Below is a curated selection of study materials to help make sense of today’s social, ecological, and economic issues and environmental solutions, especially from the viewpoint of how we produce, distribute, and consume the food that we eat every day.
The content is a work in progress, assembled over the years by our hard-working volunteer team at City as Nature. It is designed to get you up to speed on some core fundamental issues within the modern capitalist society, how we grow food, why we should care, and most importantly, the solutions that can be learned from leading voices within fields of biological science, agroecology, ecological economics, and natural farming to make changes in our own lives to build social and ecological wellness in our communities and in the world.
The ‘course’ if you will, on Food, Earth, Happiness is split into nine, relatively easily digestible weeks. If you have any questions, or want to suggest additions or places where we might collaborate, feel free to contact us with those requests.
Module 1 — Modern (Industrial) Agriculture and Sustainability
A ‘prep-course’ for anyone interested in digging into the concept of “Food, Earth, Happiness.” These resources will help you get your feet wet in understanding contemporary social and ecological issues related to the food and agriculture industry.
Week 1 — Ecological Issues Related to Modern Agriculture
The Lowdown on Topsoil: It’s Disappearing — Seattle PI
Farmers and scientists on the loss of topsoil and how no-till farming can help.
Slow Soil Erosion Threatens Human Health and Welfare — Cornell Study
As a result of erosion over the past 40 years, 30 percent of the world’s arable land has become unproductive.
GMO and Seed Patents are Not the Answer — Charles Eisenstein, Guardian UK
Western-style agriculture faces a mounting crisis … calling us toward more ecological farming methods that draw from the world’s ancient agricultural traditions.
A Tale of Two Chickens — Sustainable Food Trust
A short film which illustrates how we are paying a high price for food in hidden ways.
Week 2 — The Real Costs of Cheap and Easy Food
Hidden Costs of Industrial Agriculture — Union of Concerned Scientists
From drinking water pollution and oceanic dead zones to soil and biodiversity loss, this short piece brings to light some of the environmental and social costs of industrial agriculture.
The True Cost of Cheap Food — Professor Timothy Wise, Tufts University
What does cheap food have to do with widespread hunger and ecological issues? The answer is: astoundingly more than you might think.
Suggested in-depth reading for week 2:
The True Cost of American Food (Report) – In April 2016 the Sustainable Food Trust held a landmark conference in San Francisco. More than 100 US and international speakers presented evidence to quantify and monetize the hidden costs of food production. This report summarizes the monumental conference proceedings.
Week 3 — The Missing Links in our Food System
The Dangerous Disconnect Between Economics and Ecology — Professor William Rees, University of British Colombia
How the world economy is depleting the earth’s natural resources, and why economists cling to models that make no reference whatsoever to the biophysical basis that underpins the economy.
Modern Agriculture – We Need Biodiversity — The Guardian
Crop-breeding innovations are merely a short-term solution for falling yields, say farmers and scientists. Only agricultural diversity, not biotechnology, can ensure food security and resilience.
The Story of Stuff — Annie Leonard
A movement of education and consumer action, the content here helps us understand our issues with consumption. These concepts help us understand why local, sustainable, regenerative practice must be at the root of agriculture and the production of all products.
Week 4 — Busting Myths About Industrial Agriculture
Who Will Feed us in a Planet in Crisis? — Miguel Altieri
Currently proposed “sustainable intensification” in agriculture promotes aggressive expansion of transgenic crops and agrofuels. Professor Altieri gives exmaples of “agroecology,” where farmers are taking back entire systems of growing and distribution, transforming them in ways that are far more resilient, sustainable, socially equitable, and productive.
GMO Promise Falls Short – New York Times
After decades of use and far-fetched promises, GMO seed has yet to show significantly better performance or lower chemical use than traditional seed breeding, and it certainly has not shown itself as a necessity to “feed the world,” as company spokespersons often claim.
Permaculture and the Myth of Scarcity — Charles Eisenstein
Do we ‘need’ pesticides, fertilizers, and GMO seed to feed the world, or is it possible to grow more than enough food to feed the planet through sustainable practices?
Module 2 — Social and Ecological Solutions
A progression for developing/deepening our thinking about possible answers to our most pertinent social and environmental issues, seen through a lens of respect for our food, our earth, and our happiness. The section begins with general ideas and progresses to specific applications and how the natural farming mindset can offer cures for the root causes of our issues.
Week 5 — The Issue of Scale (AKA: Small is Beautiful)
Why Local Food Won’t Destroy the Environment — Helena Norberg-Hodge / Local Futures
A short yet relatively comprehensive essay exploring the common myths perpetrated by large corporate food industry, and why locally-based solutions will allow us to feed the world while enriching the health of our environment.
Poverty, Food Production, and Globalization — Dr. Vandana Shiva
A lecture series presented by the BBC brings awareness to the realities of globalized agriculture, and offers the direction that small-scale, environment-aware farming as the only solution for our long-term survival as a species.
Small-Scale Traditional Farming Only Way to Avoid Food Crisis – United Nations / Yes Magazine
Scientific research increasingly shows how agroecology (regenerative, natural farming, permaculture) offers environmentally sustainable methods that can meet the rapidly growing demand for food.
The Case for Small Farms — Institute for Food and Development Policy
How small-scale farming is many times more efficient than industrial farming and why it might hold within it, the future of farming.
Suggested in-depth reading for week 5:
Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered — E.F. Schumacher (PDF | Print)
From an economics point of view, the story of how our economy functions without regard to humanity or the environment, and how our thinking might be moved towards an economy where people and environment are the focus.
Week 6 — Connect and Respect
Benevolent Universe — Resurgence and Ecologist, Satish Kumar
A call for a new environmental movement which looks upon the earth with benevolent eyes.
Farmers, Chefs, and Lawyers: Building an Ecology of One — Patrick M. Lydon, The Nature of Cities
Today’s best science echoes a view that many wisdom traditions and religious doctrines hold. Together, they are building new vehicles for commerce, economics, social actions and interactions that support social and environmental wellness.
Suggested in-depth reading for week 6:
Tending the Wild — M. Kat Anderson, UC Davis / U.S. Department of Agriculture
A wealth of information on native land management practices that dispels the hunter-gatherer stereotype long perpetuated in anthropological and historical literature.
Week 7 — Diversity and Healthy Biological Systems
The Lost Forest Gardens of Europe — Max Paschall, Arborist/Horticulturist, Shelterwood Forest Farm
For thousands of years, diverse ‘forest gardens’ provided food and health for both humans and the wider environment. What happened to our forest knowledge, and how do we bring it back?
Ecologists, Traditional Farmers, and Sustainable Agriculture — Miguel Altieri, UC Berkeley / United Nations FAO
Similar to ‘forest gardens’ many traditional farmers around the world have diverse and locally adapted agricultural systems that provide human and ecological benefit. This report takes a look at how today’s ecologists are learning from and applying their traditional wisdom.
Low Input Farming, Diversity is the Key — Ecologist
The future of how we grow food is in small scale, local, diverse and resilient agriculture. The opposite of where we have been heading for the past 100 years.
We Need Regenerative Farming, not Geoengineering — Charles Eisenstein, Guardian UK
There is a need for humanity to seek a a humble partnership with nature if we are to avert disasters related to a changing climate.
Health Should Govern Food Policy — BBC
How current policy is neither efficient nor delivering good human and environmental health
Module 3 — Natural Farming
The heart of Final Straw: Food, Earth, Happiness is Natural Farming. But you don’t have to be a farmer (or even an aspiring one) to appreciate and gain much from these resources. The ideas behind books like The One Straw Revolution and indeed, behind Natural Farming in general, are more of a ‘way of looking’ at life and the earth. The lessons learned here can be applied to nearly any career in the world.
Week 8 — Food, Earth, Happiness
Food, Earth, Happiness — City as Nature Films (20 min)
This abbreviated documentary film explores the lives and minds of modern day natural farmers in Japan, Korea, and the United States.
Suggested in-depth research for week 8:
Final Straw: Food, Earth, Happiness — City as Nature Films (74 min)
This is the full version of the above film. It normally requires a purchase, however if you are seriously studying this free course, we offer a limited number of educational passes. Please contact us if you’d like to apply for this.
Week 9 — Masanobu Fukuoka’s Natural Farming
Masanobu Fukuoka’s Natural Farming — Larry Korn
Excerpts from Final Straw’s interview with the American author and permaculture icon who lived with Fukuoka in Japan for two years. We talk about his time in Japan and about applying Fukuoka’s concepts, not just to farming, but to life in general.
Bhaskar Save, the Gandhi of Natural Farming — Resilience Journal
IFOAM calls him one of the most outstanding personalities in the organic world. This short article about India’s most prominent natural farmer is a good introduction to how the small, diverse, natural farm can feed the world in a sustainable way, without external inputs such as modern chemicals or fertilizers.
Committed to Natural Farming – Times of India
Suggested in-depth reading for week 9:
Sowing Seeds in the Desert — Masanobu Fukuoka
A follow up to The One Straw Revolution. This book was only recently released in English, and offers more information on healing our current crisis, and a recounting of efforts to re-vegetate desertified and over-farmed lands.
The One Straw Revolution — Masanobu Fukuoka (PDF | Print)
This Japanese farmer/philosopher is one of the fathers of the sustainable farming movement and the central figure in Natural Farming. This bestselling book offers more than a way of looking at farming, it offers a way of looking at life, Fukuoka’s words are just as applicable to artists, lawyers, and software developers as they are to farmers.
Where to Learn Natural Farming?
For natural farming learning experiences in Japan, the Akame Natural Farm school (started by Kawaguchi Yoshikazu, but now run by his former students) is a donation based organization which is generally open to the public once a month. This is a good place for long term learning. Although Kawaguchi himself is not directly involved with Akame recently, he does hold informal farm days at his personal farm in Makimuku every few months.
Most of these resources are in Japanese, and English will be limited at most of the farms:
– The Akame natural farm school website: http://iwazumi.sakura.ne.jp/
– A site recently created by a team of people working with Kawaguchi san, meant for natural farmers to learn and share information with each other: http://shizen-nou.jimdo.com/
– A list of natural farms in Japan that welcome visitors and/or have teaching components http://iwazumi.sakura.ne.jp/rinku/rinku2.htm
– Morning Dew Farm is a natural farm in Kobe that often has an English speaking assistant, and regularly visits the Kobe Farmer’s Market.
– Suhee and Patrick, directors of Final Straw: Food, Earth, Happiness are based in Osaka, Japan as of 2018, where we run an ecological art lab and urban garden called The Branch. The public are welcome to stop by during open hours http://branch.sociecity.org
Elsewhere (in English)
Larry Korn was the most well-known of instructors in the English-speaking world, having spent multiple years living on Fukuoka Masanobu’s farm in Japan, and leading the translation of the book The One Straw Revolution from Japanese to English. He taught courses on natural farming, both in the U.S. and abroad. Larry passed away in 2019, though many of his lectures and workshops are still available freely online. Here are links to a few:
- The Mind, Farm, and Life of Masanobu Fukuoka (Video / 27 min)
- Permaculture and Masanobu Fukuoka Lecture (Video / 86 min)
- Larry Korn’s Homepage