Thursday, August 15, 2013

Tohoku summer trip 2013

For August of summer vacation, we decided to head north to Tohoku to volunteer and do a bike tour. Joan had made a friend, Kimura-san, at the Nippori farmers market in Tokyo who invited us up to Aizuwakamatsu to visit and help out.

We also wanted to volunteer again to help with earthquake and tsunami recovery, and Joan knew of a nonprofit called OGA for Aid that was operating in Minamisanriku, one of the hardest hit areas by the tsunami. They have a farm project that Joan was interested in learning more about. 

So we headed north to Sendai by Shinkansen bullet train and then bus to Minamisanriku because the train lines are still not working. The tsunami damage there was so total and horrific that I really don't want to write about it, but you can probably imagine how bad it was. 

Two plus years later, they are still struggling to recover and rebuild. However, where to build, who pays to rebuild, rebuild for what and who are all questions that are slowing things down. 

OGA has a farm project to help rebuild the economic community and provide jobs to locals. We helped harvest, process and package cucumbers, while getting to know OGA staff, local people and other volunteers. The days were long, but it was a good experience. 

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Golden Week Trip 2013

For my Golden Week vacation, we took a trip down south to volunteer on two farms: a natural farm in Haibara, Nara prefecture (south of Kyoto), and an organic farm in Ashimoro, Okayama prefecture (south west of Osaka).  We also had a chance to spend some brief time with our friends, Seth and Haruna, in Osaka.

Joan had reviewed a book, Sowing Seeds in the Desert, by Masanobu Fukuoka, a farmer and philosopher who created a kind of agriculture called natural farming.  Very similar to organic farming, it's main ideas are not tilling and trying to produce food more in cooperation with nature instead of controlling it.  Joan has become very interested in it as she has been working on a more conventional organic farm where the soil is tilled into a fine brown mix - more of a growing medium for plants than true, healthy soil.

Last year on a trip to Nara, we had met a farmer, Kazuto-san, who had a natural farm where he grew vegetables, rice and tea.  He had learned about natural farming from students/disciples of Fukuoka and had invited us to come visit when we could.  So we when we were thinking of ideas and places for a Golden Week trip, it seemed a natural fit (sorry for the unintentional pun!)  We also had enough time to continue south to re-visit Mita-san, an organic rice farmer we had visited last year.

We spent a great four days in the countryside of Haibara with Kazuto and his sister, Erina, learning about natural farming and helping on their farm: weeding under the tea bush rows, hoeing weeds , and other chores.  We also had the best time staying at a nature center camp lodge, eating and drinking delicious homemade food and sake in the outdoor kitchen, all the time talking and laughing so hard our faces hurt - all in Japanese!  A dream vacation, indeed.  We will definitely go back for another visit.

After that, we headed south to Ashimori in the mountains of Okayama to stay for the weekend with Mita and his family.  Last year's Golden Week work vacation with him had been great (photos here), and this one was no exception.  With some other friends of his, we weeded carrot beds, prepared a field for vegetables, and turned over a massive compost pile.  And again, the food, fun and friendship was fantastic - all in Japanese!  Our bodies and our brains were happy but exhausted each night.  We are very glad we were able to return to visit him and his family again.  Hopefully, we can do it again!

Here is a link to an album of photos with captions from the trip: