A WINDOW INTO JAPANESE NATURAL FARMING
NewFarm.org carries on the quests of
two visionaries a world apart

Why The Rodale Institute® and the Japanese organization Shinji
Shumeikai joined forces to launch The New Farm® web site -- and what
you'll get from this collaboration


When 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 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 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 spirituality.

 

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.

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 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 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 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.