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 1998.
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
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
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 with others.
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 is
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 food.
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 farming future.
J.I. Rodale’s interest in organic agriculture -- carried
on by his son, Bob, and grandson, Anthony -- resulted in Organic
Gardening (started in 1940?) 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 without fertilizer.
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
“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
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
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 euphoria world.
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
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
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.