Sunday, January 27, 2013

Peanut Butter Crackers

 Hello! Doug here. Jenny is currently riding a "shinkansen" (the fast one) back to ARI! I have been on my own all weekend. Jenny has been at a conference in another city. It was a conference for women so naturally, I wasn't invited. I wasn't too hurt. I spent the weekend cleaning house and just relaxing. We stay so busy that we have no time to clean anything during the week. So while the wild girl that always fills my weekends with plans is gone, I have cleaned nearly everything here. I have done dishes, laundry, swept up the dust bunnies, and scrubbed the mold off the shower.

I have come to realize that cleaning you surroundings is like a sort of meditation. In order for your mind to be clear and at peace, your surroundings must be clear and at peace also. I have cleaned the whole house and my mind is nearly as clean.

Here at ARI we have had some really nice meals. There has only been six or seven people at each meal so we've all been at one table. It felt like a meal at home!

I spent all day Friday missing Jenny and tending to onions. Onions are hard to grow. We plant them in November and harvest in June. They need as many hours of daylight as possible so that the bulb can grow. They are just the size of chop sticks now. When it gets really cold here, the water in the soil freezes and pushes up to the surface. This causes the onion seedlings to pop out of the soil. So we have to go and squat next to each one, put it back in the frozen soil, and add mulch to keep it warm. I did this all day. My back is now in the shape of a question mark. What? Yes, a question mark.

I've decided to make this week's blog short and leave you with a few good pictures from our experience here!

Katie, Jenny, Kelly, and Leo below the Tokyo skyline. 
Me riding a bike through the rice fields. I miss the summer!
I am a master chef.
Winter hiking.
My beautiful wife and her be-loved co-worker, Nishi. They are the cutest! (Nishi's birthday was Saturday!)
Stay tuned next week for Jenny's report on the Women's Conference and the adventures that await us this coming week!

Your brother in Christ,


Saturday, January 19, 2013

A Birthday, a Snow Hike, and Some Answers

Spending a whole year in Japan not only means that we spend a year worth of holidays here, but also a year worth of birthdays (which means just one birthday/person...), and this past week, we celebrated Doug's birthday! As of January 15, he is now 23. Yes, twenty years plus three more. 

To celebrate, we had coffee/hot chocolate in bed and "woke up slow." Usually we wake up, get dressed, and head out the door in the course of 5 minutes to rush to morning exercises at 7:00am. So we enjoyed our hot drinks and talked of birthdays past and dreamed of birthdays future. We listened to Doug's newest birthday CD while he opened his gift from me, juzu beads. (I had gone out on a shopping quest with my working advisor/friend, Nishi, to find these traditional Buddhist prayer beads.) We made it to morning exercise on time (this is a rare occasion) and began our regular ol' day of work. During lunch preparation time, I made Doug's birthday cake. I did not think I would be able to pull the ingredients together for a blackberry cobbler, but I did manage to find the ingredients for a chocolate cherry cake (for those of you who came to our wedding, this was the groom's cake!). The whole community sang to Doug and wished him a Happy Birthday and he got to cut his cake. That night, we stayed in and cooked gyoza (aka dumplings/pot stickers). We both thoroughly enjoyed Doug's first day of being 23.

The rest of the week was devoted to preparations for a winter snow hike! Steven, an ARI staff member, approached us with this idea and for some crazy reason, we agreed! The biggest obstacle was obtaining crampons. These are hiking accessories that people use when hiking on snow or ice to improve traction, and they are expensive. So living in the ARI spirit, we decided to use local resources. Steven came up with a pretty solid design where we have two layers of wood, with straps in between, and screws holding it all together and sticking out the bottom. So we spent our evenings building these MacGyver crampons and making snacks for the trail.

So Saturday morning, we packed up the car and headed for the snowy Nasu Mountain. For the first part of our hike, we basically walked through a snow trench. If we stepped outside the trench, we'd find ourselves thigh-high in snow! After reaching a certain point, we saw hikers coming down the mountain in their store-bought crampons. As the trail became more icy rather than snowy, we decided to break out our crampons too. We received many strange looks and snorts and "mokuzai?!" ("wood?!"). But our local resource use proved to be just as strong and effective as our neighbors' reliance on large corporate products. Plus we shared quality time with our community, building our crampons together.

We want to spend a little time this week talking a bit more about some of the theory and philosophy of ARI in terms of agriculture. Doug's sister sent us some questions: 1) How do you keep or preserve the vegetables that you harvest? and 2) What do you use to keep the insects off your crops? We would like to share the answers with everyone.

1) We keep vegetables in many different ways. Mostly, we just eat them when they're in season. We plan ahead of time to plant an appropriate amount of each crop depending on our projected consumption. During the summer, we harvest as we need food (plus a little extra each week to sell to outside community members for income). But the way we keep harvest also depends on the season and the kind of vegetables we are keeping. For example:

After harvesting onions, one of our large crops, they hang on bamboo poles in front of farm shop, a place that receives little sun. We then collect them on a need basis. We do the same for garlic.

We grow more tomatoes than we can consume during the summer so that we can preserve some for use in the wintertime. So throughout the month of August, I would cook down a pot of tomatoes into a puree and seal it in glass jars or put in freezer bags. Enjoying tomato dishes in the cold winter months is a real treat!

Kiwis are harvested in November but then take another month or so to mature. Once mature, we serve a lot of fresh kiwis during meals, we make fresh jam to enjoy with pancakes, we make jam in jars to sell for income, and jam in jars to keep for use in the kitchen, and some kiwis we just peel, cut, and freeze. We preserve other fruits, such as blackberries and raspberries, into jams as well.

Potatoes is another one of our big crops. Once they are harvested, they go in a semi-cool fridge room. They are sorted throughout the summer and fall so that we are always eating the most mature potatoes and can continue to enjoy potatoes into the winter. The sweet potatoes we grow here are actually considered a tropical vegetable, so instead of keeping them in a cool room, they are kept in an insulated underground storage room so that they stay above 10C. 

After harvesting other root vegetables like carrot, radish, burdock, and taro, they are buried in the soil again in alternating layers with soil and rice husk in a big pit. This keeps them preserved during the winter season--no animals get to them and insects that would normally get at them are not active at this time of year. So whenever we need these vegetables in the kitchen, we just go dig them up. 

Cabbages can usually keep in the soil through the winter. We tie up the outer leaves around the plant to keep the frost out. However, we had to go ahead and harvest them all this year because the pesky crows were eating them. So to preserve them for the rest of winter we simply wrapped them in newspaper and keep them covered with a blanket (but in a building that experiences the natural outside temperatures...which are basically all buildings here). 

Rice bran, byproduct of polishing brown rice to make white
rice, we use this in our livestock animal feeds.
We grow rice and wheat for harvest and consumption on a yearly basis. So these two crops receive a lot of attention in terms of preparation for human consumption. They must be removed from the stalk, husked, polished or ground, etc. We also find ways to use all of the leftover organic matter (ie. the rice husk is used in rice-husk charcoal which we use to improve the soil). 

We dry some herbs and spices like basil, shiso, and chilies for preservation and use throughout the year. 

2) The honest answer is that we do not keep insects off our crops. Sometimes we pick them off by hand if we find them while we are harvesting, but for the most part, they munch happily in our fields. The organic vegetables that we produce here look much different than the ones you see in the store. Ours are full of holes and always imperfect. Because food is now sold as a commodity, stores have to put the best looking vegetables on the shelf or they won't sell as well as someone else's vegetables. We don't use pesticides because we believe that it is not only harmful to humans but that such chemicals disrupt the sacred harmony of nature. The fact is that insects are a part of nature and to kill all of them off using a powerful chemical disrupts the system in ways beyond our control or understanding.

Another question may be, "How do you prevent pest outbreaks that totally demolish an entire crop?" 

These sorts of things happen when people grow large amounts of the same plant in the same area without any other kinds of plants interspersed. If you look at a natural forest you will see many different organisms interacting and balancing each other out. But if you look in the fields where our nation's food is produced. you will see rows and rows and countless rows of the same plant growing while nothing else is allowed to survive there. By producing such a large amount of one specific food source you allow a certain type of insect or fungus to rapidly grow and multiply, causing outbreak and thus necessitating the use of powerful chemicals to beat them back. So basically, we try not to grow a large field of the same thing, in the same field, year after year.

One way to avoid this is using crop rotation. This means that if we grow beans in one place one year, then we will grow fruit in that place the next year. Next year we grow root crops and leaf vegetables the next year. This way there are different types of food sources available in that area and we don't allow one type of pest to swell in population too much. 

Another way is through crop diversity. The wider the variety of crops grown on our farm, the more diverse our ecosystem is going to be. Usually, rich diversity means balance. If our farm is ecologically balanced, no pest is going to grow out of control and consume all that we are growing. This also allows for companion planting; some plants are grown in close proximity to assist one another in pest control, nutrient uptake, and pollination.  In essence they look out for each other. 

Small field size also helps because it allows trees to be close to our crops which means birds are close enough to eat some pests for us. 

Not using chemicals in some ways actually helps prevent breakouts. By not bleaching the soil of life, we are allowing weeds to grow which can be troublesome for some pests. Also, spiders like to spin their webs in weeds, which can be even more troublesome for pests. Basically, everything eats and also everything will be eaten. Trusting in this cycle is how we get around the pest problem. 

There are more examples we we have not named here or that we probably don't even know about yet. But hopefully this gives you a better idea of some of the ways we can survive all year long from our own soil and work with nature and not against it!

If you guys have any questions or suggestions or comments please feel free to post here! 

This coming week should be a regular work week at ARI. I (Jenny) will be heading to a Women's Conference on Friday with Kelly (volunteer with Methodist Church who joined us on our New Year's travels). We will return late Sunday evening so it might be another week before I can report back!

Hope everyone has a wonderful week!

Doug and Jenny

Thanks to our mothers for the waterproof pants and thermal underwears!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Something About Hosts and Guests

Hello everyone! We have finally settled back down here at ARI. We’ve had a long journey to Kyoto, Tokyo, and back since the New Year began. Life here is dark and cold as ever. Jenny and I are now alone in this house for the first time. It is nice but also lonely. Lately we have been reflecting on hospitality and on being a guest. Our travels gave us good practice at being guests.

On New Year’s Eve we were invited to Jean Hae-san and Ban-san’s house for breakfast. They showered Katie with gifts. I think they liked her a lot. One of the gifts in fact was a nap-sack full of homemade rosemary bread that we could take on our trip.

That night everyone at ARI went over to Kikuchi-sensei’s house. He is a former director of ARI so he was no stranger to hosting farmhands. He and his wife had prepared traditional Japanese New Year's food for us called soba noodles. There must have been over fifteen of us sitting around his living room enjoying the meal. Afterward, we invited the volunteers over to our house for a few rounds of Uno while we waited on the new year to arrive.

Some of us lasted longer than others... :)
The next day we woke up and baked the traditional Japanese new year treat called mochi. It is basically cooked rice that has been pounded together. After baking, it puffs up and turns toasty. It is very, very difficult to chew. They joke that a few people die each year from choking on it. Later, we headed down to the local Shinto shrine where New Year’s festivities were in full swing.
Usually the area around the shrine is empty and peaceful, but on New Year’s Day it was hard to even walk through. Overnight, street vendors had lined up to sell many different kinds of food. We enjoyed our favorite, okonomiyaki, and tried a new one, takoyaki, which is fried dough balls with octopus. Everyone was praying, washing their hands in holy water, and receiving fortunes. Katie could not read hers, but after asking someone to inspect it she was assured it was “excellent.” We enjoyed an hour of Karaoke after the Shrine festivities.

The next day we woke before sunrise. Ban-san drove us to Nishinasuno station where Jenny, Katie, Kelly, and I started our adventure. It took us thirteen hours to hop 11 different economy trains to get to Kyoto. We stayed there for three days exploring monkey parks, temples, and food markets. We saw Geisha’s float down the narrow streets. We visited the Golden Temple in all its glory. We were even treated to a view of the city lights at night.

Waiting on trains!

It took us another full day on trains to travel to Tokyo. We stayed for four days and caught a sight of the Imperial Palace, Meiji Shrine, an Episcopal Church service, and a street that has all you need to start a restaurant.

All the sights were wonderful but we found that the heart of our trip was in the people that we met and shared it with along the way. In the Bible, I remember Jesus visiting a lot of people and eating dinner at their house. I had never given much thought to that sort of business. I’ve always just thought he did such things because he was a traveling spiritual teacher with very little money. But after this trip, I’m beginning to think there might be something more to it. So I’ll spend the rest of the blog talking about the immense hospitality we received while traveling in such an unfamiliar land.

When we arrived in Kyoto station, the patience had been sucked out of us by a full day of train riding. We took a bus into the city and got off at the right stop but didn’t quite know how to get to our hostel from there. We wandered around the city for a bit before deciding to call the friend who we were supposed to be meeting at the hostel. She came out to the street to find us and guided us safely to a little nook of a place that we would’ve never found.

Our friend’s name is Katie Young. She is another YASC missionary like us who worked in Japan last year teaching English. She decided to stay on another year to help a project in Sendai that is giving assistance to immigrant peoples that were displaced by the tsunami. She was traveling around this time also so we decided to meet up. She helped us to get cozy in the hostel and then took us out on the town to meet some of her Japanese friends.

Shota is from Kyoto but is living in Sendai. He is in his early twenties, loves stylish hats, appropriate scarves, super-fly sneakers, and American rap music. He and Katie work together. He and two of his friends treated us all to dinner and drinks that night. We weren’t sure how it would go since they only knew a few English words and we only knew a few Japanese words, but that did not matter too much in the end. We all shared the joy of being in good company, a warm room, full of food, and not on a train.

We spent the next day wandering through Kyoto in snow flurries with Katie as our guide. After we were all thoroughly frozen, she called Shota and we witnessed another amazing display of hospitality. His family invited us into their home for dinner. They introduced us to his grandparents and his father’s old high school friend. We all sat around in his dining room as his mother cooked different meats and veggies on a table top stove, serving them to us as soon as they were cooked. In our bowl we cracked a raw egg and dipped everything in it like it was some kind of sauce. Though the language barrier was there, smiles, food, and rice wine served as other forms of communication. Plus, Katie Young tirelessly translated.

Out and about in Arashiyama: Doug, Katie England, Katie Young, Kelly
That night, Shota took us up to see a view of the city that only the locals know about.

The next day, Katie Young left us to continue on with her own travels. We met up with someone that we had met at ARI. Occasionally, people will come to ARI to train for a program that is like the Japanese Peace Corps. Yukiko stayed at ARI for three weeks in November for this purpose. With her as our guide, we pushed through mobs of people to see temples and sweet shops. For lunch, we met up with Sasabon, a volunteer who also stayed at ARI during November. He brought his two children along. At first they hugged his legs tightly but by the end of our day we were making folded napkin art with his two year old daughter, Minori, and sword fighting with McDonald’s straws with his four year old son, Kousuke.

Yuki, Katie and Minori, Kelly, Doug and Kousuke, Sasabon
Also on the same day, we met up with Yuta, a Japanese graduate of ARI from this past year. He lives in the area so he traveled up to see us. We have been missing all the participants very much since they left in December so it was so nice to meet one of them again. Yuta was the youngest of last year’s participants. He is twenty-one. But what he lacks in experience he makes up for with vigor. Since his graduation in December, he has talked to his city government about organic farming many times. They were slow to help him at first but he was persistent. Soon they helped him find a piece of land for rent that had not seen the use of chemicals pesticides or fertilizers. He has already signed a two year contract for the use of that land. Now he is looking for a part-time job to subsidize some of the cost of starting his community farming project.

That night, Sasabon treated us to a dinner and drinks at his brother’s bar. Everyone there was excited to meet us and hear our story just because we knew Sasabon. We were truly honored.

Sasabon, Yuki, Katie, Yuta, Doug, Jenny
The next day we traveled to Tokyo. It was another long day on trains but, again, we had friends waiting for us at the other end. Sam Yawata works for the Trinity Episcopal Church in Tokyo. He helped to get us our visas. We met him first at the dedication ceremonies for the new Koinonia hall at ARI. Then in October we visited his church for a bazaar. He invited us to stay at his house sometime so we took him up on the offer. He and his wife Michiko, hosted us tirelessly for three nights. They gave all four of us very comfortable accommodations and delicious dinners and breakfasts. They live in a very quiet neighborhood of Tokyo. During our trips around the city I saw more people than I have ever seen in my life. It was nice to have a safe haven to return to each night.

One day in Tokyo, we met up with Leo, an occasional ARI volunteer who invited me and Jenny to his mountain cottage last September. He took us to the Imperial Palace and showed us the big business district of Tokyo. He used to work there for a chemical production company. He told us he was glad to have left that life behind. Now he spends his time hosting friends like us and traveling to other Asian countries where he volunteers for many different causes. For lunch he took us out to eat at one of his favorite places. I had Turkish crapes! It was wonderful to see our good friend, Leo, again. We were touched that he took the time to show us around.
Katie (snoozin'), Jenny, Kelly, Leo
Before Katie left, we went on a hunt for good "city lights" photo ops., and we found some!

On our last day in Tokyo we said goodbye to our sister Katie who had been with us through the thick and thin of the New Year so far.

Goodbye, Katie! You are missed!
At the same time we met up with a friend of ours from the University of Central Arkansas, Jackson Fliss. He was visiting his girlfriend and traveling around a bit while he was on break from grad school. We all stayed the night with Eric and Tauna. They are Lutheran Missionaries that we met at our orientation in Toronto back in July. Eric is serving as a pastor of an English speaking congregation in Tokyo. We stayed the night in their apartment and ate out at a Vietnamese restaurant. It was really nice to catch up with them and see how they are adapting to life in Tokyo. Of course we invited them up to ARI.

The next day we woke up early and Kelly, Jackson, Jenny, and I made it back to ARI in time to have lunch. Jackson was able to stay for one night. He sorted some soybeans with us and helped to chop firewood. We showed him the farm and its wonders. Hopefully, we showed him as much hospitality as we received from everyone else.

Now it is just me and Jenny back on the farm, huddled next to the heater. It is quiet and lonely. We find ourselves singing very loudly to fight back the dull sound of empty rooms. Anyway, we have faith that soon spring will come and bring with it a whole new group of participants to liven up the campus. We also hope that some of the friends we visited will visit us soon. Sasabon-san talked about bringing his family up for an English work camp in February. Maybe we can show him as much warmth and hospitality as he showed us. Company is one thing when you are at home in a constant churn of the usual crowd of people, but the concept is different when you are traveling far out in a strange land.

We thank God that we are so rich in friends and warm hearted persons.
God bless you all.

Doug and Jenny

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Sneak Peak

Hey Y`all,

Here are a few pictures for your viewing pleasure. We will give more details of our New Years and travels next week, stay tuned...