It’s difficult to motivate ourselves to begin subtracting pleasure. For example, we all know that overeating is not good for our health but knowing this scientific fact often does little to persuade us to eat less. Even though we recognize the importance of physical fitness, we don’t like to be put in a situation where we have to face the trade-off between improved health and forgone pleasure. It’s a tough choice.
But is there really a trade-off? Let’s consider vegetables.
Let me introduce you to Terukichi Nagata, who founded the “Nagata Farming Method” in Japan. (He passed away in 2016 at the age of 90.)
The Nagata Method is also known as the “Spartan” or “fasting” farming method, because it provides plants with minimum nutrients and water. Its philosophy is to subtract the amount of pleasure given to plants. The end result: the Rolls Royce of vegetables. How does that happen?
When Nagata was young, he inherited a mandarin orchard located on hilly, rocky soil in Kyushu, the southern island of Japan. One day he found that the fruits grown there were actually quite sweet, despite the poor soil conditions. Mystified, he started investigating what made them surprisingly tasty.
Using trial and error, Nagata finally concluded that it was actually the seemingly unfavorable environment that was making his mandarins resilient, dense and tasty. Based on his experiences, he developed a farming method that required minimum soil treatment and minimum amount of water/nutrients given to plants. As seen in the above and left pictures, the soil is left mostly untreated, rocky and arid. Water and nutrients are reduced to what is “barely enough” to allow the trees to survive and grow fruit.
It is counter-intuitive because we usually believe that we need to give plenty of water and nutrients if we want to grow healthy and delicious vegetables. We assume that it’s correlated to the quality of vegetables: if we fail to provide enough water or nutrients, they will grow poorly.
But the Nagata method does the opposite, and people who ate Nagata vegetables unanimously agreed that they tasted exceptional. Their quality was so special that First Retailing, the Japanese apparel company headed by Tadashi Yanai (ranked #60 of the Forbe’s 2017 Billionaires list) and operates Uniqlo, once attempted – albeit unsuccessfully – to operationalize the retail of Nagata vegetables on a commercial scale.
So what’s actually happening to Nagata vegetables? Take a look at tomatoes grown by him. It’s obvious that they are growing vigorously. Desperate to capture any drop of water, the roots become very long. They branch out extensively to maximize water/nutrient intake. And it’s not just the roots that are frantically working. The tomato fruit grows hair on the surface to capture any moisture in the air. The leaves shrink and by hanging down, they direct all the water and nutrients to the fruit. Every sensory receptor in tomatoes is so heightened and aroused to maximize the outcome.
Images in this page: courtesy of Kensai