Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Korean Natural Farming: It's All in the Microbes

KNF Chicken Coop. Photo by Kat Thomas.

So this is the last post on my trip to Hawai’i and it’s a pretty Auh-Mazing one!

In Hawi I was introduced to the world of Korean Natural Farming (KNF), which involves collecting and culturing indigenous microorganisms (IMO) and reintroducing them into an agro ecosystem, which has been managed by people (aka farms).  In the same way we drink Kombucha to rebuild our
Pighouse at Ho'ea Farms. Photo by Kat Thomas.
gut, IMOs rebuild the soil.  KNF with IMO’s is a smart and clean approach to organic farming that is practiced successfully in over 30 countries, in home gardens and on a commercial scale.
Korean Natural Farming is cheap, easy, and effective, a trifecta of awesomeness to a farmer’s ears!  It has helped many Big Island farmers overcome the challenge of dead soil (soil blasted by chemicals for so many decades of sugarcane farming that there wasn’t an earthworm in it).  I myself saw impressive results while replanting some tomato plants in the greenhouse as those feed IMOs perked up after a day, while those feed just water were noticeably more wilted. 

Korean Professor, Han Kyu Cho, is considered the father of Korean Natural Farming (which is also sometimes known as Thai Natural Farming and Asian Natural Farming).  The basic principle behind KNF is to create a farming environment compatible with naturally occurring organisms in the farmland.  Korean Natural Farming recycles nutrients from various herbs or farm waste, and combines them into a foliar spray for fertilization based on different stages of growth of the crop.  Crop enhancement of indigenous microorganisms are more likely to be accepted by the soil than alien beneficial organisms (such as the trademarked Effective Microorganisms).

Indigenous Microorganisms (IMOs) refer to various homemade solid and liquid cultures of beneficial microbes. To culture beneficial IMOs, these are materials are concocted from various local materials such as forest/field plant materials as well as fruit, vegetables and even fish scraps and snails.  Therefore, few, outside or purchased inputs are required.
Chicken Raised with KNF. Photo by Kat Thomas.
Mr. Han Kyu Cho formulated and fine-tuned these practices for 40 years and has trained over 18,000 people at the Janong Natural Farming Institute.  One of the people he trained was Dr. Hoon Park, who in 2005 brought the Korean Natural Farming to Hawaii.  A retired M.D. from Hilo, Dr. Park was in South Korea doing missionary work and noticed commercial piggeries with virtually no smell that were using KNF methods.  Dr. Park came back to Hawaii, his home, and began giving classes for free. 

The Korean Natural Farming is unique in that it is not meant to be commercialized, but rather practiced by farmers, with cheap, easily available ingredients, and microbes or mycorrhizae indigenous to each locale or farm.  Mycorrhizae are “fungus roots” and act as an interface between plants and soil.  They grow into the roots of crops and out into the soil, increasing the root system many thousands of times over.  They act symbiotically, converting with enzymes the nutrients of the soil into food the plants can use and taking carbohydrates from the plants and turning it into nutrients the soil can use: “sequestering” carbon in the soil for later use.

Ho'ea Farms KNF Piglets. Photo by Kat Thomas.
Miles of fungal filaments can be present in an ounce of healthy soil.  Mycorrhizal inoculation of soil increases the accumulation of carbon in the soil by depositing glomalin, which in turn, increases soil structure, by binding organic matter to mineral particles in the soil.  Glomalin is a glycoprotein that binds together silt, sand, or clay soil particles. By supergluing the small, loose particles, this gooey protein makes larger granules that protect the soil from eroding through wind and water.  One way to anchor or feed mycorrhizae in the soil is by adding charcoal, specifically charcoal, which is made without fossil fuels (such as Biochar).  Charcoal provides shelter for the mycorrhizae to live in with its myriad of tiny holes.

A healthy fertile soil is a soil alive with a multitude of microorganisms. Research found about 700 kilograms of microorganisms to live in 0.1 hectare of land.  Natural Farming recreate the conditions found in Natural environments such as old growth forests.  Chemical application of pesticides, herbicides and fertilizer kill all that precious life in the soil eventually turning it into a compacted lifeless dust bowl.

Greenhouse watered with IMOs. Photo by Kat Thomas.
Korean Natural Farming techniques are also used in regards to livestock such as chickens (like the chicken coop at the farm I was at) and pork (which I viewed at Ho’ea Farms in Hawi). As Mr. Cho said, “a farmer should have parental love towards his crop and livestock. This is a heart of a true farmer.”

The biggest bonus to KNF animal hutches being that there is no pollution, no smell, no flies, no wastewater, disease, or cleaning needed.  In other words, the IMOs on the floor will break down the chicken feces and there is virtually no smell and no need to muck the coop.

When the Chinese were preparing for the Olympics to be held in Beijing in 2008, China, the Chinese army came in, bringing with them their pigs, which they raise to feed themselves.  The population of Beijing was suddenly assaulted by the smell of pig waste and protested violently.  The head of the Chinese army sent two men to South Korea to study Natural Farming, which he had heard about. The men came back and the army immediately started practicing the Natural Farming methods and the smell went away.

With chickens the egg quality will be superior with super sturdy yokes.  With pork, the pigs are more content to laze and root around in such natural bedding.  Also, reportedly, there is no risk of skin diseases compared to pigs raised on other surfaces.

Talk about smart (and clean!) microbes!


  1. I learned to make these concoctions. I make IMO, FPJ and LABS. Are these also edible for humans?

  2. I hope everyone is doing well. I have some news to share today....In the next week I am moving to NOLA and hoping this new journey will put me back into the attitude that change is good. So much to do and not enough time to do it. I am so thankful for all of the wonderful people in my life (including Pedro Jerome) a loan lender that support me at all times I am excited and also worried my life has been such a downer for so long that getting out of it has been hard but I do really feel that this change is going to be the best thing I need right now and I have hopes that all good things do come to those that wait.
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