At the dawning
of the Age of Chemical Agriculture during the 1950s,
two men shared a vision for farming without chemicals. A world
apart and unknown to each other, they were each promoting farming
that respected the earth and created health for those who farmed
and those who ate. In 1951 they began corresponding.
East met West
. . . in Iowa
Decades after the initial correspondence between
Mokichi Okada and J.I. Rodale, The Institute and
the Shumei organization re-established contact
in July 1996 with the visit of Satoshi Togo to
the Rodale Institute Experimental Farm® (RIEF)
in Kutztown, Pa. Togo, the Shumei Director of
Natural Agriculture, was a passionate champion
of Natural Agriculture who inspired many Shumei
farmers to continue their efforts.
Mr. Togo’s meeting with John Haberern,
president of Rodale Institute, launched a series
of visits between leaders and agricultural specialists
of the two groups. A Rodale delegation visited
a Natural Agriculture conference in 1997 on Kishima
Island, which functions as the Natural Agriculture
development center. Following a visit by Ms. Hiroko
Koyama, current president of Shinji Shumeikai,
a formal partnership agreements were signed in
In the same year, Rodale staff guided a Shumei
delegation to visit sustainable farmers in Iowa.
That visit is well remembered by Koichi “Cody”
Deguchi, the current Shumei director of Natural
Agriculture. He recently wrote:
I was most strongly impressed with Dick Thompson,
who was one of the farmers working on regenerative
agriculture. He said, “We need healthy soil
for making healthy people. To make healthy soil,
our soul needs to be healthy. Your own soul needs
to change first to work on regenerative agriculture.”
Rodale staff on the trip report that the Iowa
farmers were surprised, at first, that the Shumei
visitors were much less interested in how
they farmed than in why they
farmed. Yet these sustainable farming pioneers
quickly realized that they could finally speak
openly to others who shared their deep convictions
about farming that went far beyond economics.
Deguchi recalled Thompson’s account of
his spiritual quest for a sense of direction once
he became dissatisfied with what conventional
farming was doing to his soil, his family and
his life. Thompson related that his agricultural
training had to be put to the service of understanding
farming from God’s view. This meant devoting
his life to regenerating the land and patiently
teaching others, as well as transforming his strongly
competitive spirit to one of greater cooperation
Deguchi concludes his tribute by recounting a
story he heard Thompson share on the 1998 trip.
Thompson told the visitors about a speech he gave
in 1995, when he was chairman of Practical Farmers
of Iowa (PFI). The occasion was the 10th anniversary
celebration of PFI’s founding. Deguchi recalls
what Thompson said:
The hall was filled with deep emotion at
that time. The sight made me believe it could
be noone else but God who touched people’s
hearts through my mouth. There were Protestant,
Catholic, and others in the hall, but we shared
a spirituality that goes beyond the difference
of religions. The core of regenerative agriculture
Fifty years later – as the search for environmentally
sound and socially responsible farming intensifies –
an active partnership between these groups honors their joint
quest for a different, better way to cultivate the earth for
While neither Japan’s Mokichi Okada or Pennsylvania’s
J.I. Rodale lived to see the current upsurge of organic agriculture
around the world, neither would be surprised. The health,
balance and harmony in agriculture that they advocated are
values now regarded as critical for finding a sustainable
J.I. Rodale’s interest in organic agriculture -- carried
on by his son, Bob, and grandson, Anthony -- resulted in Organic
Gardening (started in 1942) and The New Farm® (1978-1995),
magazines that carried the message to millions of people.
Growing directly from this interest was The Rodale Institute®,
which has applied the Rodale message to practical farming
situations in North America and many other nations.
Mokichi Okada first spoke of his ideas that came to be known
as Natural Agriculture in 1935. He had risen from a difficult
early life to become a successful businessman who in turn
became a philosopher, poet, naturalist, collector of fine
art and teacher. By 1942, he was raising vegetables and rice
For Okada, Natural Agriculture was as much a spiritual practice
as a method of food cultivation. It flowed from his core motivation:
to promote happiness and well-being worldwide.
Shinji Shumeikai, a spiritual fellowship with regional centers
throughout Japan, carries on Okada’s teachings internationally.
A growing number of Shumei farmers practice Natural Agriculture
in Japan and in North America.
Now, the Shumei organization is partnering with The Rodale
Institute to support www.newfarm.org. The web site was conceived
in 2002 through the cooperation of these two groups, and is
dedicated to the believe that farming done well is good for
the earth and for all people.
The Shumei Department of Natural Agriculture will be closely
involved in producing the Japanese-language version of www.newfarm.org,
which will provide coverage of the progress of Shumei farmers
and other aspects of Japanese regenerative agriculture, food
and agro-ecological developments. NewFarm.org staff members
will work with Shumei colleagues to present the authentically
Japanese – and decidedly non-Western – Natural
Agriculture approach to Western, English-speaking readers.
“It’s difficult enough for organic and conventional
U.S. farm groups within the same state to understand each
other,” observes Chris Hill, NewFarm.org’s executive
director. “Making sense of different approaches and
values across vast cultural and language divides is going
to be a real challenge. We’re eager to tackle this work,
however, because we’ve seen first hand what Shumei farmers
have to offer, and it powerfully complements our own strengths.”
Much to gain, East and West
Japan, like most of the industrialized world, officially adopted
chemical-intensive farming techniques since World War II to
meet its food needs. Over-application of pesticides (seven
times as much per acre as in the U.S.) continues to cause
pollution of water supplies and soil. Rural Japanese suffer
high rates of skin disorders, cancer and other diseases.
Shumei members who have embraced Natural Agriculture farming
and food frequently tell of dramatic recovery from physical
sicknesses that Westerners would expect only from medical
intervention – if at all. Knowledge of a family member
with cancer or an environmentally linked disease is a strong
incentive to explore non-toxic sources of food.
Shumei farmers – many of them part-time, as is the
case with many small-scale farmers in the U.S. -- have struggled
with some success in recent years to achieve economic viability.
They want to continue to enjoy the deep sense of personal
satisfaction that comes from loving their soil and bringing
good life to their customers – while also adequately
providing for their families material needs.
In the stalled Japanese economy of 2003, the nation faces
new questions of how to proceed after decades of nearly continuous
prosperity. Shumei members have started to make direct farmer-consumer
connections. They wonder how their spiritual and personal
commitments in Natural Agriculture can be worked out to also
sustain them materially.
In North America, many innovative and creative regenerative
farmers are almost meeting the economic goals that their culture
says are primary. Yet they recognize their need to round out
their lives with a spiritual grounding that supercedes the
next year’s balance sheet or even improving their ecological
management. They and their customers – increasingly
interested in direct-marketing relationships – search
for hope beyond themselves in the post-9/11, post-stock market
Join us in this East/West dialogue
The staff at www.newfarm.org welcomes you to join in our East-West
dialogue with our Shumei friends. We’ll talk about soil
and soul, tofu and tomatoes, soybeans and spirit, profit and
peace. We’ll tell stories, ask questions and challenge
all our readers to see things from a different perspective.
Our technicians are hard at work assembling the NewFarm "coffeeshop",
a readers’ discussion forum where you can explore and
expound online. As we add stories about Japanese farmers and
consumers, we hope you’ll use these discussion forums
to share your thoughts and opinions.
Our Japanese sub-site will soon be followed by a Spanish-language
sub-site. Other language sub-sites will be added as we grow
and develop. We want as many people as possible to participate
in this global discussion about the New Farm. We have a lot
to learn from each other.
Fifty-two years after Mokichi Okada and J.I. Rodale began
writing, the dialogue continues at www.newfarm.org. There
is more than ever to gain. And you are all invited.