Building a farm with a future in Japan
Something horrible has gone wrong with Japanese agriculture, but one organic farmer adapts virtually forgotten traditional practices–and sees hope for the future.

By Ray Epp
Naganuma, Hokkaido, Japan

   
Organic's the Way: Akiko Aratani, Ray Epp's wife, displays a happy zucchini at Menno Village farm in Hokaido, Japan  

Editor’s NOTE

Ray Epp and Akiko Aratani, his wife, earlier organized CSAs in his native state of Nebraska and in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He studied sustainable agriculture at the Land Institute under the direction of Wes Jackson near Salina, KS.

 

 


Building a farm with a future in Japan will be something new in time but not necessarily new in substance.

"Organic food is not only for the wealthy. We want to make a way for all people to enjoy the benefits of good farming regardless of their means."

I would be a fool to think that I have something to teach an agriculture with a 4,000 year history. Permanent agriculture was born in this region of the world. But rapid development of the industrial economy has ravaged farmers and rural areas in Japan just as it has in other countries around the world. In addition, in the past few years Japanese consumers have had to contend with food poisoning outbreaks, the introduction of genetically engineered foods, and food companies placing false labels on their products. These events have shaken the confidence of consumers in the food system.

It seems to me that if farmers are being hurt by the present system, and if consumers are losing faith in the safety of their food, then something must be wrong.

The scale of the food system may be what is at fault. I have been an organic farmer for 8 years in Japan. At present, we grow food for 80 families. At Menno Village we are trying to create a way of farming that just makes sense. The land needs to be cared for and people need good, wholesome food. That's why we are rediscovering the traditional agriculture of Japan's past and linking together with city people who support our farm in exchange for food.

I need to make a living but not all of our families are of equal means. The solution? We use a sliding-fee scale depending a household's ability to pay. Organic food is not only for the wealthy. We want to make a way for all people to enjoy the benefits of good farming regardless of their means.

To understand the farming practices and the social relations that we have with our members, it would be helpful to briefly look at the history of Japanese agriculture and what I feel was its central guiding principle.

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