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Sunday June 23, 2013

Healthy and responsible farming

What scientists do not know is that organic products have much more vital
and healing life force than the non-organic variety. What scientists do not know is that organic products have much more vital and healing life force than the non-organic variety.

THIS is the third in the series on healthy and responsible living. Today I would like to share my experiences about the several farming practices that not only seek to provide us with nutritious foods, but also sustain the soil and the surroundings.

I am not a hands-on gardener and don’t usually get my hands dirty. I am very much an office (or clinic) guy, but I do have some interesting farming stories to tell.

Organic farming

I have always been in favour of organic farming and organic products. While the official scientific position is that organic products are not superior to ordinary products in terms of the nutritional content, there is safety in the knowledge that organic farming does not use pesticides that can harm us and the environment too.

But what scientists do not know is that organic products have much more vital and healing life force than the non-organic variety. Those of us who know about qi (life force) are not surprised with this fact, because eating fresh raw foods certainly give better, healthier outcomes than eating the same foods cooked (and Malaysians tend to overcook).

My best experience with organic farming was during my short stay in the small town of Tangchi, in Lujiang county, China. I had gone there to study Confucianism and see how it transformed the people into a loving, respectful and harmonious society. For the full story, please read Love in Lujiang (Fit4life, Nov 2, 2008).

The same principles of love, respect and sharing were also applied by a group of young teachers (of the Lujiang Chinese Cultural Education Centre, CCEC) when they miraculously transformed a “dead” piece of land into a thriving and lively organic farm. For the benefit of those who missed the story, here are some excerpts (for the full story, see Living with gratitude, Fit4life, Nov 16, 2008).

The harmonious farm

Realising that a harmonious life can come true only if we also live in harmony with nature, the CCEC teachers embarked on an experiment to do organic farming while applying the traditional loving and caring values that they have imbued themselves with.

Armed only with good hearts, dedication and a firm belief that if you do things right and well – especially with love and sincerity – then nature will respond favourably, they set out to establish the “Peace & Abundance Experimental Organic Farm” with their partners – the insects, the caterpillars, the birds, the bees, the butterflies and the animals in the area.

Imagine a group of young men and women with no prior farming experience trying to turn a barren, abandoned garbage dump site into an organic farm. The soil was bad and hardened, and absolutely nothing could grow on it. All the farmers laughed at their “silly” project.

But with confidence and determination, they toiled on the land, using traditional farming methods, avoiding artificial fertilisers, insecticides and modern machinery.

A buffalo was rented and the teachers took turns working on the farm. Soon, they proved their detractors wrong by growing a wide variety of vegetables and some fruits. Theirs were healthier and tasted much better than those produced by others.

Gratitude to nature

From the outset, it was decided that they would share the produce with the insects and animals that contribute to the success of the farm; and with their neighbours. Special plots are dedicated to the insects and animals, with signboards saying “Restaurant” prominently posted so that the insects and animals know these are especially for them.

Amazingly, these plots are more frequently visited by insects and animals compared to the plots meant for harvesting! Birds also prefer to build their nests on this farm, and they are most welcomed.

Although the farm is now thriving, all the produce is for their own consumption, and for distribution to the residents staying around the farm. It is an experiment to show that it is possible to have a farm totally in harmony with nature. And nature rewards them abundantly.

In previous articles I wrote about biodynamic farming and permaculture. This harmonious farming concept has also proven to be able to rehabilitate barren and polluted land and turn it into a productive farm. It is another agricultural practice that can help save our earth from poisoning, wastage and destruction.

Biodynamic farming

Before going to Lujiang, I had gone for a qigong, spiritual and biodynamic retreat at Tanjung Sutera Resort which is situated at the edge of Sedili, a small fishing town on the east coast of Johor.

I had shared my experience in this column. Here are some excerpts from Healing the earth (Fit4life, Sep 21, 2008).

Apart from hiking, qigong, and a walk-about in the quiet town, we spent a lot of time sharing our spiritual experiences, having fun making silly animal noises and drawing mandalas, and learning about biodynamic agriculture from (my spiritual sister) Betty Lau, who is a champion of the method, and who helped make the Tanjung Sutera Resort a pioneer of this Earth-healing agricultural practice.

Since it was a spiritual retreat, it was most appropriate that we also learned about biodynamic agriculture.

Biodynamic agriculture is a method of organic farming that goes further in that it includes a spiritual philosophy and practice of love and respect for the Earth and the environment. It is based on the anthroposophical teachings of Rudolf Steiner (1862-1925).

Anthroposophy aims to understand the spiritual world with the same certainty and clarity as the scientific understanding of the physical world. In Steiner’s own words: “Anthroposophy is a path of knowledge, to guide the spiritual in the human being to the spiritual in the universe... Anthroposophists are those who experience, as an essential need of life, certain questions on the nature of the human being and the universe, just as one experiences hunger and thirst.”

Biodynamic farming is a holistic ecological farming system, wherein the farm and everything that is involved in its existence is considered as one unified organism.

The aim is to correctly harness the interrelationships of the soil, earthworms, soil bacteria, plants, animals as well as the farmer, as a closed, self-supporting system. It relies on manure and composts, and excludes the use of artificial chemicals.

It also uses “homeopathic medicines” for the soil, in the form of fermented herbal and mineral preparations as additives and field sprays. Although its effectiveness is controversial, I support anything that is holistic in approach.

I don’t have green fingers, and I don’t usually get my feet soiled, but watching the inspiring documentary One Man, One Cow, One Planet, which was about how New Zealander Peter Proctor helped rehabilitate large farms in India into productive, efficient biodynamic farms using the abundant cow dung, convinced me that I should at least help spread the message.

This is one effective way to help heal planet Earth.

We spent one afternoon getting dirty stirring the cow dung-based special remedial solution to help invigorate the soil at the resort. We planted several trees to start the biodynamic revolution there.

The Starseed Solar Village

It has been five years since then, and Kak Betty wants to establish a proper eco-village based on biodynamic principles, and involving the community in the area. The Starseed Solar Village is about returning to living in harmony with nature, based on a profound understanding that we are one with nature.

This adik of hers has been recruited into this wonderful altruistic project too.

The homes, structures and infra-structures within the eco-village will be designed based on natural principles incorporating maximum use of natural materials and resources, energy-efficient designs, and sustainable food production, utilisation and disposal.

Solar energy will be tapped, while the bio-diversity of local plants and farm animals will be preserved and nurtured.

The villagers will be invited to work on the farms, to learn and produce traditional items and foodstuff through cottage industry initiatives, and also to learn and practise the eco-sustainable principles in their own homes. Vegetarianism will be promoted (or healthy semi-vegetarian diets), especially the revival of ulam and local veggies.

All the food will be natural, unprocessed and chemical-free. People from the cities can come over for detox, de-stress and rejuvenation retreats amidst the natural, cooling and calming environment.

This eco-village is envisaged to become an example of a sustainable community with fresh air, pure water and fertile earth that can maximally and sustainably harness human potential and available resources.

Once the eco-village is thriving, then we can even start helping other villages become eco-friendly and sustainable, and also initiate re-forestation efforts of the surrounding areas, together with other like-minded people and organisations.

In the next installment, I will share my experiences with Permaculture, Homa agriculture and related practices. In the meantime, I leave you with this quote that embodies the eco-warriors’ battle cry:

“Our goal is a delightfully diverse, safe, healthy and just world, with clean air, water, soil and power – economically, equitably, ecologically and elegantly enjoyed.” – Bill McDonough.

Dr Amir Farid Isahak is a medical specialist who practises holistic, aesthetic and anti-ageing medicine. He is a qigong master and founder of SuperQigong. For further information, e-mail starhealth@thestar.com.my. The views expressed are those of the writer and readers are advised to always consult expert advice before undertaking any changes to their lifestyles. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

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