Farming and Gardening for Health or Disease
(The Soil and Health)

by Sir Albert Howard C.I.E., M.A.

Part IV
Conclusions and Suggestions

Chapter 15
A Final Survey

The natural reaction to failure is to think again. Perhaps the best known and most vividly expressed example of the ruin which results from choosing the wrong road is that of the Prodigal Son. To-day the realization that there must be something very much amiss somewhere with a civilization which has led us, within twenty years or so, into a second and greater world war, to win which we must pour out all our resources, has produced plan after plan to guide our progress in the future into the paths of sanity and common sense. We are living in an age of planning, in other words in a phase of acute contrition for the blunders of the past.

Why has civilization proved such a disastrous failure? The answer is simple. Our industries, our trade, and our way of life generally have been based first on the exploitation of the earth's surface and then on the oppression of one another -- on banditry pure and simple. The inevitable result is now upon us. The unsuccessful bandits are trying to despoil their more successful competitors. The world is divided into two hostile camps: at the root of this vast conflict lies the evil of spoliation which has destroyed the moral integrity of our generation. While this contest marches to its inevitable conclusion, it will not be amiss to draw attention to a forgotten factor which may perhaps help to restore peace and harmony to a tortured world. We must in our future planning pay great attention to food -- the product of sun, soil, plant, and livestock -- in other words, to farming and gardening.

What is the place of farming and gardening in human affairs? We can best answer this question if we bear in mind what are the essentials needed by mankind. They are five in number and in order of importance they are: air, water, food, warmth, and shelter. Without a supply of air life lasts but a few minutes; without water only a few days; without food it is only possible for the human body to exist on compensation for a few weeks. We can, to a large extent, control the warmth factor by making the fullest use of our own animal heat. The question of shelter, often described as the housing problem and to which most attention is now being paid by the planners, is the least important of the Big Five, which must always be at the basis of all our future schemes.

Our food is produced for the most part by farmers and gardeners. It has been sadly neglected in the past, as will be clear to anyone who studies this book and its many implications. The essential things about food are three: (1) it must be grown in fertile soil, that is to say in soil well supplied with freshly prepared, high quality humus; (2) it must be fresh; (3) its cost must be stabilized in such a manner as to put an end to the constant fluctuations and steady rise in prices. All these things are possible once we increase the efficiency of the earth's green carpet -- the machinery furnished by Nature for producing food. The sun provides the energy for running this mechanism, so our power problem has been solved for us. The sole food producing machine is the green leaf. This, again, is the gift of Providence. Mankind can increase the efficiency and output of this green carpet at least threefold by (1) the restoration and maintenance of the fertility of the soil on which it rests and (2) by providing varieties of crops which make the most of the sun's rays and the improved soil conditions. The former can be achieved by converting into humus the vast stores of vegetable and animal residues now largely running to waste: the latter by modern plant-breeding methods. Once we do this, all goes well. The roots are provided with a favourable climate and ample living space. The yield and quality of the produce go up by leaps and bounds: the danger of any shortage of food in the world disappears: the problem of price regulation is automatically solved.

How can the increased efficiency of the green carpet help in stabilizing prices? In a very simple way. Every article we purchase, every amenity we enjoy -- such as those connected with defence, transport, the heating and lighting of buildings, the various services connected with news and so forth -- all depend on food, because the multitudes of men and women who provide these things for us do not grow their own nutriment: it is grown for them: it is even brought to their tables: all this has to be paid for. The cost of food, therefore, enters not only into what we ourselves consume, but into everything we enjoy individually or in common. Once this food is as abundant as possible, we obviously reduce its cost. The efficiency of the earth's green carpet is, therefore, a fundamental question. Any discussions about price regulation, tariffs, exports and imports, gold standards, and so forth can only be superficial unless they go down to the foundations of our world -- the smooth working of the green carpet which manufactures the food, on the cost of which all other prices must depend. There is no other foundation for these discussions on economics. It follows, therefore, that we must take careful note of the basic principles underlying our food supplies. Once these are as abundant as Nature intended they should be, they will be as cheap as it is possible to make them. The regulation and stabilization of future prices then follows. After that, all we have to see to is to prevent anybody or any nation trying to interfere with the free interchange of the direct and indirect products of solar energy from one part of the world to another, because the various regions of this planet differ greatly in the materials they can best provide. Our supplies of sugar, for example, can most cheaply be obtained from the sugar-cane, a tropical or sub-tropical crop: our clothing should come not from processed wood, but from the wool of sheep, an animal which thrives best in rather dry, temperate regions. Our future trading arrangements must, therefore, be based on two things: (1) the full utilization of the sun, and (2) the free interchange of the products of sunlight.

We can check our food production methods by means of Nature's censors -- the diseases of crops and livestock. Provided we prepare the soil for its manurial rights by suitable cultivation and subsoiling, and then faithfully comply with Nature's great law of return by seeing to it that all available vegetable, animal, and human wastes are converted into humus in suitable heaps or pits outside the land or in the soil itself by the processes of sheet-composting, we shall soon find that many striking things will begin to happen. The yield and quality will rapidly improve: the crops will be able to resist the onslaughts of parasites: well-being and contentment, as well as the power to vanquish disease, will be passed on to the livestock which consume them: the varieties of crops cultivated will not run out, but will preserve their power of reproduction for a very long time.

The objection to composting on the average farm or market garden on the score of the dearness and scarcity of labour is being removed by the mechanization of the manure heap. Several machines have already been devised which will assemble the compost heaps, turn them, and load the finished humus on to suitable manure distributors. With the help of one of these machines the cost per ton has already been reduced to less than a quarter. This suggests that mechanized organic farming and gardening is certain to prove much cheaper than the methods now in use, where the manurial rights of the soil and of the crop are being largely evaded by substitutes in the shape of artificial manures. Large-scale results coming in a growing torrent from all over the world show that the ephemeral methods of manuring, by means of chemicals and the resulting survival of the weakly plant bolstered up by poison sprays, are bound to be swept into the oblivion which they merit.

The disciples of Rothamsted, which include the Ministry of Agriculture, the experiment stations, and the agricultural colleges, have combined forces with the vested interests concerned with the production and sale of chemical manures and protective poisons for the crop to deflect the onward march of organic farming and gardening. The war in the soil is now in full swing. The first battle has just come to an end in South Africa: it lasted some ten years: it has ended by the conversion of South Africa to humus: the protagonists of chemical manures have taken the count. Two factors which have contributed to this result must be mentioned: (1) the spate of ridicule and abuse which the representatives of chemical farming first poured on humus, and (2) the failure of the artificial manure interests to take up land alongside the pioneers of organic farming and show the country what their wares could accomplish. They unconsciously gave organic farming an excellent advertisement: they had no stomach for the real fight because they feared that the verdict of Mother Earth on their pretensions would be adverse. In Great Britain the same fatal blunders are being made: abusive articles in the press are being relied on rather than a fight to a finish on the land itself.

The power to resist diseases, which organic farming and gardening confer on the plant and on the animal, is duly passed on to mankind. The evidence in favour of this view is rapidly growing. When examples without end are available, showing how most of the malnutrition, indisposition, and actual disease from which the population now suffers can be replaced by robust health by merely living on the fresh produce of fertile soil, it will be a simple matter in any democratic country for the people to insist on their birthright -- fresh food from fertile soil -- for themselves and for their children. The various bodies which now stand in the way of progress will be rapidly eliminated once their interests come in conflict with those of the electorate.

There appears to be a simple principle which underlies the vast accumulation of disease which now afflicts the world. This principle operates in the soil, the crop, the animal, and ourselves. The power of all these four to resist disease appears to be bound up with the circulation of properly synthesized protein in Nature. The proteins are the agencies which confer immunity on plant, animal, and man. We must, therefore, first study the nitrogen cycle between soil and crop, and then see to it that the green leaf can build up proteins of the right type. Then there will be little disease in soil or crop or livestock, and the foundations of the preventive medicine of to-morrow will be laid. Properly synthesized vegetable protein will confer on the animal and then on mankind the power to overcome infection and to reduce disease to what in the future is certain to be its normal insignificance. We shall then discover that the present vast and expensive fabric of social services has been built on the basis of malnutrition and inefficiency. Their foundations will have to be recast to suit a population in good health. The reformed services will obviously cost much less than they do now. A new system of preventive medicine and of medical training will at the same time arise. The physician of to-morrow will study mankind in relation to his environment, will prevent disease at the source, and will cease to confine himself to the temporary alleviation of the miseries resulting from malnutrition.

One of the great tasks before the world has been outlined in this book. It is to found our civilization on a fresh basis -- on the full utilization of the earth's green carpet. This will provide the food we need: it will prevent much present-day disease at the source and at the same time confer robust health and contentment on the population: it will do much to put an end automatically to the remnants of this age of banditry now coming to a disastrous close. Does mankind possess the understanding to grasp the possibilities which this simple truth unfolds? If it does and if it has the audacity and the courage to tread the new road, then civilization will take a step forward and the Solar Age will replace this era of rapacity which is already entering into its twilight.

Next: Appendix A. Progress Made on a Tea Estate in North Bengal

Back to Contents

To Albert Howard review and index

Back to Small Farms Library index

Community development | Rural development
City farms | Organic gardening | Composting | Small farms | Biofuel | Solar box cookers
Trees, soil and water | Seeds of the world | Appropriate technology | Project vehicles

Home | What people are saying about us | About Handmade Projects 
Projects | Internet | Schools projects | Sitemap | Site Search | Donations | Contact us