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.
The introduction of synthetic fertilizers and “-ides” (pesticides, herbicides, fungicides) brought promise of huge yields, less labour and higher efficiency. And by many measures it did. However, for all the gains, these modern forms of agricultural technology also brought a host of unexpected consequences regarding their impact on wildlife, the health and safety of farmers and environmental contamination.
In the 1960’s, Japan was at the height of a new push towards industrialization and with it, a massive migration of labour from rural to urban areas. Though geography constraints meant that Japanese farms couldn’t scale up in size, farmers turned to technological advances to increase their efficiency and yield. However, by the 1970’s, stories of farmers falling mysteriously ill and the contamination of waterways made headlines, leading to consumer anxiety about this change in agricultural practice. Though the government responded with stricter regulations and safety protocols, some consumers- mothers in particular- remained skeptical. Deciding to take matters into their own hands, communities came together to form consumer co-operatives to source products they could trust.
At that time, organic farming was far from mainstream, and finding enough farmers to meet the growing demand for organic produce was challenging. It was through this need that the teikei system emerged. Teikei, which means ‘co-operation’ or ‘affiliation with’, is a system wherein which a community will contract a farmer to grow for them for a season. Unlike a traditional producer-consumer relationship, in a teikei program, members commit to building a relationship with their farmer. Payment for the year is not calculated by how much the farmer will produce, but how much the farmer needs in order to dedicate their farm to growing solely for the group. There are some groups, in the spirit of equality, assembled 100 community members to each give 1% of their annual income to their farmer in exchange for a 100th of what that farmer was able to produce that year. But it isn’t just about the money. Teikei members also share in the burden of the labour: often participating in labour intensive tasks such as weeding, harvesting and the delivery of the produce from farm to individual members’ homes. Additionally, teikei members pledge to support farmers through the ebb and flow of the season: accepting the seasonality of produce and dealing with the effects of being at the mercy of the weather gods.
This concept has now spread globally, earning the new moniker “CSA (community supported/shared agriculture)” across North America. In time these programs have evolved based on consumer demand. Now, it is more common to find farmers offering CSA shares of differing sizes for a pre-determined season rather than a one size fits all year round affair. Furthermore, consumer participation has become optional rather than mandatory to accommodate the busy schedules of urbanites. One farm leading this change is Minowa Rice Field, who offer rice and duck shares of their farm. Every year the farm puts on a rice planting and rice harvesting workshop for members and non-members to learn about organic rice production and to get to know the farmers. They also participate in the monthly Earth Day Market at Yoyogi park, in part to create opportunities for their customers to interact with them and each other- fostering the community that the teikei system was founded upon.
For those looking to have a CSA box delivered to their house, the following are a couple of website offering this service
English supported site that offers a weekly vegetable box from an organic farmer in Gifu
For those of you that prefer to meet organic farmers first hand, try the Earth Day Farmers Market: http://www.earthdaymarket.com/
For a less personal, but more convenient approach, Japanese organic food delivery sites that offer differently sized and priced vegetable boxes sourced from farmers across the country
Whether it’s an interest in sourcing trusted organic product, showing solidarity for local farmers or simply learning more about the food you eat, CSA programs are a fantastic way to become actively engaged in the act of nourishing our bodies.
To learn more about the teikei system: http://www.joaa.net/english/teikei.htm
An edited version of this article appeared in Metropolis Magazine:
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