Building a farm with a future in Japan
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Rye interplanted with squash: The rye improves soil health and provides wind protection. Pictured here, Ken Nagashimi gets ready to remove bundles of rye from the squash field.  
Efficient use of space: Broccoli and lettuce growing together in combination. The broccoli shades the lettuce. The lettuce suppresses weeds.  

Looking Back

Less than 100 years ago nearly 70 percent of the Japanese were farmers. They lived within walking distance of their fields. Farmers of this age were called "hakusho". A literal translation meaning: the grower of 100 things. Agriculture was about feeding the family. Leftovers, if there were any, were sold in the market or shared in the villages.

"At our farm we have redefined the meaning of family, changing it from blood connections to the people who support our farm."

Farmers produced a wide variety of crops because they understood the ideal conditions in which these various crops grew. They could fit each crop into complex planting schemes in their fields. There was another very practical reason: they did not want to starve. Farmers were an oppressed and economically exploited class of people. They were required to share a portion of their harvest with the ruling class based upon the amount of land they had. This amount did not vary in good years or lean. Permanent agriculture thus developed within the context of farmer exploitation without official support of the ruling authorities. It was a matter of survival.

The Central Guiding Principle
The "motainai spirit" (an ethic of "things are too precious to waste") strongly influenced the kind of agriculture that developed here. Since farms were small the focus was on how to increase the amount of production per unit of land area. As I see it, the "motainai spirit" applied to the farmerĪs use of time, space, and organic waste.

Traditional farming in Japan included the practice of relay cropping, i.e., growing more than one crop in a field at the same time and harvesting one while another is growing. An example of this is the interseeding of wheat and clover into the standing rice crop. After the rice is removed the wheat takes over. After the wheat is harvested the clover grows until the fields are flooded the following year for growing rice.

Trellising methods were highly developed in traditional Japanese agriculture. Under high-fertility conditions heat-loving plants such as cucumbers, tomatoes, melons, and squash could be trained to occupy aerial space. Cooking greens (napa) -- plants that can occupy a cooler and less sunny environment -- could be planted beneath.

We have been incorporating this thinking in growing lettuce together with our broccoli. We transplant both out to the field at the same time. As the broccoli grows up it shades the lettuce for about one week before we harvest the lettuce. In this way we also save time in having to weed since the lettuce is occupying space that weeds would normally grow. After the lettuce is harvested the broccoli provides significant shading that weeding is not necessary until harvest.

We are also using this principle in growing our squash. We flatten rows of rye, which was planted the previous fall, to plant our squash plants in June. The planting time has been calculated so that we can harvest the rye in between the rows of squash before the vines get too long. Other benefits, such as wind protection and soil improvement, makes this practices a very important part of our farming operation.

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