Want a Taste of Social Justice?
“You are what you eat” goes the old adage, but in our increasingly globalized food system, figuring out what it is you’re actually eating, can feel rather difficult. In Japan, where expectations for food safety and standards in quality are high, consumers have been fighting for the right to know what they are putting into their bodies for decades.
There's something a little bit different about Masa Toyota. I'm not sure if it was the bright pink polo shirt he was wearing when we first met, his big toothy grin contrasting with broad shoulders, sun leathered skin and a constant stream of cigarettes, but I think we all knew he was a book certainly not to be judged by it's cover.
I had the opportunity to visit Lakeside Farm as a part of a research trip to Shinraicho- a small farming village on the shores of Lake Biwa in Shiga prefecture. The farm was founded three years ago by Toyota-san who used to be a sales person in the apparel industry. Feeling disconnected and disenchanted with his job, and bubbling with a desire for tangible skills he ventured into agriculture 8 years ago. The farm currently employs three people: Toyota, Tanaka and Moriuchi. Tanaka has been with the farm since it's inception, and is solely responsible for the management of sales and distribution. Moriuchi joined the team this year and is responsible for production.
On March 11th 2011, a large M 9.0 earthquake hit off the coast of North Eastern Japan. The subsequent tsunami lead to one of the largest nuclear disasters since the advent of nuclear power production. Fast forward 3 years to March 11th 2014, and I am in the final stages of uprooting my life in Vancouver, BC to to move to Japan to start my Masters’ degree in agricultural economics at Tokyo University of Agriculture. Besides the usual anxieties of starting over in a new city, let alone new country, was the fear that I had no idea what future health effects would result from this decision to live less than 300 km away from where the meltdown occurred. Here I was, reading reports of the environmental consequences of the radioactive waste along the coast of North America, an ocean away, and I was going to move CLOSER to where a nuclear plant was continuing to spew out contaminated waste water?
Since arriving in Tokyo over two months ago, I've been struck by the number of 'farms' scattered throughout the city. These lots, ranging in size from a quarter to half acre, overflowing with produce ranging from corn and potatoes, to grapes and fields of blueberry bushes. In a city where it seems every square inch is optimized for maximum functionality (remember, this is the city of capsule hotels where people crawl into cubby holes for the evening), how are farms- micro as they are- able to maintain their land base? How are they able to keep their farms alive?
It seems it's a matter of policy... and peer pressure.
Pitchforks might have felt a little heavier on May 29th 2014 the day after Bill 24 was passed by BC legislature which enabled protection of farmland placed in the ALR (Agricultural Land Reserve) over 35 years ago. The struggle for farm land preservation isn't local to BC, rather it is one being faced by farmers globally as evident by the mounds of articles posted on farmlandgrab.org.
Emi Do: Exploring ideas in small scale agriculture: feasibility, viability, relevance and resilience.