMO, no geothermal, just burn lots of coal, unfiltered and at 10% energy conversion efficiency. In fact, methamphetimine is legal in North Korea and handed out like candy. This would make many Punatic Paranoids very happy. Maybe you Punatic Paranoids should consider moving to North Korea as a protest against how Hawaii island is being “destroyed”? Korean natural farming. What is next, bloodletting and trepanning?
    North Korea begs for food aid from Mongolia as starving state faces ‘severe’ shortage

  2. Robert Petricci
    Robert Petricci says:


    Many of the people in Puna are retired professionals such as the majority of the board of Puna Pono Alliance. We have several (at least 3 retired PHD’s as well as one high ranking military officer). Puna has Tiffany, Steve Hirakami, even Harry Kim has a house out here. You really do embarrass your self with your school yard bulling, hate mongering, and name calling. Your only fooling yourself if you think people do not see you for the hater you are. I feel sorry for you when I read all the angry and hateful things you say about our community.

    Your description of the people of Puna is a reflection on you and your ignorance more than anyone else my friend. Many of the people here are much more akamai than you.

    We see what is happening on Molokai and Kauai. Many of us want to live in a place that is not going to end up like Oahu, Maui, or a million other trashed and polluted communities, and we are taking a stand. Get use to it, this is Puna and I am proud to say I live in a community that is willing to fight for what we want. I love Puna and the people, that is why I choose to live here, I am not sure why your here.

    There are plenty of places for people who want to eat, drink, or bath in pesticides and herbicides laced water and food. Most in Puna want a cleaner healthier way of life, that apparently does not fit well with your slash and burn for a quick buck mentality.

    Ted you have a delema, you live in a community that wants more for their families than big screen TV’s, or 7-11’s, and we are organizing to have a real say in what “our” future will be. You are swimming against the current in Puna and in Hawaii County IMO.

    That is what your seeing, expect us to grow stronger and become even more effective. You can believe it when I say we have only just begun to assert our rights to clean air, clean water, and a safe place to raise our families. If that bothers you you are in for a lot of discomfort.

    Here is a thought since you hate the people of Puna so much (after reading all your derogatory comments) perhaps your the one with the problem not everyone else. Just a thought, there must be a GMO farm near a geothermal plant somewhere in the world where you could go live in your idea of (toxic) paradise.

    Good luck Ted….No more GMO’s or geothermal in Puna, there is a better way. People all over Puna (including our family) are already feeding themselves and producing their own power. Puna is a living laboratory and great example that sustainable off grid living works in Hawaii “now”. We do not have to wait to 2030, or 2020, we are already further along than just about anywhere else in the world right here in Puna. Do you recognize that at all Ted? Take off your blinders there is a big new world out there and Puna is leading not following. We are going to fight the destructive corporate practices that are ruining our islands.

    Puna’s sustainability model is economical, it works, (you can go see any number of farms, businesses, or homes that are much more sustainable and self sufficient than anywhere else in the state) and it is healthy. Many of us know what we are eating because we grow it here.

  3. James Weatherford
    James Weatherford says:

    A few points here.

    First, Korean Natural Farming is the most innovative thing happening on this island (and not only in Puna). I’ve not (yet) undertaken it, but, after having grown up on a farm from birth in Kentucky and worked in a professional context in agriculture in 4 countries (USA, Australia, Philippines, Indonesia) over more than 30 years, it is inspiring to see the innovative approach taken by KNF: working with microorganisms in the soil. This is unique and is well and truly about healthy soil-healthy food-healthy people.

    Next, I do not totally agree with the suggestion in the article that “our ancestors” did it this way (guess it could depend on who one’s ancestors are and what era one speaks of). No, what KNF does in pro-actively reproducing microorganisms is far more innovative than anything else I’ve seen over a lifetime of involvement in food production.

    Now, so-called punated, really, try love thy neighbor … or, do you even reside in Puna?
    Anyway, the article does not mention “North Korea” and, according to any map I’ve looked at, “North Korea” is not all of the Korean peninsula.
    Some of the people I have talked with who have taken up this innovative approach have traveled to South Korea (a big time capitalist place) to learn more.

    If one is interested in knowing more and not just spewing hatred, they might try Googling Korean Natural Farming.

  4. Anakala
    Anakala says:

    Punated: stop being a a troll. It makes all of the good points youve made in the the past seem less qualified.

    Korean Natural Farming is the epitome of the kind of agricultural revolution our community and the rest of the world needs to strive for. Many indigenous peoples across the globe have sustainably cultivated and shared the same kind of intimate, holistic relationships with their environment in similar manifestations, the Native Hawaiians for example. If we could pool together and utilize techniques and approaches from all of these cultures, we might have a chance at reclaiming the sanctity of our honua.

    regenerative agriculture exists, and is a(n eventual) possibility no matter how ravaged the land and soil might be from years of poison and fossil fuel-heavy/negligent/conventional/extractive agriculture practices. it renders the much needed balance between man and environment we’ve allowed ourselves to be so disconnected from. in accord with the new legislation banning most GMO, Hawaii Island has the potential to maintain and revitalize the diverse natural resources we have been blessed to inherit.

  5. Obie
    Obie says:

    If Korean Natural Farming is so great,why does South Korea import $30 BILLION worth of agricultural and food products ?

    Post reports that South Korea’s imports of agricultural and food products from the world for 2012 were forecast to total US$30 billion, down 2.5% from the previous year. Imports from the United States were also forecast to see a decline mainly due to slow down of local processing industry. South Korea remains the fifth largest market for U.S. agricultural products. In 2012 U.S. exports of agricultural products declined 13% to US$6 billion. Of that amount over 46% or US$2.7 billion were of the consumer oriented variety, which represented an increase of 3% from the prior year. Top consumer ready exports to South Korea in 2012 included red meats, fresh fruit, dairy products, tree nuts, processed fruits and vegetables, poultry meat, pet foods and snack foods.


  6. James Weatherford
    James Weatherford says:

    No one said every bit of food in any part of Korea was produced with this technique. That is not the point.
    The name “Korean Natural Farming” simply is so-called individuals who developed it happen to be Korean.
    The important point is that it works, not what it is labeled.

  7. James Weatherford
    James Weatherford says:

    No one said every bit of food in any part of Korea was produced with this technique.
    The name “Korean Natural Farming” is so-named simply because the individuals who developed it happen to be Korean.
    The name of the technique is really irrelevant.
    The important point is that it works, not what it is labeled.

  8. James Weatherford
    James Weatherford says:

    No one said every bit of food in any part of Korea was produced with this technique.
    “Korean Natural Farming” is so-named simply because the individuals who developed it happen to be Korean.
    The name of the technique is really irrelevant.
    The important point is that it works, not what it is labeled.

  9. Obie
    Obie says:

    It only works for subsistence farming and it can’t be used to feed the world’s burgeoning population !

    It’s a great idea for the backyard gardener but it will not keep the grocery stores where most of us buy our food stocked with the food we need to survive.

    Ted is right !!

    Robert and James are condemning the majority to death !!!
    A dark death in Roberts case !!

  10. James Weatherford
    James Weatherford says:

    In Obie’s opinion it only works for subsistence farming.

    However, there is a ginger farmer north of Hilo, known as ‘Ginger John’ who is using it and selling tons of high value ginger doing so.

  11. Obie
    Obie says:

    Add niche farming to subsistence farming.
    It’s still not going to feed the masses !!

    James said”The important point is that it works, not what it is labeled.”

    It works so well that the people who invented it have to import $30 BILLION worth of food a year.

  12. Kelly
    Kelly says:

    At present subsistence farming is feeding 75% of the human race.
    Expanding small scale diversified farming is clearly the sustainable and most resilient method of feeding ourselves.
    Industrial Monoculture has proven dangerous to the biosphere, and puts food ‘commodities’ in the hands of the very wealthy.
    If ‘Big Ag’s goal was to feed people that would already be happening. Their goal is to maximize profits.
    A billion people go hungry because the Industrial systems displace, poison, and impoverish those that could otherwise feed themselves.
    It will take cultural and policy shifts but we CAN feed ourselves on these islands. It has already been done.

  13. greg
    greg says:

    By Obie’s measure, McDonalds is by far the best restaurant in the world with over a billion sold.

  14. Kelly
    Kelly says:

    That article was written by a self described ‘technocrat’ who is calling for an ‘industrial revolution’ in kenya.
    Dr Ndemo is an industrialist so it is predictable that he would advocate for industrial ag; more petroleum ferts, more soil depletion and erosion, more pesticides.
    He wants Kenya ‘modernized’, in the unsustainable manner of the ‘west’.

  15. greg
    greg says:

    Thank you for the link Obie; Anyone who reads it should make sure to read the rebuttal comment following the article. (Mr. Antony Muga)

  16. Obie
    Obie says:

    In the meantime people are starving in Kenya and they are using farming techniques that you people are claiming will save the world.

    Why don’t you try your save the world food experiment in Kenya ?

    We seem to be doing quite well here !!!

  17. Kelly
    Kelly says:

    The long, severe drought in kenya explains the food crisis there. And not all small scale farming uses appropriate techniques (like ‘natural farming’ and ‘permaculture’) that improve soil fertility and farm productivity.
    In many places the local wisdoms need to be rediscovered, and low tech innovations from around the globe need to be shared.
    Food activists can point to abundant successes worldwide.
    But trusting our food supply to the balance sheets of transnational chemical corporations won’t feed us WELL.

  18. michael
    michael says:

    Wow, this is crazy, I am actually a Korean Natural Farmer that practices and is well versed in the theory, advanced theory and its practices. Thank you Tiffany for taking up an interest in this subject, this is my career, and one of my goals to help get as much KNF info out there as possible. If you or anybody is interested, myself and a whole network of people can show you how you can benefit and lower cost of farming and sustainable residential agriculture, feeding the micro-organisms that we so often ignore that is essential in a healthy soil colony. And again you know I’m sorry Tiff you have so many distractions of topics on your blogs.
    Natural Farming or no till farming is the ultimate kill as many birds with one tool box we have at our disposal here, it is growing, soon everybody who truly has an interest in feeding the people and healing the aina will become Korean natural farming masters. It is what can heal soil faster than any method that is known to man, and it is all with working with the natural happenings of nature instead of against it. Mahalo again Tiffany for putting more natural farming information up, it is a truly a service to have this info up, with or with out the privilege of comments =)

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