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
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 project.
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 organic farming.
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
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
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
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
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 wonderful trip.