Shumei Natural Agriculture:
Farming to create heaven on earth

Introducing a new series that explores in depth a spiritually-based agricultural movement in Japan, weaving together history, farm profiles and spiritual dreams to tell the story of an indigenous organic agricultural movement driven by something more complex and intangible than better yields.

By Greg Bowman, The New Farm® Online Editor


Coming next:

Farming measured by a different yardstick altogether (Part I
& Part II & Part III)

How did an agricultural movement develop in Japan that is defined less by commercial success than by close harmony with nature? To tell that story, you have to understand the history of farming in Japan.

Reiji Murota:
Kishima Island
(Part One
& Part Two)

“The island itself has an undeniable mystique… a place where you pass through pleasures like scanning the dial….” Reiji Murota’s long experience here allows him to do less farming activity than in years before, and to still be the deft master orchestrating life in the fields to be more vibrant and productive than ever.

Yasuo Tarumi:
Fukuoka Prefecture

“You must observe what happens in the field—that is your greatest tool.” Yasuo Tarumi planted traditional cover crops to help heal his land from agri-chemical damage. He uses persistent observation and his extensive line of farm implements to practice his version of Natural Agriculture.

Nobuaki Nakayasu:
Hyogo prefecture

“In the lotus root pond there are power poles rising literally out of the water, their peaks taller than the blue mountains in the distance.” Farming between chemically treated plots in an industrial area, Nobuaki Nakayasu nourishes his soil with loads of tree trimmings as he passes on the heart and philosophy of Natural Agriculture.

Osamu Yoshino:
Chiba prefecture

“Natural Agriculture consumers make sacrifices to allow the farmers to join craft and spirit in a fashion unfettered by finances.” Osamu Yoshino survived a “cold turkey” switch to no-chemical, no-input farming thanks to supporters who were willing to pull his weeds, but had to be convinced to buy his crops.

Toki Kuroiwa:
Tsumagoi Region

“She kneels in the dirt as if in casual prayer, and her 66-year-old hands dig without tools: scratch on either side of the carrot top, then wiggle, slide, and toss into the small pile on her way to the next one.” Toki Kuroiwa carries the torch for Natural Agriculture in the midst of 6,000 acres of chemical cabbage, and wins the hearts of her tofu-producing sister farmers to supply the local school with GMO-free soyfoods.

Morioka CSA:
Iwate Prefecture

“The [CSA leaders’] adjustments centered not around appeasing consumers, but around drawing them closer to the things that repelled them.” After consumers went to the fields then learned new recipes in the kitchen, they bought food from Yoshinori Takahashi’s CSA more gladly. Now its members happily rent land to grow their own health-giving food in the more economically challenging times of Japan’s 21st Century.

The Rodale Institute® and Shinji Shumeikai (based in Shiga, Japan) have worked together formally for five years to jointly promote the role of regenerative agriculture. They share the belief that farming of this type can contribute significantly to a restored environment, human health, vital communities and a more peaceful world.

Multiple visits between our groups to farms, homes, Shumei centers, museums and offices in the U.S. and Japan created many friendships. They opened the door for greater appreciation of the differences that culture creates in understanding the roles of food, work, religion and nature.

Japanese people are well informed about Western non-organic farming. Within environmentally minded Japanese, there is some knowledge of the U.S. organic movement’s explosion in the marketplace in recent years.

Yet Japanese agriculture in general – and its organic sector in particular – are little known in the West. Even less well-known are the spiritually-based agricultural movements like Shumei Natural Agriculture that have developed parallel to commercially driven organic farming during the past decade in Japan. The Shumei movement is now represented by the public non-profit organization named Shumei Natural Agriculture Network.

Shinji Shumeikai support has been critical in launching The New Farm® online. In its first year, The New Farm has covered many aspects of sustainable and organic agriculture around the world. Stories detail production methods by input and crop, explain reasons why farmers change methods, and explore motivations of consumers to buy food that is produced locally, humanely and in harmony with natural cycles. Editors and technicians developed new tools to track organic prices and allow farmers to advertise their farms without charge.

The New Farm editors wanted from the beginning to include coverage of the Shumei Natural Agriculture Network. We tried several ways to understand and write the stories of the many hundreds of Shumei farmers. Our best efforts never felt good enough to print. Our extended sharing and careful communication across cultures left us grasping for a suitable way to connect Eastern reality and Western words.

We realized we needed someone highly skilled in writing about North American organic farming to invest significant time on the ground in Japan, in the fields of Shumei Natural Agriculture farms.

We were fortunate to discover Lisa M. Hamilton, a California journalist and fine-arts photographer. Her stories and photos have delighted readers in national publications such as National Geographic Traveler, Gastronomica, Z Magazine and The Humanist. She has edited, written and produced publications on art, entertainment and environmental issues, in print and on the Web. She has distinguished herself in agricultural journalism with an acclaimed series of stories on prominent California crops in The Newsletter of CCOF (California Certified Organic Farmers).

Hamilton spent more than two weeks in southern Japan this spring, listening carefully to many farmers and their supporters within the Shumei community. What she discovered is no simple story. Rather, it is a complexly woven world view spun out of Japan’s history, culture and spirituality, now being stitched in real time for an eternal purpose.

Join Hamilton on her journey of listening, observing and reflecting on this very Japanese movement. Take in each of the seven stories to come as a necessary part of the whole. Weigh them lightly until you have them all in hand. You will not be disappointed . . .

Farming to create heaven on earth, Intro Part I:
Farming measured by a different yardstick altogether