Episode 261. Seymour, Fukuoka, Mollison and MacKenzie

This is The ChangeUnderground for the 21st of June 2021.

I’m your host, Jon Moore

Decarbonise the Air, Recarbonise the Soil!

This week I’m taking a look back at my literary mentors in the smallholding/horticulture field. 

John Seymour

It turned out I finally managed to get to the library to ask about self sufficiency books the day after “The Good Life” first aired on Australian TV back in 1977. I hadn’t heard of it, let alone watched it but the librarian alerted me to it. A romanticised version of backyard self sufficiency but with some useful ideas.

She did, though, point me towards John Seymour’s “Complete Book of Self Sufficiency”. This particular work has been through a few editions. I much prefer the earlier to the later ones. The earlier editions are broken into logical units. Food from fields, gardens, animals, the wild and so on. The new editions have rearranged these areas into a less obvious and, I think, less useful structure.

Now Seymour fits into a continuum stretching from antiquity to the post WW2 back to the land movements to contemporary regenerative efforts. In the US Rodale is probably the closest thing to Seymour. I find Rodale’s work contains a little much “flimflammery” for me but I concede the Rodale Institute has done and continues to do much good research and development in the Organic and Sustainable fields. The Rodale style can best be explained by his passing. As a guest of the Dick Cavett Show on the 8th of June 1971 where he claimed organic food was so good for people and that was all he ate and he was planning to live to 100. Later in the program he keeled over dead from a heart attack. Not exactly the best advertisement. 

Seymour promoted his work through words mostly and very well written words at that. Whilst he falls onto the continuum mentioned before, he was solidly into the double dug gardens and mouldboard plough school of thinking. These are but technologies and have been replaced without altering his overall message. That message as I find it in his work is: Study Nature, follow nature and look to the past for examples of farming systems that work, The High Farming of the 18th Century was his choice. On that High Farming he did say it was not directly translatable to his time as it was unlikely people would be happy to live on beef, bread and beer alone. He does point out that people used to live quite well on this combination but conceded its time had passed. If you can get hold of a copy, or have one yourself, I’d re-read the section on the web of life at the very beginning of “The Complete Book of Self Sufficiency” It is one of the best examples of what we are trying to mimic in our systems.

Masanobu Fukuoka

1981/2 were years of health issues for me. Following a series of increasingly invasive medical procedures which revealed… nothing, I ended up undergoing hypnotherapy. This, from the start, was obviously a variation on meditation. I wandered down Zen meditation rabbit holes and through this minimal introduction to Japanese thought processes, I discovered a little monograph on a second hand table: The “One Straw Revolution”. I had found my second mentor: Masanobu Fukuoka. 

Fukuoka takes working with Nature to a deeper level. I set up my first Fukuoka grain patch but we moved house before the barley ripened. Life intervened until this Autumn when I managed to set up a few large gardens to try again. The grain gardens are but the most obvious example of Fukuoka thinking and as such seem to be the essence of the system but there are so many more layers to his philosophy. “What less can I do?” and “Do nothing farming” are perhaps the greater lessons from his work. These he reached from the point of remembering farmers in his childhood spending the winter hunting rabbits and writing poetry. When he returned from his academic studies he saw those same farmers or their children working 12 months a year and getting poorer by the year.

The main thing I gleaned from Seymour and Fukuoka was, at a time I had commenced studying archaeology, was that we had gone astray, we needed to dig back into the ways things were done and then move onwards from there.

Enter Bill Mollison!

The key message I received from Permaculture and from Bill was a quote in a video entitled: “In Grave Danger of Falling Food”. Paraphrasing: 

“It’s great that people are trying to stop the destruction going on around us but the biggest challenge is rejuvenating what’s already been damaged.”

I was also chuffed to see Permaculture had discovered Fukuoka too. I remember reading somewhere that Fukuoka grain growing was the only way to grow grain that wasn’t a soil health disaster.

The other step forward was Bill’s consumption/production quote:

“The greatest change we need to make is from consumption to production, even if on a small scale, in our own gardens. If only 10% of us do this, there is enough for everyone. Hence the futility of revolutionaries who have no gardens, who depend on the very system they attack, and who produce words and bullets, not food and shelter.”

I’m certain this still holds true.

David MacKenzie

Seymour, Fukuoka and Mollison I’ve referenced before. MacKenzie might be a new name to you. David MacKenzie wrote the seminal work on dairy goats for temperate climates. His major work: Goat Husbandry has been revised and “updated” as they say. Having read both the original and the newer version, I’d look for the original. There are more breeds covered in the newer editions but you can learn about those on Wikipedia or YouTube so that extra info is of little benefit. The original version has MacKenzie’s voice, clear and true.

Reading this book in 1988, after the other three mentors, meant I read it through the eye of biomimicry. From the basics of goat husbandry, to where feeding had gone wrong to individual case studies, MacKenzie walks the reader through the possibilities of goat husbandry. Truly productive animals with the intelligence of dogs, at least, they are full of personality. They do have their drawbacks. Fencing is the number one issue with keeping goats. Once you’ve got that fixed, know that it isn’t and remain vigilant, the rewards are remarkable.

If you’d like to start your gardening adventure and life time of astonishing insights go to the website: https://worldorganicnews.com/freeebook/ and you can obtain a free copy of the eBook outlining The ChangeUnderground No-Dig Gardening System.

If you have any questions, thoughts or suggestions, I opened a Facebook group. I’ve called it, imaginatively, ChangeUnderground Podcast Group. You can search on the Book of Faces or there’s a link in the show notes and in the transcript over at WorldOrganicNews.com/episode261. 

Following the crash a month or so ago, I’m slowly adding the transcripts for the back catalog so thank you for your patience.

Decarbonise the air and Recarbonise the soil.

Thank you all for listening and I’ll be back next week.




The ChangeUnderground Academy No-Dig Gardening Course:


FREE eBook: https://worldorganicnews.com/freeebook/

email: jon@worldorganicnews.com


Bubugo Conservation Trust



John Seymour


Masanobu Fukuoka


Bill Mollison


In Grave Danger of Falling Food





David MacKenzie


The Good Life


J.I. Rodale


Episode 261. Seymour, Fukuoka, Mollison and MacKenzie

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