It's not everyday that are faced with a small door camouflaged in the sound absorbing wall on the side of a busy highway, and I wasn't sure what would be awaiting us on the other side. The highway bus we had taken had just dropped us off, and the four of us spent a few bewildered moments trying to figure out what to do when we spotted the door. Thankfully, what awaited us on the other side of the door was a smiley Uozumi-san, ushering us into a large and comfortable passenger van.
Uozumi-san is touted as being one of the pioneers of the organic farming movement in Japan. He has been farming for over 40 years getting his start as a hired farmer in a group collective formed to grow organic produce for a consumer group concerned with the health effects of pesticide and herbicide residue on food products. He and his wife branched off to do their own thing shortly thereafter, but were approached by a 100 member consumer group to be their sole produce and egg provider. Those same customers (some have left, and some new have joined) remain the base for their farm sales.
From the moment we stepped in, we were regaled with the history of environmental catastrophes in Japan- from the two incidents of Minamata disease*, the consequences on farmer health due to intensive pesticide use and the most recent Fukushima nuclear meltdown. It wasn't yet 9:30 in the morning, and I could feel the question machine in our brains starting to churn.
We soon pulled off the winding roads lined with rice paddies and up a steep driveway to the Uozumi family farm. We could see onions and chiles hanging under the awning, strips of daikon drying on mesh shelves in the sun and an assortment of fun tools stored lovingly in an open shed. We were welcomed into the kitchen: dirt floored (so practical: you don't have to take off your shoes!) and wonderfully cozy. There was but the briefest of moments when none of us quite knew what to say, but farm talk quickly broke the ice and soon Uozumi-san was pulling out his big binder of hand drawn sketches of the fun tools he had 'invented' for small scale farmers. We had only gotten through about three of four pages of the binder when Uozumi-san's wife kicked us out of the kitchen saying it was better to see the tools in person.
What followed was a whirlwind of ideas, philosophies and questions as we toured first the chicken coop, greenhouses and tool shed. Perhaps the most enlightening for us was how they handle sale of their product. They have a rolling CSA program, where members remain members until they withdraw. Payment is automatic and happens yearly. Hardly any of the membership information is written down, and every week, by memory, boxes are filled to be delivered to customers on a weekly, bi-weekly or monthly rotation in either small or large shares. I have no idea how they keep over 100 members sorted in their heads, but somehow it works.
Chickens are fed a home brewed mix of soy, spent rice from sake manufacturing, oyster shells- making use of organic waste streams in their area. Another example of how embedded they are in their region. These are relationships that they have cultivated over their many years of farming and even this simple act of telling us where their chicken feed came from was interlaced with stories of food processors, fishing co-operations past and present.
It wasn't all sun and laughter though. As we puttered back into the kitchen for lunch, Uozumi-san shared the hardships they experienced after the 3/11 Fukushima nuclear disaster. The fallout from the accident at Fukushima Daiichi lead to (slightly) elevated levels of radiation on Uozumi san's farm- alarming his long time customers, many whom joined to have access to 'safe' food. This hit home particularly after having spent the whole morning listening to how hard he had worked at cultivating and nurturing the soils on his farm. He pulled out the reams and reams of papers of him testing and re-testing his soil. I still haven't been able to decipher the scrolls of numbers he presented me, but I could see the desperation he felt in trying to salvage his farm, his life's work. The conclusion is obviously a happy one: after an initial rise in radiation levels, his field tests showed that he was back down to within safe levels within two years. If anything, I think that just as a pet or child starts to reflect the personality of their parents, the soil of this farm seemed to mirror the tenacity and resilience of the farmers who farm them.
Emi Do: Exploring ideas in small scale agriculture: feasibility, viability, relevance and resilience.