We’re looking for volunteers to work on the farm, to help with everyday work and with our projects for the future. We ask a lot of our volunteers, and we think we have a lot to offer. We also have our own ideas, principles, ways of doing things, and stuff that might be wise or just weird. This page is intended to give potential volunteers a better picture of the whole experience, and give them a head start on the learning process. If reading this makes you think “wow, that makes so much sense”, or “I want to be there already”, we’ll be happy to have you. On the other hand, if your reaction is “who are these people and why do they exist”, that’s fine too (better you run away now than later).
Please check to make sure you’re aware of the latest content
- Updated on October 21, 2019, to mention in the “Potential Deal Breakers” section that we have five cats.
- Updated on January 1, 2020, to mention that we want volunteers to stay for at least a month.
- Updated on March 15, 2020, to clarify that “No WiFi” includes hotspots, and that we can’t accommodate people who need vegetarian or vegan diets.
We need help with various tasks on our farm – specifically preparing animal feed, feeding animals (chickens and rabbits), harvesting and watering herbs and vegetables, and setting up enclosures and other facilities for the animals. If you have basic or better building skills, we also have an ongoing barn conversion project. We can teach you how to do all these things.
Most of the work is not very complicated but can be hard work. This is not a petting zoo, and guests should be ready to work. Some of it happens early in the morning, so guests will need to be able to get up early.
We have no paid staff, but the guests will work alongside us, doing the same tasks we do. We provide instruction and guidance, but will expect guests to work independently once they are familiar with tasks.
The number of hours of work per day and per week will vary with the season, what needs doing, and each volunteer’s skill set. In practice, we’re looking for an average of six hours a day, six days a week, or equivalent. That’s quite a lot of work, and exceeds the rules/guidelines on a lot of the volunteer sites, but we feel the food and the travel opportunities (see “Room and Board” below) we provide justify the additional hours. Yes, you can trade less work for a place to stay, so if that’s your preference, fair enough.
In practice, we want volunteers to stay for at least a month. That may seem awkward, but it always takes time for new people to settle in and learn how we do things, so if people stay for less long, they end up leaving just as they’re starting to do their best work.
Room and Board
The house and your room
The room is a Japanese-style room (futons on tatami matting) in our home, a Meiji-era farmhouse. The room is specifically a guest bedroom. It can comfortably hold up to four. Guests can also use our gym, cinema, and other facilities.
If we have multiple guests, they would need to share the room.
As for meals, all of our food is organic, whether we buy it or grow it (with the exception of avocados, which are only semi-organic/ reduced chemicals). We cook almost everything from ingredients. Tal has lots of allergies and can’t eat gluten, so we basically have no grains in our meals or in the house. So, no normal bread, pasta, rice, etc. The meals are large, they just don’t have the “cheap and bulky starch” element. Expensive (our problem, not yours), but more interesting and nutrient dense.
We eat twice a day,in the middle of the day and the evening, because that fits our schedule and is a better way to eat, once you get used to it. We eat together with our guests. If you absolutely have to eat breakfast, we could probably provide ingredients for you to make something, and there will be simple snacks (think carrots, not Doritos, and non-cereal cereal) available.
There’s some meat (organic and humanely grown, not factory-farmed supermarket stuff), and a lot of local fish.
All your meals are included in your work exchange.
Other than room and board, we try to make sure you get the most out of your time here. We’re proud of our city, Itoigawa, and we know it has a lot to offer visitors, but many attractions are tough to get to without a car and a guide. We take our volunteers on frequent half-day trips to see beautiful places in our area, so rather than just giving them time off, we spend our time and money to give them better experiences.
We have our own ways of doing things, and the ability to decide how our food gets grown and our land gets used is one of our main motives for farming. Look here for specifics.
As detailed below, there are a lot of things to learn,
remember, and get used to. That’s why we want our volunteers to stay for at
least two weeks, and preferably a month. Training someone who’s going to move
along soon is a large investment of time for not much return. Probably the most
important thing is to ask first if you’re unsure of something. We’d rather spend
time giving guidance than fixing damage. This is perhaps particularly important
if you already have farming experience, because if you go ahead and do what you
know to be normal and correct, that could be the wrong thing for our local
circumstances, or at least for our way of thinking.
The land is complicated
The land we farm consists of a lot of small fields near our house, ranging from relatively flat ground in front of our house to a lot of strips climbing like terraces to the edge of the forest. Most of the land is borrowed, and not our property. The boundaries are not obvious, and may only be marked by a narrow path or a single stone. That means you’ll need to learn which land we can use, and which belongs to our neighbours. The fact that boundaries aren’t clearly marked, let alone fenced, doesn’t mean people are relaxed about them, so please follow our lead about where to go.
The plants are complicated
Our area is a temperate rainforest. Other than the obvious implications, (that it rains a lot, it’s not as hot as the tropical variety, the land eventually defaults to forest if left alone), another major feature is the diversity of living things here. The profusion of different spiders, beetles, dragonflies, frogs, and other aspects of biodiversity, welcome and unwelcome, is fascinating to watch, but the diversity of plants is probably more interesting to us as farmers. Once you know what to look for, a very high proportion of all plants are edible, medicinal, or useful in some other way, and the way we manage the land is to let it do its diverse thing. More on this in the “Principles” section, but the practical result is that a lot of the land looks like it’s running wild, even while it’s being highly productive. If you decide to help out by tidying the land and whacking all those “weeds”, you’re going to destroy a lot of useful stuff. Before we cut plants down or tear them up, we need a good reason for doing so.
It’s wilder than it looks
Our neighbourhood, Sugawa, used to have more people and households, so there were more dogs, chickens, children, and other noisemakers, more lights, and more fires. More fields were cleared and cultivated between the houses and the trees. From the perspective of an animal lurking in the forest, all this “more” said “this is human turf, probably dangerous, stay away”. With declining population, this is a time of “less” all around. The forest and other overgrown land extends closer to the houses and everything is dark and quiet past dinnertime, so the animals are getting more ambitious. There are bears, wild boars, foxes, badgers, raccoon dogs, martens, weasels, ferrets, and more. All of them would be happy to eat chickens and rabbits. So, we need to be careful with the fences, electric fences, and animal repellers, making sure everything is closed and switched on, particularly at night. We must also be ready to go out and check on the animals if they call for help (OK, rabbits don’t call, but chickens certainly do).
Potential Deal Breakers
Fitting into someone else’s home for an extended period can be a great opportunity to make friends and exchange ideas and knowledge. On the other hand, you might find some things you really don’t want to live with. We need to line up volunteers months in advance, and accepting some people means turning away others. The same is true for volunteers, who want to line up their hosts well in advance through their trip. So, if something’s going to be a deal breaker, better we all recognise that sooner than later, so that both sides can find better options. The following are some potential deal breakers, in no particular order. It’s probably not a complete list …
Two main meals a day, at irregular times
As mentioned above under “room and board”, we only eat two meals a day. That’s a convenient and healthy arrangement, once you get used to it, but it can be tough to adjust to if you’re accustomed to eating three cooked meals a day. Also, the specific times of the meals will vary to fit with other tasks that have to fit into the day, which could be difficult if you require your meals at the same times every day.
Animals raised for meat
Some of our animals are raised for meat. We give all our animals the best lives we possibly can, in terms of what they eat and where and how they live, but many of them (the rabbits and many of the chickens) are there for the purpose of providing meat. If you can’t cope with that idea, or find it morally indefensible, you should look for somewhere else to go.
Look here for more on our relationship with meat.
We have a fast Internet connection, but the LAN is all cable, no WiFi. We’ve noticed health effects that show up in WiFi and go away without it (this is an environment far enough out in the sticks that other people’s WiFi fields are distant enough to be trivial), so we’d rather not live in another EMF field that we can avoid. You can use mobile data. Reception is adequate for services based on Softbank and DoCoMo networks, and nobody else. I can order 10GB SIM cards from Amazon for JPY2,700 if you need them (don’t buy a SIM card at the airport)), or plug a laptop onto a LAN cable in the guest room. You can’t use WiFi hotspot tethering either, because it has the same effects.
If you suffer from EMF sensitivity, this will be a real plus for you. For everyone else, it’s probably just a hassle. Sorry.
Maybe we’re busy people who prioritise farming and taking care of animals over tidying the house. Or maybe we’re just messy packrats. Whatever the cause, we’re not reality TV-level hoarders, but this is far from being a tidy house. A lot of places are cluttered (not the guest room), and there may be animals where you don’t expect them. If this kind of thing freaks you out, you should probably stay away.
Neither of us is Japanese
If you’re looking to stay in a very Japanese home environment, meet ordinary Japanese people, and maybe practice your Japanese, this isn’t going to be the best place. We can certainly give you a lot of gaijin‘s-eye perspective and information about Japan, having lived here all our adult lives, but actually being Japanese is outside our range.
Cats. Lots of cats
Until recently, we had three cats, all born of the same litter and aged 10.5. I mention their age because we were rather surprised this summer to find that the girl was pregnant. She produced a litter of three, of which two survived, so now we have five cats. So, if you are allergic to cats, that’s probably a concern. Some visitors with cat allergy report that it’s not as much of a big deal as usual, but some people suffer symptoms. The guest bedrooms are cat free, but they have access to other parts of the house.
Meat and fish in the meals
After decades of study and experimentation, we’ve come to the conclusion that to maintain our health, we need meat, fish, and eggs in our diet, provided we can get them from acceptable sources. So, the meals we serve include meat and fish, and/or things derived from them, like cooking fat and bone broth. As our kitchen is always busy and must be kept free of grains and a lot of other things, the “I’ll just cook my own veggie/vegan food” option doesn’t work either. We’ve tried to work around this a few times, but we have concluded that we can’t take in volunteers who need vegan or vegetarian diets. I expect we’re going to miss out on meeting and working with some wonderful people, but that’s what there is.