These nine classics chronicle the rise of sustainable agriculture in the 20th century from a fringe idea to mainstream success.
Today, we take for granted that growing food in harmony with nature is how it should be done. But these early tomes on sustainable farming and gardening, written as much to inspire as to inform, were revolutionary in their time. Perhaps the most impressive thing about them is how much they continue to resonate.
Farmers of Forty Centuries: Organic Farming in China, Korea and Japan
By F.H. King
In one of the earliest efforts to call out the perils of the plow, which was deemed to be a miraculous implement at the time, an American soil scientist travels to Asia to chronicle agricultural systems that have remained productive for millennia without tillage.
- Five Acres and Independence
By Maurice G. Kains
Author Maurice G. Kains went back to the land at a time when people were leaving it in droves, and his practical hands-on guide to everything from digging root cellars to raising bees is still in demand — and in print — today.
- An Agricultural Testament
By Albert Howard
Written by a British chap who spent much of his adult life in India, this book arguably launched the modern organic agriculture movement. While Howard’s name is on the title, it is widely believed that his first wife, Gabrielle, and second wife, Louise (Gabrielle’s sister, whom he married after her death), contributed significantly to the book.
- The Living Soil
By Lady Eve Balfour
Few women in the early organic movement received the name recognition of their male peers. Lady Eve Balfour, who cofounded the Soil Association, Britain’s national organic agriculture organization, was a notable exception.
- Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening
By J.I. Rodale
One of Rodale Institute’s earliest publications, this A-to-Z classic has been revised and updated continuously since becoming the bible of early hippie gardeners in the ’60s. But the old-school versions are more entertaining to read — and the advice has changed surprisingly little.
- Silent Spring
By Rachel Carson
This American classic says little to nothing about how to farm but everything about how not to. One cannot help but wonder if the organic movement would have taken root without it.
- The One-Straw Revolution: An Introduction to Natural Farming
By Masanobu Fukuoka
Japanese farmer and philosopher Masanobu Fukuoka devised a modern version of the way his Japanese ancestors farmed: a Zen-like, “do nothing” approach, as he called it, where the forces of nature are gently nudged into an agriculturally productive form.
- Permaculture: A Designers’ Manual
By Bill Mollison
A contraction of the words “permanent” and “agriculture” (also found in the title of American soil scientist F.H. King’s 1911 book), Permaculture encourages the idea of truly sustainable — in other words, permanently productive — agriculture.
- Forest Gardening: Cultivating an Edible Landscape
By Robert Hart
In this instant classic, Robert Hart, a British horticulturalist with the poetic sensibilities of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, brings permaculture concepts to life on his 10-acre plot, where he attempts to realize the Hippocrates maxim “Let food be they medicine and medicine be thy food.”
Rudolf Steiner’s lectures on agriculture from 1924, which gave indications for what would become known as biodynamic agriculture, are sadly not included here. This method goes far beyond what is embodied by the modern organic movement and needs to be known and practiced more extensively. It is a real pity that it is overlooked here.
Thank you. This is great forage for our farm library expansion :))
Another book in this category might be Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture by Joseph Russell Smith published 1929.