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Sustainable farming pioneer remembered

Noted author and sustainable farming pioneer Larry Korn of Ashland is being remembered as a loving friend “who helped us return to our roots to rediscover the sustainable and ecological way of farming.” He died Nov. 19 in Ashland. He was 71.

Korn made his mark on the “natural farming” scene with publication in 1978 by Rodale Press of “The One-Straw Revolution,” a translation of the agricultural and spiritual teachings of farmer-philosopher Masanobu Fukuoka, developer of no-till farming. Korn studied under him for two years, living in a simple mud-lined hut in Japan.

In the New York Times Review of Books, the book was tagged “Zen and the Art of Farming,” adding it is “a manifesto about farming, eating and the limits of human knowledge, presenting a radical challenge to the global systems we rely on for our food.”

Korn earned degrees in soil science and plant nutrition at University of California in Berkeley, then worked with California Department of Forestry analyzing soil erosion as part of a statewide study of logging practices. He edited the 1982 Tilth book “The Future is Abundant: a Guide to Sustainable Agriculture,” about applying permaculture and natural farming in the Pacific Northwest. He also translated his master’s book “Sowing Seeds in the Desert.”

For 20 years, Korn incorporated these principles in his Bay Area business, Mu. He taught permaculture throughout the U.S. and wrote articles for Mother Earth News, Organic Gardening and other publications. He moved to Ashland in 2008.

His 2015 book, “One-Straw Revolutionary,” was from his own heart (not a translation) and, according to publisher Chelsea Green, “is the first book to look deeply at natural farming and intimately discuss the philosophy of Fukuoka. Korn points out natural farming’s kinship with ways of indigenous cultures (and) explains how natural farming can be used (for) personal growth and development.”

On onestrawrevolution.net, Korn noted that, over 65 years his master “worked to develop a system of natural farming that demonstrated the insight he was given as a young man, believing that it could be of great benefit to the world. He did not plow his fields, used no agricultural chemicals or prepared fertilizers, did not flood his rice fields as farmers have done in Asia for centuries, and yet his yields equaled or surpassed the most productive farms in Japan.” Fukuoka died in 2008 at age 95.

His daughter, Lia Korn, 29, an occupational therapist in Denver, traveled with Korn to Ireland to see farmers using his and Fukuoka’s farming philosophies in action — and last spring, took a similar journey to the Micronesian islands. With Mary Reynolds, in Ireland, he co-authored “The Garden Awakening.”

“It was never about him,” Lia Korn said, in an interview. “He redirected people to the method. If we get away from nature and think we have to fix nature, it’s going to be trouble, and that’s where humanity is now. He was before his time. He was brave enough to follow his heart and go to Japan with just a little backpack, no money and no plans, and found his calling in life. He taught a lot of people to live that way and follow their dreams.”

Lisa Pavati of Ashland said Korn was “a friend, mentor, hero and teacher with his ‘Sustainable Living Guide,’ (also known as “The Little Green Book”). His deep wisdom took root and grew through the sustainability and regenerative agriculture movement. He taught how we can support the Earth, rather than try to control and exploit it. He taught us awareness that we are part of nature, not separate from it or entitled to it.”

Natural farming, noted Pavati, “is a way of seeing the world and even our own selves, with our limitless intuition rather than with our very limited intellect.”

It leaves plowing and chemicals behind, so the soil structure and organisms are preserved and nourished. Usually, it uses permanent ground cover, including trees, and diversity of seeds, she adds, “so that nature can guide the choices of what grows where.”

In a Facebook tribute, friend Daniel Sperry of Ashland noted Korn “seemed to be unstoppable, in a gentle, extremely intelligent, always humorous way. His love of life was sweet and deep and infectious. I never met anyone as full-out as this little Yoda-looking guy who always had a mischievous smile and some plan to make the world better — one that he actually was in the process of making come true. He helped us return to our roots to rediscover the sustainable and ecological way of farming.”

Sustainable farmer Chris Hardy of Ashland, a leader of the GMO ban campaign, called Korn “one of the genuinely kindest, sweetest people I’ve ever known, passionate about loving Earth and doing things in ways that align with what brings more life to the planet. He brought us Fukuoka, one of the great leaders in the no-till, small-scale farming movement in the world. He taught us that when you stick machinery into a farm, you harm a lot of life. He taught us to observe how nature behaves and let that be our guiding principle, instead of what man thinks he knows.”

Korn, a Los Angeles native, wrote, “Once we enter into nature and participate from the inside, instead of as a visitor from the outside then we will intuitively know how to make a living in the world, how to feed ourselves and give ourselves shelter in a way which also allows other forms of life to live.”

A memorial for Korn is slated for Jan. 11, at a location to be announced. A film about Fukuoka, “Final Straw: Food, Earth, Happiness,” can be seen at www.finalstraw.org/masanobu-fukuoka-and-natural-farming/.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Larry Korn