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The Long Read
"A little piece of paradise"

little background. I was born in mid 1960s England, the son of two Beat generation designers born before WWII. My grandfather was born the same year as the Wright bros. made their famous flight.

Shortly after the birth of my younger sister, the family moved out of the commuter belt and in to rural Hampshire. We lived in a rented farmhouse with a moat, the earliest parts of which dated back to before King John. The farm was a working farm, cattle and 'corn', and it was an idyllic place for two kids to grow up. Drinking dusty elderflower 'champagne' with the farmers at harvest time, camping in the woods, secretly stealing molasses or the powdered milk meant for calves from 50 gal drums in the barn. There was a massive conifer with bark so thick and soft that we called it the punching tree. 

During this time, our parents had bought a dilapidated Georgian stable block across 'the lawn' from a modest manor house that had also seen better days. My parents spent the next five or six years with the help of many of their friends, converting it into a home, though we lived in a tent in the garden for the first summer and bathtime was at a friend's house for at least a year after moving. After saying goodbye to the farm and a long drive to Yugoslavia and back, we settled in to 'The Stable'. 

I spent the rest of my childhood in this house, we kept pigs, sheep chickens, a horse or two and geese. The countryside was different here, but still a joy to behold and live in and the friends we shared the animals with made for a very extended family. I stayed here until motorbikes, girls and the wonderfully crazy social life provided by students at the local art school induced me to leave in my late teens.

After a few years of odd jobbing in Thatcher's England, I got on my figurative "bike" (my parents'  old VW combi) and headed off to Morocco, the first of many journeys that finally brought me here to Japan more than 30 years ago.

Living in the city in my twenties and thirties was a first for me and was, all things considered, a lot of fun. Nonetheless, teaching English in the Kansai region for twenty years lost its appeal and I found myself starting to think about where this was going. Was I going to end up pale and bloated, fighting a losing battle trying to keep up with the city lifestyle, or was there something else out there that would help me age gracefully? A painful divorce spurred me to try and find an alternative and after a couple of years unsuccessfully trying to turn my sailing hobby into a way to earn a living., it was back to odd jobbing. Into my life came Kazumi. A high spirited and powerful woman from Hokkaido, with a similar hankering to get out of her 'rut'. We took a month long road trip heading west with the sunset and an idea began to hatch.

About this time, along came the 'Lehman Shock" and the bottom fell out of the job market. Peak oil came to my attention as did the IPCC climate report. The 2nd Iraq war was a disgusting quagmire and the sense of foreboding that had been growing in my mind since the '99 WTO meetings seemed to be coming to a head. Recalling how much fun it had been growing up in the countryside, Kazumi too had been brought up far from the city, we knew that we needed to get out of the city, but how and where? we decided it was time to to look for a place with less concrete in which to live.

This sense of unease that I had was not brought about solely by the global upheavals that were going on. For a while, I had been thinking that the way I was living really didn't make any sense. I was working in a job that I thought was deceitful for people that I despised, trying to make up for my lack of spine by 'going to shopping' or drinking myself silly every weekend. I had zero financial security and in my mind, zero future (in fact, this lack of a sense of hope for the future stretches back a long way, growing up under the threat of nuclear war followed by the hopelessness of the Thatcher years and the nihilistic 90s and noughties). 

So, the decision to move out of the city was not only about seeking fresh air but also an attempt to actually become more responsible for the influences on and of my life, less exposed to the whims of others and, basically, less dependent on a society that seemed more and more at odds with what seemed just to me. After an at times frustrating but unrelenting search for a place to fall in love with, we found the place that we decided to call グイビの森 "Guibi no Mori". A place where we could, to paraphrase the Mahatma, be the change we want to see.

So, in 2010 we moved out of the city and on to the land that has become our farm.

Tired of concrete and pollution, our goal was to create a little piece of paradise.

We believe that humanity is an integral part of nature and has as much right to be here as the trees, the bugs and the sky.

You could be forgiven for thinking that growing and selling food is the reason we run our farm. However, in truth, food production is a consequence, not the objective, of our land stewardship.

What we have striven to create is a place to inspire. A place to spend time. A place to fall in love with. A place that encourages the return of humanity.

When I first started looking into permaculture, many years ago, I quickly recognised that it was a full and solid set of guidelines with a huge stock of practical advice for ecologically aware "self-sufficiency" but it wasn't until I came across Bill Mollison's book "Permaculture: A Designers' Manual" (pdf) that I was persuaded that there was far more to it than that. Chapter one contains the following paragraph:

A person of courage today is a person of peace. The courage we need is to refuse authority and to accept only personally responsible decisions. Like war, growth at any cost is an outmoded and discredited concept. It is our lives which are being laid to waste. What is worse, it is our children's world which is being destroyed. It is therefore our only possible decision to withhold all support for destructive systems, and to cease to invest our lives in our own annihilation.

Well, that got my attention! I put the book down about a week later, though it's still on my desk 12 years and three homes since, and is now really quite a tatty specimen. The book concludes with chapter 14 in a crescendo of revolutionary thought . Titled "The Strategies of an Alternative Global Nation." if there had ever been any doubt in my mind that this was a set of ideas worth trying to put into practise, this is was what finally reeled me in. And so herewith, my take on the 3 permaculture ethics and how I think we apply them:

Thank you for coming to this page. It's a somewhat rambling, evolving section that gets added to and edited as thoughts occur to me, much like our farm.  Despite being a long read, I do hope you find some value in it, if only to get an idea of what goes through my mind while on this journey.


I. Earth Care

The word "farming" probably brings a number of images to your mind. Whether you imagine tractors or horses, pesticides or insects, vast fields or small beds, you are probably pretty confident that we are talking about the raising of crops and the production of food.

Agriculture is often accused of being a primary cause of climate and ecosystem destabilization. Much of it is.  Globaly, agriculture is responsible for about 30% of primary energy consumption and 34% of Greenhouse Gas emissions.

However, five of every six farms in the world consist of less than two hectares, operate on around 12 percent of all agricultural land, and produce roughly 35 percent of the world's food. All this while accounting for less than 20% of agricultural greenhouse gas emissions.

So, again, it’s more about how you farm than that you farm.

Our farm, Guibi-no-mori, now produces nutrient rich, flavourful, healthy and abundant food without any chemical or fossil fuel based inputs whatsoever. We grow and tend our crops largely by hand with minimal mechanisation, our vegetable and fruit production is completely no-till and, by growing a mind-boggling diversity of crops, we keep the soil disease free and abundantly fertile.

When I use the word "farming", my primary meaning is care for the land and all that lives on and within it. What we aim to produce is healthy soil.


The harvest and cultivation of healthy food is a welcome consequence of what we do rather than a purpose in itself.


Through the thoughtful use of environmentally responsible, "regenerative" land management, the hectare and a half of land that we are currently stewarding for future generations has a chance to heal from the scars inflicted by 20th century farming techniques.

We do not plough. We do not use insecticides, fungicides or pesticides. We do not use synthetic fertilizers. There are no poisons on this land. 

With judicious applications of ethically sourced, seasoned animal manure, crushed egg shells, self produced compost and microbiology enhancing brews, we endeavour to bring soil bacteria and fungi populations to harmonious levels best suited to long term soil health. 

By using cover crops and foraged natural mulches we aim to keep the soil covered at all times, whether a crop is planted there or not. This ground cover provides sanctuary for a thriving community of insects and wildlife which finds a natural balance beneficial to pollinators and predators alike. It retains moisture, prevents erosion and adds organic matter to the soil.

Trees are an integral part of our farm. With the exception of our rice paddies, we are incorporating trees into all of our fields. The trees provide many ecological services. Their roots delve deep into the lower stratas, accessing minerals that get brought to the surface in foliage and creating pathways for water and oxygen to reach the microbial life below. Their branches and leaves help to regulate ground temperatures and add to the organic content of the soil every winter.

The cover crops, trees and food crops on this land all contribute to the urgently necessary capture of carbon from the atmosphere and its safe storage below ground.

We farm our land with absolutely minimal tillage keeping disturbance and fuel consumption to a minimum. An initial ripping of a new field to help start the process of de-compaction, is followed by at least two years of chop and drop cover crops. We don't fence these fields at this stage, allowing deer and boar to graze or root as they feel necessary. When we're ready. to prep a field for production, we fence it in and create a deep furrow down the center of what is going to become a bed, fill with organic matter and biochar, cover with soil, top with compost and crushed eggshells then mulch with more locally foraged organic matter. We cover this for one season (usually winter) with a silage tarp, our one and only use of plastics. Come spring, we remove the tarp, lightly tilth the soil by hand, add more compost, plant out with seedlings and mulch once more. Alleys between beds get a 6 inch layer of rice husks. From then on, these beds are constantly occupied with either veg or cover crops. We try to plant one root crop per bed each year so that they get a chance to get aerated when we harvest. Other than that, tillage stops there. Our beds are 10m long by 1m wide in blocks of 4 and there are lots of them!


Healthy soil leads to a healthy ecology which in turn leads to healthy plants and ultimately, healthy people.

When future generations ask us “What did you do to help rectify the climate and biosphere chaos of the 21st century?” - and I honestly believe that everyone should be asked that - I need to be able to look my inquisitors in the eye  and speak honestly when I reply. 


II. People Care

People. love 'em or hate 'em, there are always people. People are responsible for some of the best in this world, and much of the worst. Nonetheless, I have to admit to being quite fond of people. I don't think I say that from a position of bias.

There have been many, many people involved with this project, and without them it just wouldn't have been be the same. You know who you are. Thank you all!.


Soil health. Plant health. Human health.


While many people say that “humanity” is responsible for the degradation and destruction of nature, that it has brought about the climate crisis we face, that the world would be better off without us, we disagree.

We believe that it is actually a lack of humanity that is to blame.

Globally speaking, it is a very small percentage of the people on the planet that bear the bulk of the responsibility for the problems that we know so well.

Eight out of ten people in the world live on $10/day or less. It is not these people that are responsible for the deprivation of nature. So, it’s more about how you live than that you live. Blaming ‘Humanity’ for the multiple existential crises we face seems disingenuous at best.

So how do we hope to care for people here at グイビの森? Well, obviously we moved out here from more than 20 years in the big smoke primarily as a way to take care of ourselves. I think we can all understand the importance of taking responsibility for the well being of ourselves and those who depend on us. We are no different in that respect. There are other people too, though, right. 

There's a saying that I often hear from Australians  when speaking in public that always gives me pause for thought, it goes something like this:

"We acknowledge the traditional custodians of country, here and internationally, and their continuing connection to country, culture, community, land, sea and sky. We pay our respect to elders past, present and emerging." (Let me know if I've got that wrong).

This seems totally appropriate to me and very much in tune with the timeless continuity of life, both ahead and before, that puts (or should put!) our brief stay here on the planet into a more humble perspective.

As I may have intimated above, I see our role on this land as being that of stewards rather than owners. This means that everything we do here must be done with the recognition that the next generation will be taking over that role at some not too distant point in the then-now and that everything I see around me is the cumulative result of those who came before me. So, wishing, once again, to not be cussed for my actions in the this-now, we strive to care for the coming generations. Creating something that they too will want to love and care for and, in turn, want to hand on in yet better condition to their future selves as they become their own emerging elders.


And here's another aspect of people care that we want to share with you. There are people, not as far away as you may imagine, who are struggling. One of the things that truly does cause me to lose sleep - and I don't just say that because it's way past my bedtime as I write this - is, the fact that organic food in Japan, maybe elsewhere too but I only know that this is the case in Japan, the fact that organic food is generally priced as a luxury item. Now, I understand why farmers price their wares as they do, hell, I do this too! The truth of the matter is that the prices we charge reflect the costs. Honestly they do. Anyone who knows me will know that we're not exactly rolling in it here. We scrape by by the skin of our teeth and most of the farmers I know are not much better off. Especially those growing organically. So why does organic food appear to be so expensive? Actually, it's very simple. It isn't expensive at all! The problem is, that the food you buy in your supermarket is too cheap! "Hang on a sec!" I hear you complain. "That's not true! I can barely afford a week's provisions even at the local supermarket. I even wait for the 7 o'clock discount man to come along with his half price stickers!". I know, I know. But this just adds validity to what I'm going to say next. Wait for it...

You're not being paid enough!

There. I said it. It's the truth. Let's back up a bit. Why do I believe that supermarket food is underpriced? Well, how about some numbers:

In 1900, American families spent about 40% of their income on food. By 1950, it was just under 30%. According to the most recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2013 the average American household spent about 10% of its total budget on food. Another way to say that is that grocery prices in general fell in real price by 82% between 1919 and 2007, measured in the number of hours worked from 9.5 to 1.7 hours, which is another way to adjust for inflation) to purchase a 12-item basket of groceries, 

According to the proportion of household income spent on food in the U.K. has more than halved over the past 60 years.

Japan and all the other OECD countries exhibit similar rates of change. 

There are a number of causes and consequences for this dramatic drop in costs. Firstly, fewer varieties are being grown as industrial ag takes an increasingly larger share of the market. National Geographic published this infographic a short while ago. I think you'll agree that what it illustrates is truly worrying.


It's not just that 75% of our crops have disappeared, so have the farmers! With the increase in mechanisation, the percentage of the workforce employed in agriculture in OECD states have fallen from around 40% in 1900 to about 4% in 1970 and even less now. Even with their replacement by machinery, costs have fallen dramatically and economies of scale, with the number of large farms (over 100ha) having increased at the expense of middle sized farms. 36% of global food and beverage production is controlled by just 10 multinational corporations and 40% of food retail is controlled by the top 10 multinationals in that industry.

Ok. That's enough of numbers. What does all that mean?


Well, you may ask what's so wrong with the drop in prices. Makes it easier to buy food, after all, doesn't it! And goodness knows, we could all do with a few extra spondoolies in our wallets, couldn't we!

Of course, the cost of food hasn't really dropped at all. It's just that nature and natural systems are being made to pay what consumers aren't any more. You see, all this cheap production is being propped up by a couple of dirty secrets:

Firstly, the food that we now grow (well not "we", "they" actually) gets its nutrients and energy from all the synthetic fertilizers that are spread, instead of from the soil. There was a time when topsoil had pretty much everything it needed to grow our food. But we've squandered that natural capital, and now we have dirt instead of soil. An inert, dead growing medium into which nutrients need replacement each crop cycle. The world has lost half its topsoil in the last 150 years and we continue to lose 24 billion tonnes (3.4 tonnes per person globally) each year. At this rate, we'll have pretty much run out in 60 years time. This is mainly down to tillage but also due to the removal of ruminants from the land and into enclosures and feed lots. It takes nature about a thousand years to produce an inch of topsoil. We can speed that up, but it's still a slow process. The key is to live off the interest rather than the capital. It's a perfectly reasonable proposition if your goal is to be sustainable rather than just doing the agricultural equivalent of a smash and grab. 

The second dirty little secret that nobody wants to talk about is agricultural subsidies. If subsidies were actually aimed at helping farmers to make the switch to regenerative (just a word, it doesn't need all the baggage that gets attached to it) practices, maybe they would help. In reality, the subsidies that exist ($600billion/year globally) are mostly aimed at propping up chemical/machinery makers and commodity prices. The planet and the farmers themselves are way down the list of beneficiaries. While compared with global military spending ($2120bn/yr) this may seem "minor", but imagine if these funds were spent on... education?... weaning us off carbon based energy?... world hunger?... the list of worthy candidates is long, hell, we could even reduce taxes on the poorest sections of society so that they could better afford some of this newly available and slightly more expensive food. 

If food prices realistically reflected costs, yes, it would be more expensive but then again, to make up for the lower productivity (measured in nutrition/hour of labour/unit of land) people might feel inclined to grow more of their own food and/or move out to where the food is being grown and adding their labour to the agricultural labour pool in the reasonable expectation that a new way of farming will provide more jobs and that the workers on these farms would be closer to supplies and therefore in a more secure position than someone dependent of fossil fueled supply chains complete with all the spivs that dip their fingers in the till between farm and store... sound like a commie pinko? Who'd a thunk it!

So. People care.

You show that you care about people by making right livelihood a realistic, attractive and respectable possibility.

You show that you care about people by making good food available to them.

You show that you care about people by not robbing the planet and its future generations of their birthright. 

The Long Read. update: 23-07-01

III. Fair Share

"Fair Share" or "Future Care" 

Probably the strongest attractor to Permaculture for me was Bill Mollison's third ethic of Permaculture. Fair Share. 


Since the industrialised North uses the resources of at least three earths, and much of the global South languishes in poverty, Fair Shares is an acknowledgement of this terrible imbalance between people and is a call to limit consumption (especially of natural resources) in the North.


Recently there have been moves (mostly hailing from that bastion of anti socialist-sounding anything, the U.S.) to replace this third ethic with a different one. Future Care. I beg to differ. The way I see it is that if Earth and People Care is being done right along with Fair Share, then the future is, random stuff aside, largely assured. In fact, without the concept of fair share, I don't see how we can be headed anywhere but towards an even greater dystopian future.

To me "Fair Share" is the antithesis of greed and I truly believe that greed is what is most wrong with the world we live in. Fair share doesn't mean that others get what's rightfully yours, it means that where there's a surplus, it gets shared out to those who need it. A surplus being all that's left over and above what one needs. Let's say I have a good harvest of carrots. I take what my family needs to eat, sell what is needed to cover seed, labour, farm and home upkeep costs, and if there's still a load of carrots left over, they get sent off to a local food bank or something similar. That would suit me fine. People without carrots would get a chance to eat them and no doubt whatever surplus they managed to produce would circulate around and I'd get my new pair of work boots. What I wouldn't have is 3 pairs of boots. Nobody needs 3 pairs of boots. 

Fair share would also mean that people who do the work would own the means of production and actually get the product of their labour. See why the "Future Care" idea comes from the U.S.?!

I think a society that took care of itself in this way, where all people had what they needed, would be far more motivated to produce less crap (why on earth would people bother working in a McD or in a factory that produced disposable plastic spoons or electronics with planned obsolescence built in or build crappy houses that require a second mortgage for repairs just about when the first mortgage gets paid off, and don't even get me started on the advertising industry! ... the list is endless). People would be proud to share surpluses of whatever it is that they produced once the necessities were taken care of. 

I really don't understand why anyone would object to this ethic.

There's more to write on this but the snow has stopped and I have fields to tend to. More later!

* according to Crip.

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