Howard on wholism

By Sir Albert Howard

Introduction to J.I. Rodale's "Pay Dirt – Farming & Gardening with Composts" (Devin-Adair, 1946)

A REVOLUTION in farming and in gardening is in progress all over the world. If I were asked to sum up in a few words the basis of this movement and the general results that are being obtained, I should reply that a fertile soil is the foundation of healthy crops, healthy live stock, and last but not least healthy human beings. By a fertile soil is meant one to which Nature's law of return has been faithfully applied, so that it contains an adequate amount of freshly prepared humus made in the form of compost from both vegetable and animal wastes.

This revolution in crop production involves making the very most of the earth's green carpet -- that marvelous machinery for producing all our food and a great deal of the raw materials needed by our factories. Both units of this natural factory -- the green cells of the leaf and the power which drives them (the energy of sunlight) -- owe nothing to mankind. They are the gifts of Providence which all the resources of Science cannot copy, still less improve. Mankind can only assist the food factory in two directions. He can look after the soil on which the green carpet rests and in which the roots of crops and the unpaid labour force of the soil -- moulds, microbes, earthworms, and so forth -- live and work. He can also by selecting crops by plant breeding methods make the most of the energy of sunlight and of the improved soil conditions. But the plant breeder must avoid one obvious blunder. He must not be content with improving the variety only, otherwise his labours will soon lead to the exhaustion of the soil. The improved variety will take more out of the ground and will soon become a boomerang. The plant breeder, therefore, must always be careful not to confine his attention to the variety, but must increase the fertility of the soil at the same time. Such crops will look after themselves, and insect and fungous pests will do little or no damage.

How has the United States of America ministered to the country's green carpet? The answer is provided by the Year Book of the Federal Department of Agriculture of 1938, which was published under the title -- Soils and Men. In this work the results of a careful appraisal of the cultivated soils of the country were recorded. It disclosed the alarming fact that no less than 253,000,000 acres, or 61 per cent of the total area under crops, had either been completely or partially destroyed, or had lost most of its fertility. This has arisen from misuse of the land which has resulted in widespread soil erosion.

Soil erosion is the natural consequence of the collapse of the compound soil particles, on the maintenance of which the well-being both of the soil population and the crop depends. These compound particles are made up of fragments of mineral matter glued together by specks of organic matter provided by the activities of the invisible life of the soil. These soil organisms have to be constantly fed with fresh supplies of humus, otherwise the soil soon wears out. When we attempt to replace these supplies by means of artificial manures, we accelerate the wearing-out process. Nature in all such cases hits back by leaving the soil an inert mass of mineral fragments, in which the beneficial soil population are deprived of air, water, food, warmth, and shelter. The death of the soil and of its population is the natural consequence. Nature finally removes the ruins by wind or water to form either a desert or new soil somewhere else under the sea.

What has been the effect of this neglect of the soil on the human population? The results are summed up in Alexis Carrel's masterpiece -- Man The Unknown. In the United States no less than £700,000,000 a year is spent on medical care for dealing with disease of various kinds, much of which would never have occurred had the restitution of the manurial rights of the soil received proper attention.

Failure to look after the soil under the green carpet does not pay. It leads to the destruction of large areas of land; it creates an inefficient population.

All this can be put right if the law of return is followed and all the available vegetable and animal wastes of the country are converted into compost for the soil. Exactly how this should be done, what results on crops, live stock, and mankind will then be observed will be clear from a perusal of this book, the chapters of which I have just read with the most lively interest. Many things impressed me as this book developed. What gave me most pleasure was to discover that Mr. Rodale possesses that priceless quality -- audacity -- without which progress is never made. With no previous experience of the land and its ways, nevertheless he courageously acquired a farm, learned how to get it into a fertile condition, and then observed the results of compost on his crops, his live stock, and afterwards on himself and on the members of his family. He thus took his own advice before offering it to his countrymen in the pages of this book and of his new journal -- Organic Gardening -- which, as the years and months pass, goes from strength to strength. All this is very refreshing in a world which tends to become more and more superficial, due in large measure to that disease of civilization -- fragmentation -- by which such intimately related subjects as agriculture, food, nutrition, and health have become split up into innumerable rigid and self-contained little units, each in the hands of some group of specialists. The experts, as their studies become concentrated on smaller and smaller fragments, soon find themselves wasting their lives in learning more and more about less and less. The result is the confusion and chaos now such a feature of the work of experiment stations and teaching centres devoted to agriculture and gardening. 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.

Albert Howard
14 Liskeard Gardens,
Blackheath, London, S.E. 3
1st March, 1945


A review of the work of the founder of the organic farming movement, Sir Albert Howard, by Keith Addison.

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 Journey to Forever.

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.

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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