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.
I am not one to get anxious over minor details- I can find order in most chaotic scenes, and prefer piles of paper on top of a desk over clear surfaces with drawers stuffed incomprehensibly. But there is something about seeing a field full of weeds going to seed that makes my stomach flutter with panic.
Visiting Hama Farm helped to put all of that anxiety into perspective though. 9 years into his journey as a natural farmer, a few weed seeds don't mean much compared to the years of weed seeds banked in the neglected soils he's slowly nurtured back to production. Rather than fight the onslaught, he simply alternates which fields he harvests from year to year, clearing only the areas encroaching on the plants he is utilizing that season.
A week before Christmas, I boarded a bus to Shimizu, a small town in the prefecture of Shizuoka, to visit a small family owned mikan (Japanese tangerine) farm. I was SUPER excited because:
a) I love visiting farms, especially family farms
b) I love citrus and think it would be a DREAM to have too much citrus to deal with
c) I hadn't done any farm work in a couple of months and my body was aching for some physical labour.
I had the opportunity to visit Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology's (TUAT)silk worm production farm on a beautiful weekend in May. The farm site had been established to study the process of manufacturing silk economically and efficiently. Indeed, sericulture was a important field of study for Japan, whose economy as late as the 1950s was still relying heavily on the export of raw silk. In fact, when Japan opened it's doors to international trade in 1859, silk was one of the few products it had to trade with the West. In 1872, the Japanese government established the Tomioka Silk Mill, bringing in a consultant from France to help modernize and mechanize silk production. This mill helped make Japan the largest silk exporter in the world in 1907.
Emi Do: Exploring ideas in small scale agriculture: feasibility, viability, relevance and resilience.