Much to my surprise, at the IFOAM
conference in Victoria, I found myself surrounded by a group from
the Japanese Organic Agriculture Association. They wanted me to
come to Japan to talk about Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)
for training in alternative marketing they were organizing for farmers
from other parts of Asia. They made me an offer I could not refuse:
a 10-day expenses-paid trip to Japan to give presentations on CSA,
visit farms and meet with Teikei (the Japanese version of CSA) farmers
and members. I felt deeply honored by their invitation.
First a little background. Once mainly self-sufficient in food,
in 2001 Japan imported 72 percent of its grains and 60 percent of
its food calories. Yet there are still over 3 million farms with
an average size of only a few acres. The Japanese measure farmland
in increments of one-tenth of a hectare (one hectare equals about
2.5 acres). The number of farmers is falling, and most that remain
over age 65. Japanese traditions have slowed the exodus from the
land. Although violated in some instances, Japanese law prohibits
development on prime farmland. Furthermore, rural people consider
it deeply shameful to sell the land they inherited from their ancestors.
In 1971, a group of women who wanted chemical-free food joined
with agricultural researchers and farmers to form the Japanese Organic
Agriculture Association (JOAA). Sawako Ariyoshi, the Japanese Rachel
Carson, had alerted them to the dangers of the chemicals used in
agriculture. Within a few years, the Kobe consumer group grew to
1,300 members who were willing to help with the farm work and distribution
of the food. The history of JOAA and Teikei are closely intertwined.
For most of its existence, JOAA has opposed organic certification
and government involvement, advocating local self-sufficiency and
farmer-consumer cooperation and trust. Only recently, JOAA has come
to the reluctant realization that the government’s organic
program forces farmers who want to sell through stores to certify
and that JOAA has a role to play in insisting that the government’s
standards are appropriate and its procedures are fair. Sounds familiar?
The Hayashi Farm
After my arrival, the first farm I toured was that of Shiganori
Hayashi. He inherited the 2-hectare farm from his father, a conventional
but innovative farmer. On their land, they have found 2,000-years-old
human artifacts. Shiganori was unhappy with his father’s use
of chemicals, so he spent a year studying organic farming with Yoshinori
Kaneko (one of the pioneers of Teikei) and converted to organic
in 1980. His methods sounded very familiar — building healthy
soils by using compost and crop rotations and relying on crop diversity
for risk management and pest control. In addition to growing 70
to 80 different types of vegetables, the Hayashi Farm also raises
150 chickens, processes miso and pickles, and has storage facilities
for root crops. For pest control, Shiganori uses a milk spray against
aphids (whole milk or diluted 1 to 3 in water), garlic spray, loquat
seed tea and bug juice (unfortunately, I did not get all the details).
He has the most problems with tomatoes, which are not well adapted
to Japanese conditions.
At the time of my visit in late November, I saw growing a variety
of greens (mizuna, komatsuna, bok choi, lettuce, Chinese cabbage,
spinach), carrots, green onions, daikon radishes, burdock, broccoli
and cauliflower. This mix of crops was typical of the Teikei farms
I visited. Black soybeans and adzuki beans were still in the field
drying in their pods. Onions, potatoes, seed potatoes, sweet potatoes,
taro and ginger were in the storehouse. Rice from the farm paddy
had been hulled and bagged. Seedlings of snow peas and wheat were
just breaking through the ground. The same series of hoops and netting
that had trellised cucumbers would support the peas.
Shiganori, his dad and three trainees were setting out onion plants.
I was impressed to learn that salaries for the trainees came from
the local government; if these apprentices did not go into farming,
they would have to pay this money back.
The Hayashi Farm supplies vegetables, rice, dried beans, wheat
berries, processed foods and eggs to 60 households in the local
prefecture (county) once a week throughout the year and also sells
to a few restaurants. Three times a week, the farmers drive their
small flatbed truck to deliver directly to members’ homes.
Most members pay monthly and place orders for the mix of products
they want. The pricing is by item or by box size. The farm does
not wash or grade the vegetables. Once a month, a farm newsletter
accompanies the produce. Twice a year, members visit the farm for
a tour, a meal and discussions about farming. Recruiting is by word
of mouth, though good news coverage by the local press helps.
Ten principles of Teike
Our main activity the next day was a public seminar on alternative
marketing. I opened the session with a 2-hour slide presentation
on Community Supported Agriculture in North America. The questions
from the audience on this occasion were echoed at each of the talks
I gave: Why do consumers join CSAs? How do you recruit new members?
Are there self-sufficient (by which I understood subsistence) farmers
in the United States? Are CSA farmers new farmers or farmers who
have transitioned from conventional farming
The next day in Kobe, I gave another talk on CSA to an audience made up of
Teikei members, students and farmers. In attendance was a middle-aged
farmer named Ozaki-Ray, one of the originators of Teikei. He told
me he is reducing the size of his vegetable patch to about 1 acre
to demonstrate that a farmer can make a living on that amount of
land. He was surprised at the number of members participating in
my CSA and said that it reminded him of the early days of Teikei.
The sober seminar was followed by an elaborate and animated dinner,
at which I failed my first trial by raw fish.
Two of Shinji’s interns gave us a ride to his farm house
in the village of Ichijima. Formerly a produce manager for a consumer
co-op, Shinji took courses in environmental studies with Professor
Shigeru Yasuda, one of the leading spirits of the Japanese organic
movement and author of Ten Principles of Teikei. This was his inspiration
to try farming. Fifteen years ago, he moved to the village, where
he took over a Teikei group from a farmer who was retiring. In its
early years in the ’70s, this Teikei had numbered as many
as 1,300 families. After splits and attrition, the numbers dropped
to 300 families, and has remained stable for 20 years.
From my own experience in rural North America, I was not surprised
to hear that, for a newcomer, gaining acceptance in a small Japanese
village takes time and patience. The cooperative nature of village
life provides some opportunities: Every household must contribute
one day a month to local public works, fire control, road, ditch
and irrigation-system maintenance.
The pefecture pays the salaries of Shinji’s interns on condition
that they farm in the area. Their pay is 150,000 yen (about $1,200)
a month for up to three years. The local government also subsidized
the construction of Shinji’s greenhouse and provides compost
at a reasonable price from its composting factory, where rice hulls
from the local sake plant and coffee bean hulls from a local processor
are combined with cow manure.
Influenced by the teachings of Masanobu Fukuoka, Shinji does no
soil testing and no active pest control. He fertilizes with compost
that he makes from rice bran, chicken manure, oilseed cake, oyster
shells, molasses, ‘Effective Microorganisms’ and water.
He mixes these ingredients in a vat, and then stores it in paper
sacks for two to three weeks to ferment.
Together with five other farmers, Shinji belongs to the Ichijima
Organic Agriculture Association, which sells all of his produce
directly to four consumer groups with a total of 300 member households.
Each group has a slightly different share system. One group prefers
to have a specific farmer responsible for supplying a group of members.
Every few years, the farmers rotate. For this group, the relationship
with the farmer is more important than the contents of the box.
Another group has a paid coordinator and buys from other farmers
as well. For three of the groups, all six farmers contribute to
the weekly share. Twice a year, farmers and consumers get together
and negotiate prices for each item. The farmers then juggle combinations
of vegetables to reach the agreed-upon weekly value. Shinji showed
me their remarkably complex paperwork and admitted that the three
older farmers prefer to pay the three younger farmers to handle
the math. All six farmers pay a fee to the association to cover
co-op expenses, truck repairs, warehouse fees, containers, etc.
On the consumer end, each group has an elected board. The members
take responsibility for different areas: accounting, distribution,
newsletter, meat, purchases of processed foods, and an anti-GMO
Hyakusho, "100 jobs"
The archaic Japanese word for farmer, “hyakusho,” combining
the characters for “100” and “jobs”, applies
particularly well to Yoshinori and Tomoko Kaneko, so many activities
are going on at their farm. They have 2 cows, 200 chickens, 15 ducks
who weed their 3 acres of rice, 40 or so different vegetables, shiitake
mushrooms, a hoop house devoted to strawberries, fruit trees, bamboo,
wheat, barley, and soy beans, which they process into miso and soy
sauce. As on the other farms I visited, the chickens do not leave
their coops. The Kanekos feed them ground barley, rice and wheat
waste to avoid using imported corn. They produce compost from tree
prunings, cow manure and food wastes and make charcoaled rice-hull
and bamboo fertilizer. The cow manure also fuels their biogas digester,
which produces enough methane to cook much of their food. Cow manure
slurry, a byproduct of the methane production, also serves as fertilizer.
A solar collector provides electricity to run a pump. To fuel their
Kubota tractor, they use biodiesel made from waste vegetable oil.
This farm is an outstanding demonstration of self-sufficient, resource-conserving
In 1971, Yoshinori came to the realization that his modest farm,
besides providing for the subsistence of his own family, could also
supply other people. He calculated that the farm produced enough
rice for 10 more families. To recruit local housewives, he invited
them to join a reading circle, where they discussed such themes
as “oneness of body and environment,” the value of whole
foods, and the healthfulness of the traditional Japanese diet. After
four years of what he termed “education and communication,”
Yoshinori made an agreement with 10 families in 1975 to supply them
with rice, wheat and vegetables in return for some money and labor.
In his book A Farm with a Future: Living With the Blessings of Sun
and Soil, Yoshinori recounts the difficulties of this first attempt
at Teikei, an effort that foundered in misunderstandings. His second
try was more successful. He made farm work voluntary and left the
payment amount entirely up to the consumers. When his vegetable
yields outgrew the needs of the 10 families, he added 40 more and
also began selling to a local school.
Bullets for seeds, a new road map for peace
My final farm visit was to the Uozumi family: Michio, Michiko and
their two sons, Masataka and Teruyuki. To make time to show me around,
Michio switched the main Teikei delivery day so there were only
10 shares to prepare during my visit. I donned borrowed work clothes
to help them but was too busy taking photos to be of much use. I
was delighted with their two-toed boots.
With 20 years of farming under their belts, Michio and Michiko
are still considered “new” farmers since neither come
from farm families. Their soils are rich dark-brown loams that they
do not need to irrigate. While they harvest all the vegetables by
hand, their farm was the most mechanized of the farms I saw.
The quality of the crops in the Uozumi fields was exceptional,
with almost no weeds and few signs of pest damage. When I asked
what he would do about caterpillars munching away at some of the
broccoli plants, Michio said he would simply wait until the plants
outgrew the damage. He takes the same low-work approach to green
manures, turning under weeds instead of planting cover crops. “Natural
is good,” says Michio.
The Uozumis provide weekly shares to 150 households year-round.
Consumers pay weekly or monthly. The farmers offer boxes of two
sizes, including their own vegetables, eggs, rice, chestnuts, pork,
oranges, apples, noodles made from the farm’s wheat, and tea
from other farms. The Uozumis do not wash most of the vegetables.
The following morning, Michio and I took the train into Tokyo to
a meeting of the JOAA Board and my final public seminar. They considered
me a representative of the CSA movement in the United States and
were disappointed to learn that we do not really have a national
organization similar to theirs. I promised to find ways to spread
their message and maintain communication between CSA and Teikei.
Kisako Sato, President of JOAA, opened the gathering with a passionate
declaration of the organization’s emphasis on self-sufficiency
and farmer-consumer relations. “If you value yourself and
other life forms,” he declared, “this will lead to world
peace.” My last host, Michio reported on recent projects and
issues. JOAA has been confused about whether to support certification.
In Michio’s view, JOAA has the responsibility to help both
farmers who seek certification and those who do not.
Next, they turned to a discussion of how to link JOAA with organic
and CSA farmers in the United States. JOAA’s leaders are convinced
that the younger CSA movement can help revitalize Teikei, in which
most of the members are in their 60s and 70s. I urged them to keep
in mind that for small organic farms to survive, they must be flexible
and ready to readjust as conditions change. Some farms can manage
pure Teikei or CSA, but many need to cultivate other markets that
may require certification.
That afternoon, I talked about CSA in the context of globalization.
I gave as much information as I could to explain why Americans would
bother to join CSAs and referred to many examples of how CSAs recruit
and retain members by accommodating the particular needs of families
in which both parents work. I concluded with my deeply held conviction
that our movement will succeed in building an alternative society
in a world of peace where, instead of bullets and missiles, we will
exchange seeds and recipes.
We turned next to a celebration of Teikei and CSA with a big potluck
meal. One shot of sake and the dignified Kisaku and serious Michio
became highly animated and instigated singing, joke telling and
even a little folk dancing by some of the women. Many at the party
have devoted decades to the organic movement and to activism in
favor of food safety and against nuclear war and, more recently,
GMOs. It is a great challenge to our struggling CSA farms and does
real honor to what we have accomplished that these Japanese veterans
of organic agriculture look to us for inspiration.
A huge crowd from the party escorted me across the street to my
hotel for a final goodbye. I went to sleep tired but elated. The
next day, I flew back home, my bags heavy with presents from my
generous hosts and my head buzzing with vivid impressions from this