Note: Written on May 18
It’s only been a week but I’ve learnt so much that I don’t even know where to begin… My time at Ono Farm has been beyond superb, giving me many new experiences in farming and rural living, and many new insights into diverse topics ranging from organic farming to Japanese culture to the farmers’ own life histories. In this reflection, let me share about how amazing the owners of Ono Farm are.
Yuji-san and Masako-san, husband and wife, have been running their own organic farm for over thirty years. The sixty-year-old duo manage every single part of the farm themselves, from crop production to sales and marketing to delivery. Each of these aspects in turn comprise many different activities. Crop production, for instance, includes planting, weeding, fertilizing, watering, harvesting and cultivating the soil, and each crop requires different methods of doing each of these steps. Across an entire year, the two grow almost a hundred crops in total, scheduling them according to their seasons and spreading them across their 10 rental plots. Again, each crop has its own season which frequently overlaps with other crops, and scheduling + keeping track of all of them requires as much meticulousness as it requires big-picture thinking.
Not only are they impressive strategists, their commitment to agroecology is highly respectable as well. Organic inputs, minimal use of automated machinery and crop rotation are some of the ways they ensure that their farm stays ecologically sound and sustainable. And this is by no means easy. As I was sprinkling oyster shell powder (lots of calcium!) over an empty field to prepare it for new crops, I couldn’t help but wonder if there already is a machine that could do the job much more efficiently and painlessly. After all, having to move around 20 bags of that stuff, each weighing 20 kg, and then toss them all over the field from a pail I could barely hold on to was far from effortless. Having to go to the fields at 6.30am to rummage through the pea plants for peas while repeatedly squatting and bending also made me recall the mechanical tomato harvester I read about in my Intro to ES course. That course has taught me about the environmental harms and social inequalities brought about by these machines, but hands-on experience at Ono Farm has allowed me to better empathize with those who have adopted such technology not because they are out there to exploit but because it is intuitive for them to say yes to whatever solution available that can get them out of hardship. It has also impressed upon further me how resolute the two are to do the right thing. Engaging in such tough manual labour every day, it is so easy for them to give in and take the easy way out but they remain committed to organic farming till this day.
Despite having 1001 things to do and working from dawn to dusk, they have no intention to slow down any time soon. In fact, at sixty years of age, they still have many things planned ahead while most of their counterparts are already retiring. They remain just as excited to try out new crops, explore new markets to enter and experiment with new farming techniques. And their zest for life goes far beyond farming. In this 100-year-old house that they moved into three years ago, they continue to take up an eclectic mix of projects like installing solar panels on their roofs to charge their electric car, building a second floor for guests and making drinking straws from rye. And they do these all by themselves, learning the steps through books, troubleshooting with their own intelligence and literally building things up with their own pair of hands. Their continuous quest for self-improvement without the fear of failure is truly inspiring. On that note, their knowledge on issues all around the world is also remarkable, something I admittedly did not expect at all from rural farmers who have dedicated their lives to farming. This, I will explain further in my next reflection on our dinner conversations at Ono Farm.