It may seem obvious to say that the product of a farm is food, but actually that’s just part of what we aim to produce. Here are the other outputs we want:
The whole Adama Farm project is an experiment, and as such, one of the most important outputs is knowledge. We need to figure out what we want to do, and how to do it, and the best way to do that is by simply doing the things we aspire to. There’s plenty of knowledge to be gathered from books, websites, Youtube, and other sources, but all that knowledge needs to be adapted to the land we live on, its climate, the resources we can apply, the way we want to live, and the principles we want to live by.
Our knowledge and our principles advance and evolve as we try things. Farming is a huge task generator*, constantly throwing new things at us and demanding that we figure out both the clever thing to do and the right thing to do in each situation. Pursuit of clever tricks and the ingenious hacks for incremental improvements in efficiency and productivity, without regard to externalised costs and consequences, led to the disaster that is modern farming.
Most of the land we farm had been abandoned for a few years before we got to it, and before that, it was not farmed organically. The topsoil is shallow over clay, so it’s prone to waterlogging, and its nutrients have been depleted by conventional farming and leached away by the constant flow of water over and through it (this area is a temperate rain forest). Some fields got used to dump broken fragments of house contents and building materials when the house in the middle was demolished. Tough kaya reeds, the kind which used to be used here for thatching, quickly spring up on any land that is left untended. They choked most of the fields, dominating and driving out much of the biodiversity it could have had. We want to regenerate this land, restoring its fertility and biodiversity. We’ve made progress, cutting back the reeds so that diverse plants can flourish, running flocks of chickens, making and spreading organic compost, improving drainage, digging out rubble and garbage, and so on. There’s a long way to go.
When we talk to people around here about the different ways we do things, and the alternatives to current conventions, we’re always told with crushing finality “It might work where you come from, but it can’t be done that way in Japan”. People who farmed without agrochemicals in their youth, or at least had parents who did, know for a fact that it is literally impossible to grow rice in Japan without countless pesticide applications and artificial fertilizers. Our neighbours work hard to grow rice that sells for a pittance, even with subsidies, because the market is flooded with non-organic rice, while organic rice is in short supply and commands high prices. Talking clearly doesn’t work, and the invisible hand of the free market doesn’t seem to be guiding them, but there might be scope for changing minds by example.
Beyond our neighbourhood, we hope to be a resource for volunteers from Japan and around the world, who can come here and learn how we do things by working alongside us. That’s not going to turn them into a wave of outstanding permaculturalists who can go home knowing everything they need to know, but they can certainly learn from the experience and have a starting point for figuring out how to do things on farms in other parts of the world. As we’re still at the stage of working things out as we go along (is there any other stage?), we’re hoping to pick up some brilliant ideas and knowledge from our volunteers.
We’re thinking of offering other learning/exchange options, like farming days and classes that people can pay us for if they don’t have time for a volunteering commitment (which we usually want to be at least three weeks), and maybe more formal internships. I’ll put details on the site once we figure out what to offer, and in the meantime, please feel free to contact us about your educational needs and wishes.
Even if we get our land, skills, and practices to a state of real sustainability, that doesn’t make our valley and community sustainable. The biggest obstacle to a sustainable farming community, beyond even adherence to conventional farming (can we call it “conventional” when it only started within the lifespans of many of the people living here, and overturned methods that had lasted for millennia?), is population decline. Basically, Japan’s population as a whole is shrinking, despite the longevity of its elders, because there just aren’t enough young people. That’s even more acute here, because if the community does actually produce young people, they flee to the cities to lead easier and more modern lives. For now, many of them come back to help their parents and grandparents with seasonal farm work, like rice planting and harvesting, but they’ll stop as soon as the older generation passes away. After a few years, the land will be successively taken over by kaya reeds, low bushes, and trees, and the wildlife will move in. Houses that nobody wants to live in or maintain will be crushed by the snow. Without people, nothing we try to do here is sustainable, and the only reason for people to live here in an age of dwindling population is to farm. We hope that by doing things differently, and showing people that farming doesn’t have to be “conventional”, we might be able to attract some new people to live here, so that we’re not the last ones left to turn out the lights at the end.