A Visit to the Home of CSA: Teikei and the Japanese Organic Agriculture Association
by Elizabeth Henderson
(Here's a link to one of the farms I visited)
Much to my surprise, one late August afternoon at the IFOAM conference, in Victoria, I found myself surrounded by a group from the Japanese Organic Agriculture Association. They wanted me to come to Japan. They were familiar with the book I wrote with Robyn Van En, Sharing the Harvest: A Guide to Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), and wanted someone who could talk about CSA for a training in alternative marketing they were organizing for farmers from other parts of Asia. They made me an offer I could not refuse - a ten day trip to Japan with all expenses paid to give presentations on CSA, visit farms and meet with Teikei (the Japanese version of CSA) farmers and members. I felt deeply honored by their invitation. Let me say right away that I do not pretend to know much about Japan, and without knowing the language or the culture, I am sure there is much that I missed. Nevertheless, allow me to share with you some observations from my trip.
First a little background. Once mainly self-sufficient in food, particularly rice, the mainstay of their diet, in 2001, Japan imported 72% of its grains and 60% of its food calories. Yet there are still over 3 million farms, and 2,291,000 are listed as commercial. The average farm size is only a few acres with fields that are not adjacent to the farm house and lie scattered among the fields of other farms. The Japanese measure farmland in increments of one-tenth of a hectare. The 25 to 50 foot barriers between organic and conventional fields required by US organic certification would eliminate much of the organic acreage in Japan. As in the US, the so-called "Free Trade" Agreements have exacerbated the trend towards more imported foods at prices lower than the cost of production on Japanese farms. The number of farmers is falling and most of the remaining farmers are over 65, with few new recruits from the younger generation. To some extent, Japanese traditions have slowed the exodus from the land. Although clearly violated in some instances, national Japanese law prohibits development on prime farmland. Traditional values mitigate against selling land for development: rural people consider it deeply shameful to sell the land they inherited from their ancestors.
In 1971, a small group of women who wanted chemical free food for their families joined with agricultural researchers, and farmers to form the Japanese Organic Agriculture Association (JOAA). Sawako Ariyoshi, the Japanese Rachel Carson, had alerted them to the dangers of the chemicals used in agriculture. The first Teikei group began that year when a few farmers in the Kobe area started to experiment in organic farming with a crop of pumpkins grown without chemical fertilizer for a group of local housewives. Within a few years, the Kobe consumer group grew to 1300 members who felt so passionate about supporting local organic farmers that they were willing to help with the farm work and distribution of the food. The history of JOAA and Teikei are closely intertwined. Front and center for JOAA has been the urgent need to develop organic farming systems producing for local consumption. For most of its existence, JOAA has opposed organic certification and government involvement, advocating local self-sufficiency and farmer-consumer cooperation and trust. Only recently, JOAA has come to the reluctant realization that the government?s organic program forces farmers who want to sell through stores to certify and that JOAA has a role to play in insisting that the government?s standards are appropriate and its procedures are fair. Sounds all too familiar.
My first connection with JOAA dates back to the IFOAM Conference in Buenos Aires in 1998 where I met Shinji Hashimoto, a young Teikei farmer. He and I shared the podium for a workshop on farmer-consumer cooperation. I was delighted to hear that in the aftermath of the Kobe earthquake, Shinji and his fellow farmers had driven trucks full of food and water to their Teikei members in the city. A year or so later, Noboru Honjo, a JOAA Board member, came to visit my farm to talk about Teikei and CSA. He had read Sharing the Harvest and had a long list of precise questions for me to answer. The most pressing question was: how do we recruit younger people to join CSAs? That was a recurring theme on my trip.
After 20 hours in airplanes and airports, I was greeted at Narita by two farmers, Katsumi Yamada and Shiganori Hayashi. They drove me (on the right side of the road, like in England) to the Hayashi farm in Chiba where the four visitors from Asia awaited us for a truly splendid feast prepared by Shiganori?s wife, a former cooking instructor. Katsumi, a tall, very thin man of about 40, served as our interpreter. Though he has a farm of 1 1/2 acres, Katsumi seems to spend much of his time leading JOAA?s campaign against GMOs. The four participants in JOAA?s Alternative Marketing Program were from India, Nepal, Hong Kong and the Philippines. All of them spoke English well. I had met Alexis Bantiles in Victoria where we cooperated in helping form the IFOAM Farmers? Group and in pushing for a realignment of IFOAM resources for a greater emphasis on building local food systems. Alexis is charged by her tribal elders with marketing both the products from her own farm and those of the 60,000 other farmers in her tribe. Vicky, Lau Yuen Yee, manages the Produce Green Foundation farm in Hong Kong. Under the leadership of Vandana Shiva, Syed Afar Hussain Jafri does research on agricultural policy, challenging the power of the multinationals, and helps Indian farmers market traditional crop varieties. Basanta Rana Bhat is an agricultural researcher and shares what he learns about organic methods with Nepalese farmers.
The next morning, Shiganori gave us a tour of his farm, one of the few I saw which was all in one piece. He inherited the 2 hectare farm (about 5 acres) from his father, who was a conventional, but innovative farmer. On their land, they have found human artifacts that are 2000 years old. Shiganori was unhappy with his father?s use of chemicals, so he spent a year studying organic farming with Yoshinori Kaneko, one of the pioneers of Teikei. In 1980, Shiganori converted the home farm to organic. His description of his methods sounded very familiar - building healthy soils by using compost and crop rotations; relying on crop diversity for risk management and pest control. The rotations are simple, moving blocks of crop up the field in successive years to avoid repeated plantings of the same family. They make compost by layering rice hulls, tree prunings and chicken manure, which they turn 4 - 5 times at 10 week intervals. The manure amounts to only 5% of the mix. In addition to growing 70 -80 different vegetables, the Hayashi Farm also raises 150 chickens, fed 100% domestic feed to avoid imported grains that may contain GMOS. They do on-farm processing of miso and pickles, and have storage facilities for root crops. Around the family home, Shiganori planted perennial fruit and nut trees. For pest control, he uses a milk spray against aphids (whole milk or diluted 1 to 3 in water), garlic spray, loquat seed tea and bug juice (unfortunately, I did not get all the details). He has the most problems with tomatoes which are not well adapted to Japanese conditions.
At the time of my visit - late November - I saw growing a variety of greens (mizuna, komatsuna, bok choi, shungiku, lettuce, Chinese cabbage, spinach), carrots, green onions, daikon radishes, burdock, broccoli and cauliflower. This mix of crops was typical of the Teikei farms I visited during my 10 day tour. Black soy beans and adzuki beans were still in the field drying in their pods. Mounds of peanuts in their pods were also curing in the field. Onions, potatoes for eating, seed potatoes, sweet potatoes, taro and ginger were in the store house. Rice from the farm paddy had been hulled and bagged. Seedlings of snow peas and wheat were just breaking through the ground. The same series of hoops and netting that had trellised cucumbers would support the peas. The crew of five, Shiganori, his dad and three trainees, was busy setting out onion plants. I was impressed to learn that salaries for the trainees came from the local government; if they did not go into farming, they would have to pay this money back.
The Hayashi Farm supplies vegetables, rice, dried beans, wheat berries, processed foods and eggs to 60 households in the local prefecture (county) once a week, year round, and also sells to a few restaurants. Three times a week, the farmers drive their small flatbed truck to deliver directly to members? homes. For the restaurants, the farm employs a professional delivery service. Most members pay monthly and place orders for the mix of products they want. The pricing is by item or by box size. The farm does not wash or grade the vegetables. Once a month, a farm newsletter accompanies the produce. Twice a year, spring and fall, members visit the farm for a tour, a meal, and discussions about farming. Recruiting is by word of mouth, though good news coverage by the local press helps.
Shiganori plays an important role in JOAA as the board member responsible for their seed saving network. On the farm, he maintains a freezer where the seed bank is stored. Farmers who contribute seed can withdraw seed from the bank. The seed network emphasizes preserving and improving locally adapted varieties. Shiganori maintains a record of providers and users.
At lunch after our farm tour, a lively seed exchange took place between the visiting Asians and Shiganori. The Indian, Jafri, came with a generous supply of the grain and bean seeds that Navdanya, which means 9 seeds, distributes. Several reference books with Latin names and drawings of plants abetted the cross-cultural identification. The books also helped us identify some of the foods we were eating, a sumptuous array of pickles, several varieties of rice, vegetable tempura, miso soup, eggs, stewed and candied vegetables accompanied by sake or beer, and followed by green tea. We ate at a traditional low Japanese table where everyone but me seemed to be perfectly comfortable sitting for hours with legs crossed. I kept a close watch on my hostess for clues on how to behave. At least I knew how to feed myself using chopsticks.
A group photo-taking session concluded our visit to the Hayashi?s. Led by Sanae Sawanobori, a grape grower and professor of agriculture, we traveled by a series of trains and metros into the city of Tokyo. Even with a native guide, the Tokyo metro was a confusing labyrinth. Sanae left us at the Sakura (cherry blossom) Hotel, its tiny rooms with double-decker beds resembling train sleeping compartments, rather less romantic than the hotel name. Since none of us felt secure venturing through the concrete maze of Tokyo streets more than a block or two from the hotel, we ate dinner at an Indian restaurant around the corner where Jafri could communicate with the manager. The Asians? program for the evening was hearing from me about community supported agriculture. Our guides and interpreters for the next day?s events, farmer Shinji Hashimoto and Masaru Murayama, director of IFOAM Japan, joined us later in the evening for a round of beer. Though I would not have guessed from his dignified appearance, Murayama is famous in Japanese organic circles for having founded a radical farm-commune in a rural village in the 1970?s that is home to 30 families to this day.
Our main activity the next day was a public seminar on alternative marketing, the culminating event in the training program for the four Asians. I opened the session with a 2 hour slide presentation on Community Supported Agriculture in North America. My actual talking time was closer to one hour since I had to pause every few sentences to allow my interpreter to translate my words. Murayama?s command of English is excellent, so I was confident about his accuracy. The questions from the audience on this occasion were echoed at each of the 5 subsequent talks I gave: why do consumers join CSAs? how do you recruit new members? where do you get seed? are there self-sufficient (by which I understood subsistence) farmers in the US? are CSA farmers new farmers or farmers who have transitioned from conventional farming?
The rest of the afternoon was devoted to a panel discussion on the variety of alternatives to mainstream marketing of food. The visiting Asians presented brief summaries of their work. In the Philippines, Alexis Bantiles described how the indigenous peoples, the 1.3 million members of her tribe among them, resisted the Green Revolution which led to large corporations taking over much of their land. Beginning in 1993, the Organic Producers Trade Association, established a series of farmers markets. As director of the Alliance of Volunteers in Development Foundation (AVDF), Alexis oversees stands at several of these markets where she sells produce from her family?s 5 acre organic farm and from the farms of other members of her tribe. She also markets their produce to hospitals, clinics, restaurants, and occasionally to international traders. The goals of AVDF are complex: to foster indigenous community self-reliance by strengthening village economies, and by encouraging members who have gained skills and professions to help others who remain in their rural villages.
Navdanya too has a multi-level approach as described by Jafri. They do research on agribusiness, trade, biopiracy, and GMOs, and organize opposition to Indian government policies which hurt small farmers. At the same time, Navdanya helps build an economic alternative by creating Green shops for products from local farms and tribal areas, and by saving indigenous varieties and making seed available. They are also suing Monsanto for testing BT crops in India. According to Basanta, farms in Nepal resemble those in Japan with small, scattered fields. He believes that organic agriculture, by reducing purchased inputs, is essential to saving local farming. Vicky reported on the Produce Green Foundation in Hong Kong which runs a highly diversified model organic farm, giving hundreds of tours and educational programs for school children and teachers, and selling its produce at the farm Green Shop. Produce Green also invites the public to join their Organic Farmers? Scheme: close to 200 people sublease small plots where they can grow their own organic food. To conclude the panel, Shinji Hashimoto called for the creation of a worldwide alternative marketing network to replace the WTO.
Half the audience joined the organizers and presenters for dinner in a traditional Japanese restaurant. No sooner had the sake bottle circulated round the tables than this group of very serious and sober people turned into a lively and hilarious party. Murayama, the recognized leader of the group, egged the others on with jokes and exclamations. I enjoyed the chance to learn a little more about Sanae, who comes from a family of grape and wine producers. Her grandfather was a grape breeder, her father a grape grower and her sister a microbiologist who found a way to eliminate the use of sulfites in making wine. Together, they pioneer in Japanese organic wine production. Sanae and her husband have added a kiwi plantation to the family vineyard.
On Sunday morning, Shinji and I traveled by Shinkansen, a high speed train, to Kobe. From the train I caught my only glimpse of Mt. Fuji, partially shrouded in thick clouds. The countryside in this region is dotted with tea plantations, closely planted rows of green hedges. In Kobe, I gave another public talk on CSA. The organizers of the event were two women who work for a non-profit organic certifying agency, which offers certification at a much lower price than its profit-making competitors. The audience included Teikei members, university students and farmers, including Ozaki-Ray, a farmer about my age, one of the originators of the Teikei system. Having trained many younger farmers, he told me he is reducing the size of his vegetable patch to about one acre to demonstrate that a farmer can make a living on that amount of land. He was surprised at the amount of member participation in my CSA, and said it reminded him of the early days of Teikei. Once again, the sober seminar was followed by an elaborate and animated dinner. I failed my first trial by raw fish.
Two of Shinji?s interns gave us a ride to his farm house in the village of Ichijima, Hyogo Prefecture, where his wife, a former city-dweller, and two little sons greeted us. While he is making a decent living as a farmer, Shinji explained that he was only able to afford to build such a fine house by selling a piece of land he had inherited in Hiroshima. Before farming, Shinji was produce manager for the consumer coop in Kobe which has 1 million members. Courses in environmental studies with Professor Shigeru Yasuda, one of the leading spirits of the Japanese organic movement and author of the "Ten Principles of Teikei," inspired him to try farming. Fifteen years ago, he moved to the village where he took over a Teikei group from a farmer who was retiring. In its early years in the 70?s, this Teikei had numbered as many as 1300 families. After splits and attrition, the numbers dropped to 300 families supplied by 6 farmers, and has remained stable for 20 years.
From my experience in rural USA, I was not surprised to hear that, for a newcomer, gaining acceptance in a small Japanese village takes time and patience. The cooperative nature of village life provides some opportunities: every household must contribute one day a month to local public works, fire control, road, ditch and irrigation system maintenance. So many of the villagers are senior citizens that they welcomed a young man to help carry the coffins at local funerals. After a few years, Shinji was even accepted into the village drum core which plays for festivals. But when he behaved "impolitely" by participating in a protest against the construction of a golf course, they would not let him play the drums any more
Like Chiba Prefecture, Hyogo pays the salaries of Shinji?s interns on condition that they farm in the area. Their pay is 150,000 yen a month for up to 3 years. (The exchange rate on the yen was 121 to the dollar in November, 2002). Shinji has his interns work only three days a week on his farm and helps them find land nearby where they can work the rest of the week getting started on their own. Since he is certified organic at a cost of 50,000 yen a year, the Prefecture pays Shinji a subsidy of 400,000 yen per year (50,000 yen per .1 hectare). The local government also subsidized the construction of his greenhouse and provides compost at a reasonable price from its composting factory where rice hulls from the local sake plant and coffee bean hulls from a local processor are combined with cow manure.
Shinji?s farm consists of five separate fields, of which he owns three. He rents the pieces where his chicken coop and greenhouse are located. With the help of one part-time intern, Shinji does the field work, and his wife does the bunching and packing. She told me that she prefers this division of jobs because she does not like working outdoors. Like Hayashi, Shinji had just planted his onions, and I saw the same mix of crops in his fields. Because his ground is heavy clay and conditions wet, Shinji uses raised beds. He works the soil with a rototiller pulled by a small Kubota tractor with disks to form the beds. Without additional tillage, he replants the beds with a succeeding crop, such as beans and cabbage after peppers. He too reuses the summer cucumber trellising for early spring peas. During the winter, he makes raised beds in his rice paddy for planting vegetables. Very much influenced by the teachings of Masanobu Fukuoka, Shinji does no soil testing and no active pest control. He does fertilize with compost, and bokashi which he makes himself from rice bran, chicken manure, oilseed cake, oyster shells, molasses, EM (Effective Microorganisms) and water. He mixes these ingredients in a vat similar to the one he uses for chicken feed, then stores it in paper sacks for 2 - 3 weeks while it ferments. The final product smells like yeast.
The chicken manure comes from the 300 chickens he keeps in fairly spacious houses. Though not caged, the chickens never venture outside. Shinji said they just do not have enough land for the chicken tractor approach. His chicken coops consist of wire mesh walls covered by a roof of light construction that would never survive a New York winter. Unlike Hayashi, Shinji purchases some imported grains for the mix he feeds to his chickens. He complained that Japanese organic farmers got their recipe for chicken feed from Rodale, a mix based on corn which does not grow well in the wet conditions of Ichijima. He wished they could get some researchers to help them develop a domestic ration based on sea products and grains that do better under Japanese conditions.
Together with 5 other farmers, Shinji belongs to the Ichijima Organic Agriculture Association which sells all of his produce directly to four consumer groups with a total of 300 member households. Each group has a slightly different share system. One group prefers to have a specific farmer responsible for supplying a group of members. Every few years, the farmers rotate. For this group, the relationship with the farmer is more important than the contents of the box. Another group has a paid coordinator and buys from other farmers as well. For 3 of the groups, all 6 farmers contribute to the share each week. Twice a year, farmers and consumers get together and negotiate prices for each item. The farmers then juggle combinations of vegetables to reach the agreed upon weekly value which consumers pay by the month. Shinji showed me their remarkably complex paperwork and admitted that the 3 older farmers prefer to pay the 3 younger farmers to handle the math for them. All 6 farmers pay 8000 yen a month to their association to cover coop expenses, truck repairs, warehouse fees, containers, egg trays, etc. Four times a week, farmers take turns making up the shares and loading them on the coop truck for delivery. For a warehouse, they use the back room of the village "Farmers? Market," which is actually a store with a small staff where all local farmers can sell their produce on a consignment basis. On the consumer end, each group has an elected board. The members take responsibility for different areas: accounting, distribution, the newsletter, meat, purchases of processed foods, and an anti-GMO project.
After a tour of all five of his own fields, Shinji took me to see the fields of his current and previous interns. The two younger men appeared to have adopted methods and crop mixes much like Shinji?s. One of them was busy inside a hoop house planting greens on raised beds which he had just tilled with a walk-behind rototiller. I did not learn much about their marketing.
Before driving me back to Kobe, Shinji took me on a tour of the village sights - . the Shinto shrine, a simple wooden archway to a clearing in the woods, where villagers gather at harvest time to give thanks, a lovely Buddhist temple with a meditation garden of raked sand and large boulders, the prefecture compost factory, and a large home and garden store where I purchased a few hand tools and some seeds to try at home. The old farm houses of the village with their dark brown tile rooves were surprisingly large and solid.
I spent the next two nights at the Kobe Student Center where I had a traditional Japanese room with takami floor mats and a futon. For my one day free of agriculture, Chizuko Hanakawa, from the Kobe certification program staff, showed me around the temples and parks of Nara. A teacher of the tea ceremony, Chizuko is a true appreciator of traditional Japanese food. She introduced me to a special dessert called Zenzai, lightly charred rice cakes floating in sweet adzuki beans garnished with kelp. At dinner, the chairwoman of Shinji?s largest Teikei group joined us. She has been a member for 28 years. Unfortunately, neither woman spoke much English...
My guide for the next day was Yoko Taniguchi, a graduate student in the Institute of Food and Environmental Economics at Kobe University. I had met Yoko at the IFOAM conference. She told me that her personal mission is to unify the squabbling factions of the organic movement in Japan. Before class, she took me to an attractive dining hall with a panoramic view of the city and port below to have lunch with Professor Yasuda, Vice President of JOAA and the teacher who had inspired Shinji, and two of his other students. They too were surprised that I have mastered chopsticks. Then I committed a serious goof by using them on the pineapple dessert! Besides teaching university courses, Prof. Yasuda gives instruction in the hands-on skills of organic farming. He learned from Rodale, from trial and error, and from having grown up on a family vegetable farm. In the spring, when he retires, he will start a school of organic farming in Nara. His two students are doing a study of farmers markets in Hyogo Prefecture, a recent development, most of them resembling the farm store I visited in Ichijima. They showed me photos of some very large stores, bustling with customers.
After lunch, we went up on the roof to admire the view of the city and the ocean beyond. As far as the eye could see in both directions, tightly packed buildings and narrow streets crowd the coast. Industrial structures and port cranes line the coastal waters. The cities of Osaka, Kobe, and Nara butt one into another with no intervening countryside. Prof. Yasuda recalled that in his youth, he fished in the waters off Kobe, but that now there are only two beaches anywhere near this sprawling megalopolis.
Yoko served as interpreter for the seminar I presented for Prof. Yasuda?s environmental studies class. I gave an introduction to CSA in general, then showed slides of the CSA at our farm. The class included students from Nepal, China and a man from Korea who is studying Teikei. They asked me many questions about the economics of small farms in the US. Prof. Yasuda was particularly interested in how farmers get their training.
After tea and more talk, Yoko accompanied me to the train to Tokyo. At the other end of my ride, Toshi Vesugi, a staff person for JOAA, and Rie Murabayashi, a college student, guided me through the metro to a hotel. Beneath her disarmingly shy and timid manner, I discovered in Rie an iron determination to master the skills of farming, cooking, weaving and sewing with the intention of taking over her family farm. She confirmed my impression that in Japan, men are considered the farmers while their wives, who share the farm work, are considered farmers? wives. Rie was my translator for our visit to Ogawa, Saitama Prefecture.
Our first stop was an exhibit center where craftsmen make paper by hand using traditional methods. We ate lunch at "Bons Legumes", an organic restaurant. (Not to be picky, the correct French would be bonnes legumes). The chef had cooked in French restaurants in Tokyo before establishing his own place with a large garden out back where he grows many of the vegetables he prepares. I also observed local farmers delivering fresh vegetables to him while we ate. The meal of grilled fish with capers and peppercorns, pumpkin, rice, salad, and noodles with pesto was worthy of Chez Panisse. Our next stop looked like a small village house, but on its outer wall hung a sign reading "Organic Market and Cafe." The proprietor, Mayumi Morizane joined us as my interpreter for the rest of the day. Mayumi is a "new farmer," having given up a life in Tokyo to farm and bake for the cafe-natural foods store. The products in the store, which she keeps open on weekends, were a careful selection of locally processed foods and fair traded organic imports. Dressed in hand-woven materials, with long braids circling her head, Mayumi speaks fluent English with a slight German accent and bustles with cheerful energy.
The archaic Japanese word for farmer, "hyakusho," combining the characters for "100" and "jobs", applies particularly well to Yoshinori and Tomoko Kaneko, so many activities are going on at their farm. They have 2 cows, 200 chickens, 15 ducks who weed their 3 acres of rice, 40 or so different vegetables, shiitake mushrooms, a hoop house devoted to strawberries, fruit trees, bamboo, wheat, barley, and soy beans, which they process into miso and soy sauce. As on the other farms I visited, the chickens do not leave their coops. The Kanekos feed them ground barley, rice and wheat waste to avoid using imported corn. They produce their own compost from tree prunings, cow manure and food wastes, and make charcoaled rice hull and bamboo fertilizer. The cow manure also fuels their biogas digester which produces enough methane to cook much of their food. Cow manure slurry, a byproduct of the methane production, also serves as fertilizer. A solar collector provides electricity to run a pump. To fuel their Kubota tractor, they use biodiesel made from waste vegetable oil. For equipment, they have two small tractors, one with a loader, a rototiller, mechanical rice planter and harvester, and a mower. Shimosato Farm, the home of the Kaneko family, is an outstanding demonstration of self-sufficient, resource conserving organic farming. The 17 younger organic farmers in Ogawa, as well as farmers all over Japan, like Hayashi, have learned from the Kaneko?s example and generous sharing of information and know-how.
Back in 1971, Yoshinori came to the realization that his family farm, besides providing for the subsistence of his own family, could also supply other people. He calculated that the farm produced enough rice for ten more families. To recruit local housewives, he invited them to join a reading circle where they discussed such themes as "Oneness of Body and Environment," the value of whole foods, and the healthfulness of the traditional Japanese diet. After four years of "education and communication", in 1975, he made an agreement with ten families to supply them with rice, wheat and vegetables in return for some money and labor. In his book "A Farm with a Future: Living With the Blessings of Sun and Soil," Yoshinori recounts the difficulties of this first attempt at Teikei which foundered in misunderstandings. His second try went better. He made farmwork voluntary and left the payment amount entirely up to the consumers. When his vegetable yields outgrew the needs of the 10 families, he added 40 more, and began selling to a local school. His intense involvement in local affairs has led to his recent election to the town board.
From the Kaneko?s farm, we went to visit an American artist named Richard Flavin. We found him at work making calling cards from rice paper. Married to a Japanese woman, Flavin has lived in Ogawa for many years. They make their home in a Buddhist temple, a lovely old wooden structure on a hill overlooking the village. Flavin creates handmade paper, labels for the sake made at the local factory from Kaneko?s rice, and woodcuts of plants and farm scenes.
In the evening, eight of the local organic farm families gathered for a potluck dinner at the farmhouse which serves as their regular meeting place. My favorite dish was charcoal broiled duck from the Kanekos. There were 33 of us at the long, low table: farmers, interns, 3 visitors from the Prefecture government, and a man from Panama with his guide. He was on a tour to learn about Japanese organic agriculture. Tomoko was the MC. She made sure all present introduced themselves. At her insistence, I did my slide show on CSA. They made a very appreciative audience and asked a lot of questions about our farming methods and CSA organizational structure. Yoshinori expressed his amazement at the number of families in our CSA and at their willingness to do farmwork.
I heard some interesting stories around that table. Yoshinori and an engineer whose wife farms described a biogas project they are doing with the local government. They have constructed a methane digester big enough to process the food wastes from 65 families. The money that the government saves by not having to landfill that waste is returned to those families as coupons that they can only spend by purchasing local organic produce. One of the younger farmers told me that he had spent 10 hours that day planting a tenth of a hectare of wheat by hand. When I asked him why he did not simply broadcast the seed, he explained that he wanted to make rows so that he can cultivate it. After learning that our severe winters give me a few months off from farming, several farmers started joking about being busy as bees year round. Simultaneously, five of them began buzzing and flapping their wings.
We camped out on the floor of a nearby farmhouse whose owners seemed to be absent. For breakfast, we returned to the Kanekos. I was surprised to see that despite a heavy frost on the ground, the two interns were harvesting daikon, green onions, lettuce and huge Chinese cabbages, to go with taro, rice, eggs and ginger for the day?s three shares. (I usually wait till the frost has lifted to harvest vegetables.) Yoshinori?s tiny mother welcomed me to the low, blanket-covered table, which turned out to have a sunken floor under it where they place hot coals to warm their feet on cold mornings. The Kaneko?s live in a 300 year old house with a thick roof of wheat thatching covered with metal sheeting. Many years of wood smoke had blackened the walls of their kitchen. Their own biogas heated the water for our tea. Their way of life is a fascinating mixture of tradition and innovation.
After our meal, Vesugi drove me to Yasato, Ibaragi Prefecture. The two hour drive took us over the main turnpike near Tokyo through a totally industrialized landscape. Long stretches of the highway are sunken and fenced in, as scenic as driving through a manure pit. Gas sells for over $4 a gallon. We passed the Ionegawa River, a wide valley of rice paddies with factories plunked down right in the middle of them. Rice paddies and electric transmission lines. Closer to Yasato, I saw pear orchards, the trees pruned so that the tops of the trees are flat and their branches intertwine. Bird pressure is so severe that the farmers stetch netting over entire orchards. On bottom land, next to rice paddies outside the village, stands the Summit Golf Course.
My final farm visit was to the Uozumi family, Michio, Michiko and their two sons Masataka and Teruyuki. Michio speaks English slowly, but steadily. Michiko is one of the liveliest, most energetic people I have ever had the pleasure to meet. To make time to show me around, Michio switched their main Teikei delivery day so they only had 10 shares to prepare during my visit. I donned borrowed work clothes to help them, but was too busy taking photos to be of much use. I was delighted with their two-toed boots.
With 20 years of farming under their belts, Michio and Michiko are still considered "new" farmers since they do not come from farm families. They met at the university and eventually settled down to farm together. Recently, Masataka finished college and decided to farm with his parents. When I asked how they divided work up and made decisions, both men agreed that Michiko is the boss. The Uozumis moved to their present land 15 years ago when a golf course bought up the land they had been renting. Their various separate fields add up to three hectares (about 8 acres), one owned and two rented. Their soils are rich dark brown loams which they do not need to irrigate. While they harvest all the vegetables by hand, their farm was the most mechanized of the farms I saw. They have 3 tractors, including a 65 horse power International, a Kubota with a front end loader, a mower, a rototiller, a manure spreader, a small combine for wheat, a rice harvester, a rice huller and a drier for their grains. I had not seen two of their implements anywhere before - a special digger for burdock, two long curved blades on a 3 point hitch, and a trenching machine, a cross between a multivator and a trenching plow which they use for making raised beds and for cultivating potatoes.
In the Uozumi fields, I observed the same crops I had seen elsewhere, but the quality was exceptionally high with almost no weeds, and few signs of pest damage. When I asked what he would do about the caterpillars munching away at some of the broccoli plants, Michio said he would wait until the plants outgrew the damage. He takes the same low work approach to green manures, turning under weeds instead of planting cover crops. "Natural is good," says Michio. To grow tomatoes, which are not natural to Japan, they use one of their 100 foot hoop houses. In another, they create a hot bed for starting tomatoes and eggplants. Every year, with the help of their customers, they collect enough leaves to mix with chicken droppings, rice bran and water to make a worm bed. The mixture ferments, heating the hoop house enough to keep tender plants from freezing. The following season, they use the cooled down mix in their potting soil, combining it with rotted tree materials from the forest instead of peat. They set the seeded flats over the hot bed. Through the winter, they store yellow and purple sweet potatoes, ginger, sato-imo potatoes, and regular potatoes in a shed which they can heat when needed. They also store some of their root crops by burying them in deep holes in the ground in a hoop house.
As on the other farms I saw, their 600 chickens live in spacious coops. To avoid GMOs in the feed, the Uozumis mix number two wheat, oyster shells, sake waste, rice bran and fermented salmon waste. They build fertility in their soils by spreading compost made from the cleanings from their chicken coops mixed with rice hulls, and like Shinji, they make bokashi, though without the addition of EM, which Michio considers unnecessary since the microorganisms are already present. Previously, Michio said they used a lot of composted cow manure from conventional neighbors, but now he fears GMOs in the cows? feed.
Year round, the Uozumis provide weekly shares to 150 households, setting the price themselves. Consumers pay weekly or monthly. The farm splits the cost of a hired driver with the 80 households in one consumer group. The ten shares they were picking and packing the day of my visit were to travel by delivery truck to Tokyo. They offer boxes of two sizes, including their own vegetables, eggs, noodles made from the farm?s wheat, rice, and chestnuts, pork, oranges, apples and tea from other farms. The Uozumis do not wash most of the vegetables.
Besides his own fields, Michio pointed out the fields of other organic farmers. To satisfy a particular market, a former intern of his had covered all of his crops on a half acre field with hoops and row covers. Michio shook his head at the waste of energy. Before dinner, he took me for a quick trip to the local "home store", where he bought me a present, a pair of the traditional two-toed Japanese farmer boots with socks to match. Husband, wife and son cooked together to make me a memorable dinner of charcoal broiled red snapper, nabe, a traditional winter soup with chicken, fish and tofu, their own rice, and pickled ginger.
Like the Kanekos, the Uozumis have surrounded themselves with a community of younger organic farmers whom they have helped to train. The seven young couples, aged from 27 to mid-thirties, three with babies, who joined us for the evening are all members of Michio?s soccer team. (Reserving Sundays for soccer is Michio?s way of keeping his positive attitude. Michiko bakes bread instead.) The one older couple at the party told me they have been farming for only ten years. The interpreter for this version of my slide show was a young farmer who is building his own house and focussing on subsistence. The other English speaker in the group was a young dairy farmer who spent a year on a dairy farm in Nebraska.
Next morning, Michio and I took the train into Tokyo to a meeting of the JOAA Board and my final public seminar. It took a while for me to assimilate the information that the JOAA Board had arranged this meeting specially to report to me about their activities which include promoting Teikei, seed saving, fighting GMOs, a youth section, finances, international relations, organic living, and research. They considered me a representative of the CSA movement in the US and were disappointed to learn that we do not really have a national organization similar to theirs. I promised to find ways to spread their message and maintain communication between CSA and Teikei.
Kisako Sato, President of JOAA, a trim and wiry retired veterinarian and farmer of 75, opened the gathering with a passionate declaration of their emphasis on self-sufficiency and farmer-consumer relations. If you value yourself and other life forms, he declared, this will lead to world peace. As soon as he finished, he asked me what I thought of his remarks. When I replied that I could not agree with him more, he beamed with satisfaction. Setsuko Shisone reported on the state of the Teikei movement. Her own consumer group is typical: since 1971, the original 1000 members has dwindled to 100. The group has divided into smaller groups and lost members who shop at supermarkets where cheaper organic food is available. Recruiting younger members is very difficult. She concluded that somehow they must find a way to educate more consumers. Shiganori Hayashi, whose farm I had visited, discussed the urgency of helping farmers save more seed to make them independent of the big seed companies. My last host, Michio reported on recent projects and issues. Since Sir Albert Howard?s An Agricultural Testament, a book they consider a basic text in organic agriculture is out of print, Professor Yasuda is working on a new translation. JOAA has been confused about whether to support certification. In Michio?s view, JOAA has the responsibility to help both farmers who certify and those who do not. GMOS and organic globalization present major problems for small organic farms. As a first step, Michio proposed the formation of a global network of organic farmers. I was able to tell him that IFOAM has already begun the process of initiating such a network. Noboru Honjo, who works for a government food labelling agency, brought me up to date on the organic certification program of the Japanese government. In 1999, they adopted the Codex Alimentarius standards for organic agriculture, which include materials never used in Japan and leave out a few traditional materials that some Japanese organic farmers consider essential, such as EM. The Japanese agricultural ministry has no policy on supporting organic farming, though it does emphasize the reduction in chemical use. Hiroko Kubota, a professor of consumer economics, talked more about the conflict within JOAA over standards which has concluded in a determination to create their own.
After introducing the last few members of the board to me, including Yasue Ito, a leader in the consumer movement since 1964, they turned to a discussion of how to link JOAA with organic and CSA farmers in the US. JOAA?s leaders are convinced that the younger CSA movement can help revitalize Teikei, in which most of the members are in their 60?s and 70?s. I urged them to keep in mind that for small organic farms to survive, they must be flexible and ready to readjust as conditions change. Some farms can manage pure Teikei or CSA, but many need to cultivate other markets which may require certification. The meeting adjourned to an excellent traditional Japanese restaurant where we lunched on broiled fish, rice and miso soup.
That afternoon, an audience of close to 100 sat through a three hour presentation. With Sanae as my interpreter, I talked about CSA in the context of globalization, showed slides of Peacework and the Genesee Valley Organic CSA, and made every effort to respond to the questions people had asked during my 10 day stay in Japan. I gave as much information as I could to explain why Americans would bother to join CSAs and referred to many examples of how CSAs recruit and retain members by accommodating the particular needs of families where both parents work. I concluded with my deeply held conviction that our movement will succeed in building an alternative society in a world of peace where, instead of bullets and missiles, we will exchange seeds and recipes.
After half an hour of questions, we turned to a celebration of Teikei and CSA with a big pot luck meal. One shot of sake, and the dignified Kisaku and serious Michio became highly animated and instigated singing, joke telling and even a little folk dancing by some of the women. When we had eaten, we went around the circle with introductions, short speeches and more questions. The group included half a dozen farmers, 3 young farmer wannabees, researchers and academics, students, and several leaders of Teikei consumer groups. Many at the party have devoted decades to the organic movement and to activism in favor of food safety and against nuclear war, and GMOs. It is a great challenge to our struggling CSA farms and does great honor to what we have accomplished that these Japanese veterans of organic agriculture look to us for inspiration.
A huge crowd from the party escorted me across the street to my hotel for a final goodby. I went to sleep tired, but elated. The next day, I flew back to the US, my bags heavy with presents from my generous hosts, and my head buzzing with vivid impressions from this wonderful trip.