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!

1 comment:

  1. You seem to have an abundant farm out there. I also like the fact that you don't worry much about pest control. You guys seem to handle it very well. Congrats and keep up the good work. Happy farming!

    Bridgette Adair