Sir Albert Howard (1873-1947) is the father of organic farming. He worked as a scientist in India, being Director of the Institute of Plant Industry, Indore and Agricultural Adviser to States in Central India and Rajputana. During his service he thought out his philosophy of organic farming, which he expressed in books such as “An Agricultural Testament” (2010; first published 1940) and “The Soil and Health: A Study of Organic Agriculture” (2006; first published 1947). Howard directly influenced many contemporary critics of Big Agri such as Wendell Berry, who contributed an Introduction to the 2006 edition of “Soil and Health”.
Howard rejected the mechanistic agriculture which flourished after WWII, not only because of its use of toxic chemicals but primarily he believed farming should eschew specialised monocrops and embrace an ecological and holistic point of view, of “nature’s farming”.
In “An Agricultural Testament” he said: “The main characteristic of Nature’s Farming can … be summed yup in a few words. Mother earth never attempts to farm without livestock; she always raises mixed crops; great pains are taken to preserve the soil and to prevent erosion; the mixed vegetable and animal wastes are converted into humus; there is no waste; the processes of growth and processes of decay balance one another; ample provision is made to maintain large reserves of fertility; the greatest care is taken to store rainfall; both plants and animals are left to protect themselves against disease.”
Nature’s farming strives to preserve a large reserve of fertility in the soil, especially in the upper levels of the soil with humus. However, the nutrient-rich humus does not sit idle in the soil, but is mingled by animal activity such as earthworms and insects. As for pests, Howard believed that if one did not farm monocultures, vast food reserves for pests, then plants could protect themselves from pests. Sure, some produce will be eaten, but in general Nature adopts a live and let live attitudes and plants will survive. A few blemishes on produce, the odd bug here and there, should not matter. Simply ccut off the bad bitand put it back in the soil.
All of this is well known to us today, having the benefit of Sir Albert Howard’s thought. Less known though is the philosophy of human health following from Nature’s farming. As man was part of the web of life, he argued that a healthy soil, rich in micro-life, will in turn produce healthy vibrant plants which when consumed by man and animals, will transfer this vital essence of life.
Thus, Sir Albert Howard was also an innovator in the alternative health movement, because the same criticisms applied to agriculture against Big Agri also applied to medicine and Big Pharma, all of which regarded life as fully explicable by physics and chemistry. As he said in “An Agricultural Testament”: “The growing of crops and the raising of livestock belong to biology, a domain where everything is alive and which is poles asunder from chemistry and physics. Many of the things that matter on the land, such as soil fertility, tilth, soil management, the quality of produce, the bloom and health of animals, the general management of live stock, the working relations between master and man, the espirit de corps (body of the spirit shared community) of the farm as a whole, cannot be weighed or measured. Nevertheless their presence is everything: their absence spells failure.”
Sir Albert Howard’s philosophical holism was far ahead of his time and ahead of the research direction of our universities. Indeed, these institutions are arguably heading in the opposite direction. As Wendell Berry notes in his Introduction to “Soil and Health”, the universities are not based on the ideal of respect for life and serving the population who pay for them from their taxes. As I see it, the existing universities are organised around the ideal of money-making and the grubby practices of capitalism, only giving lip-service to higher ideals, and those ideals in any case (such as “diversity”) only serve to harm and demographically displace locals. Consequently, in an ecologically sustainable society, the universities, end even agricultural colleges and schools, need to be replaced by organisations based upon the ideal of health in man and nature as an ecological goal, rather than the present diseased concepts of money, markets and mass-production.