Sir Albert Howard was the founder of the organic farming movement. He worked for 25 years as an agricultural investigator in India, first as Agricultural Adviser to States in Central India and Rajputana, then as Director of the Institute of Plant Industry at Indore, where he developed the famed Indore composting process, which put the ancient art of composting on a firm scientific basis.
Howard was a brilliant development worker. Early in his career he abandoned the restrictions of conventional agricultural science with its increasing overspecialization -- "learning more and more about less and less" -- and set out to learn how to grow a healthy crop in typical conditions in the field, rather than the usual untypical conditions in laboratories and test-plots that represented nothing other than themselves.
He adopted the best teachers: Nature -- "the supreme farmer", India's peasants (whom he regarded as his prime "customers"), and the pests and weeds the scientists were committed to fighting with an ever-widening array of poisons, but which Howard called his "Professors of Agriculture". He saw pests in the context of Nature's use for them as censors of soil fertility levels and unsuitable crops growing in unsuitable conditions. He found that when the unsuitable conditions were corrected the pests departed. His crops were virtually immune to pest attack, and so was his livestock.
Journey to Forever founder-member Keith Addison says of Howard: "My first serious encounter with organics was as a journalist, in the context of Third World rural development work. I was investigating an ongoing famine in the sugar-growing areas of the Philippines and discovered a group there working on organics projects as a solution, and having some success.
"They realized they more or less had to educate me so I could understand what they were trying to do. It's a big subject and I was trying to get to the core of it. One of them went off and came back with some photocopies.
"'Read this,' he said. 'It's all here, it'll tell you everything you need to know.' I glanced at it: 20 pages, the introduction to a book called 'An Agricultural Testament' -- which seemed to me a bit of an arrogant title. And I was a bit sceptical that just an introduction could encapsulate all these spreading complexities.
"But he was right, it did tell me everything I needed to know, it's a brilliant summary of the subject. Of course I wasn't satisfied with that and got hold of the book itself as soon as I could. And found that the title isn't arrogant, it fully lives up to its claim.
"I'll never finish reading this book -- I've read it through three times and referred to it scores of times, and each time I learn something new. Meanwhile I've read Howard's other books, and a lot of his papers and essays, and a great deal besides. I've talked to many other people, seen many other organics projects, farms and gardens in many different areas; I've used these techniques myself in a variety of settings, and it all confirms Howard's thesis.
"I still see it mostly in the Third World development context. To me organic farming is THE basic appropriate technology for rural areas. It's the best place to start -- get this right and so many of the other problems will simply vanish."
Introduction to "An Agricultural Testament" -- full text online at Journey to Forever.
The Manufacture of Humus from the Wastes of the Town and the Village -- "An Agricultural Testament", by Sir Albert Howard, 1940, Oxford University Press, Appendix C, full text online at the Journey to Forever Small Farms Library..
An Agricultural Testament by Sir Albert Howard, Oxford University Press, 1940.
This is the book that started the organic farming and gardening revolution, the result of Howard's 25 years of research at Indore in India. The essence of organics is brilliantly encapsulated in the Introduction, which begins: "The maintenance of the fertility of the soil is the first condition of any permanent system of agriculture." Read on! Full explanation of the Indore composting process and its application. Excellent on the relationship between soil, food and health. Full text online at the Journey to Forever Small Farms Library.
The Waste Products of Agriculture -- Their Utilization as Humus by Albert Howard and Yeshwant D. Wad, Oxford University Press, London, 1931
Where Howard's An Agricultural Testament charts a new path for sustainable agriculture, this previous book describes how the Indore composting system which was the foundation of the new movement was developed, and why. Howard's most important scientific publication. Full text online at the Journey to Forever Small Farms Library.
Farming and Gardening for Health or Disease (The Soil and Health) by Sir Albert Howard, Faber and Faber, London, 1945, Devin-Adair 1947, Schocken 1972
This is Howard's follow-up to An Agricultural Testament, extending its themes and serving as a guide to the new organic farming movement as it unfolded -- and encountered opposition from the chemical farming lobby and the type of agricultural scientists Howard referred to as "laboratory hermits". Together, the two books provide a clear understanding of what health is and how it works. Full text online at the Journey to Forever Small Farms Library.
Sir Albert Howard in India by Louise E. Howard, Faber & Faber, London, 1953, Rodale 1954
Albert and Gabrielle Howard worked as fellow plant scientists and fellow Imperial Economic Botanists to the Government of India for 25 years, and this is a study of their work by Sir Albert's second wife Louise (sister of Gabrielle, who died in 1930). It's a classic study of effective Third World development work. Initially involved with improving crop varieties, the pair soon concluded it was futile to fiddle with seeds unless the work took full account of the system and circumstances as a whole. Thus developed a sustained interest in putting agricultural research into its right relation with the needs of the people, and a fundamental belief in peasant wisdom. Results were useful only if they could be translated into peasant practice. This led to the development of the famous Indore system of composting organic wastes: improved seeds were no use in impoverished soils. It's a great story. Full text online at the Journey to Forever Small Farms Library.
The Earth's Green Carpet by Louise E. Howard, 1947, Faber & Faber, London
In this unusually clear book, Lady Howard (Sir Albert Howard's wife), has written a "layman's introduction" which is also a work of literary distinction. Her subject is nothing less than the life cycle studied as a whole, and this leads inevitably to the importance of a reformed agriculture for the health of the community. She saw the need for a popular introduction to her husband's revolutionary ideas and principles, and her book draws a vivid picture of what lies behind the appearance of the Earth's green carpet. "Nature is not concerned to give us simple lessons," Lady Howard says -- and yet she transmits them here with admirable simplicity and clarity, a delight to read. More than an introduction, the book is a survey of the whole body of work of the pioneers of organic farming and growing. Full text online at at the Journey to Forever Small Farms Library.
Sir Albert Howard Memorial Issue, Organic Gardening Magazine (Vol. 13, No. 8), September, 1948. Howard died in England in October 1947 at the age of 74. Most of this issue of J.I. Rodale's Organic Gardening Magazine was devoted to his memorial. Five of the 15 papers in the issue are here presented in full (with thanks to Steve Solomon of the Soil and Health Library), including papers by Louise Howard, Ehrenfried Pfeiffer and Yeshwant D. Wad.
Howard on Earthworms -- Howard's Introduction to "The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms with Observations on their Habits" by Charles Darwin, Faber and Faber edition, London, 1945 -- 4,500-word article on worms and why they matter, also covers George Sheffield Oliver's work with earthworms in agriculture.
"The Formation of Vegetable Mould", full text online at the Soil and Health Library:
"Friend Earthworm: Practical Application of a Lifetime Study of Habits of the Most Important Animal in the World" by George Sheffield Oliver, 1941, full text online at Journey to Forever.
Howard on wholism -- Howard's Introduction to J.I. Rodale's "Pay Dirt -- Farming & Gardening with Composts" (Devin-Adair, 1946): "Everywhere knowledge increases at the expense of understanding. The remedy is to look at the whole field covered by crop production, animal husbandry, food, nutrition, and health as one related subject and then to realize the great principle that the birthright of every crop, every animal, and every human being is health."
Nutrition & Soil Fertility -- Howard's speech in support of the Cheshire doctors' "Medical Testament" when it was presented in 1939. From Supplement to "The New English Weekly," April 6th, 1939. Full text online.
Soil Fertility and Health by Sir Albert Howard -- From "Feeding the Family in War-time, Based on the New Knowledge of Nutrition" by Doris Grant, Harrap, London, 1942. A short and elegant exposition of the core concern of the Cheshire doctors' "Medical Testament".
Correspondence in the British Medical Journal -- Publication of the "Medical Testament" in the British Medical Journal drew some heated debate among readers in subsequent issues. This is a letter from Howard.
Soil Fertility: the Farm's Capital -- comments by Howard in discussion on a paper presented to the Farmers' Club by Sir Bernard Greenwell, "Journal of Farmers' Club," February, 1939, p. 9.
Quality of plant and animal products -- Sir Albert Howard: "Manufacture of Humus from the Wastes of the Town and Village": Lect. London Sch. Hygiene and Trop. Med. 17 June, 1937. Extract.
Humus and Disease Resistance -- Sir Albert Howard: "Insects and Fungi in Agriculture." Vol XV. No. 3. "Empire Cotton Growing Review." July, 1938. Extract -- 1,600 words.
Soil maintenance in the forest -- Sir Albert Howard: "A Note on the Problem of Soil Erosion." J. of Royal Society of Arts No. 4471, 29 July, 1938. p. 926. Extract.
How to Avoid a Famine of Quality -- Sir Albert Howard, Editor of Soil and Health, from Organic Gardening, Vol. II, No. 5, November, 1947: "Western civilisation is suffering from a subtle form of famine -- a famine of quality."
The Animal As Our Farming Partner -- Sir Albert Howard, from Organic Gardening, Vol. II, No. 3, September, 1947: "In Nature animals and plants lead an interlocked existence. The connection could not be closer, more permanent, or more crucial. We can observe this partnership in operation in the forest, in the prairie, in marshes, streams, rivers, lakes, and the ocean." But not on too many of our farms.
Articles by Sir Albert Howard from Organic Gardening Magazine, 1945-47: Nutrition and Health, Health Building for the Future, Farming and Gardening for Health or Disease, The Real Basis of Public Health, The Purpose of Disease, Life and Health Restored to a Dead Farm, Dried Activated and Digested Sewage Sludge for the Compost Heap, The Leguminous Crop.
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