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.
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
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
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.