The Cho Conundrum

Updated: Sep 22


Cho’s Conundrum


Master Cho has very specific guidelines for following his Natural Farming system. At the same time he talks a lot about how versatile it is, how it can be scaled down to small backyard gardens or up to large commercial operations, how it can be adapted to any climate, not just temperate climates with different elevations and weather patterns, but extremes like tropical rainforests and the Gobi desert. 


How can a technology be so specific yet so variable and adaptable? That is the “Cho Conundrum.’


The way I handle confusing or seemingly opposing points of view in KNF (Korean Natural Farming) is by looking at the underlying patterns. Sometimes I need to look at patterns within patterns, but everything Master Cho teaches can be learned by observing Nature and looking for the patterns. He clearly instructs us to “learn from Nature.”


By understanding the pattern I am able to understand the why, which tells me how to adapt my KNF methods because I am trying to match patterns not specific details. 


For example if I want to understand where to collect IMO* cultures, rather than hearing Master Cho’s lectures on collecting IMO and following the instructions verbatim, I look to see what patterns he is describing when he talks about collecting IMO. 


He says, for example, to collect from an elevation higher than the farm. He even suggests how much higher in elevation is a good place to collect IMO. But the pattern is not collecting at elevation.


In other words a culture of soil microbes taken from a higher elevation, where nutrients have run downhill, has to be stronger to survive, due to the reduced nutritional levels in the soil, and is therefore hardier and more robust. 


The pattern then is to collect the IMO culture from a place where the soil biology has to struggle harder to survive where collected than in the planting site. 


Collecting stronger biology and installing that strength into garden soil will insure stronger, hardier, more robust soil biology. The garden soil then becomes more resilient to droughts, floods, pests, disease, and other stressful events. 


Specifically then, I am not looking up exactly how much higher in elevation my IMO is supposed to be collected. Instead I am looking to find an area of hardship, a place with a hardier, more robust soil ecosystem, yet a place that is still indigenous to my location. I want to be as close to home as possible as that is another pattern (Indigenous or local) for collecting IMO. 


Therefore I can follow the pattern of collecting robust microbes from an area with a stress factor. The stress could be higher elevation or it could be an area that struggles with water, wind, erosion etc.


To get good results I do not need to follow an exact detail—higher in elevation—I can find an alternate area that follows the same pattern (“collect in a slightly barren area” **) and get I essentially the same results as collecting at elevation. 


There is, in fact, another conundrum from Master Cho concerning just this one element, collecting IMO. In the same explanation about collecting from a slightly barren area he explains that “it is preferable to pick a site around plants whose roots contain sugar.” ** So here is another conundrum. How can we collect from an area with high energy (“whose roots contain sugar”) and also a slightly barren area?  


Patterns within patterns. Now we know we need to collect from a rich, healthy productive area, but an area that has to struggle more than the planting area to survive. Master Cho lists other criteria to add to the list, such as collecting close to home. Once we understand we are looking at patterns and not details, we can find a place that is unique to us, yet checks all the boxes for a great location to collect IMO. 


In general, when following the instructions for the KNF system, and you come across something that won’t work for you or is not available, figure out how to make a substitution (or elimination) by figuring out the pattern.


To find this pattern you must look to Nature. The answer for your unique situation is not online or in a book. The answer is found in Nature. 


*IMO (Indigenous Micro Organisms) is a culture of soil biology collected from a local area, and is installed, as a complete soil ecosystem, to garden and field soil. The purpose is to inoculate soil to provide a foundation for plants to obtain nutrients from the soil on demand. It is also used for animals to provide safe clean bedding, to insure proper gut health and to insure the microbial ecology is spread through their manure in concentrated amounts.


**Natural Farming by Han-Kyu Cho, Cho Global Natural Farming, 2010, pp51-52

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