It’s almost noon and Jing Ying’s napping while I’m sitting on the floor of our room, waiting for lunch although we just had ice cream. Be warned, this post may not be as coherent or organized, so keep your expectations low 😛 We’re currently at our third farm — a commercial dairy farm which also has a large veggie farm for their own consumption — and our daily routine looks like this:
7.30-8.30am Veggie farm work
8.30-10.30am Milk the cows and clean their poo poo after
10.30-11.30am More farm work / eat and nap
11.30am-2pm Lunch then rest time i.e. nap again
2-6pm Rest, farm work, shopping and/or touring around
7.30-9pm Milk the cows and clean their poo poo after
Today’s our sixth day in this farm, and it’s been the poopiest day so far. Cow dung was literally flying everywhere in the milking room this morning, and even though I consider myself pretty skillled at dodgeball, my face and glasses were not spared. We also spent the longest time cleaning up, and while at it I couldn’t help shuddering at the thought of slipping and falling flat on the brown slurry mess left behind.
But how do I feel about working at this farm? Extremely blessed! The host family has been so generous, kind and welcoming, feeding us way too much food and way too much GOOD food, (think fresh sashimi every day, Wagyu beef, wild boar, organic black garlic, fancy cheeses, the sweetest strawberries and sweet potatoes, and of course the richest, tastiest milk no exaggeration intended), offering us pills and creams for our various ailments (cuz we’re weak city-dwellers) and giving us one too many nap times and car rides to various attractions around the area.
Beyond these luxuries, I am also extremely thankful for the opportunity to meet Hashimoto-san (whom we call Otou-san, which means father) and his family, for their commitment to sustainability and cohesion as a family have inspired me greatly.
Otou-san always harks back to the concept of ‘BALANCE’ whenever he talks about his dairy farm or other environmental issues. To him, that’s the key to sustainability and optimal environmental, animal and human health. He cautions that simply being organic is not enough — many organic farmers misunderstand that organic inputs are all it takes for healthy produce without looking into the quality of their soil or the composition of their compost. He also takes great pride in his dairy farm, whose cows produce excellent milk because of the decades of meticulous effort he has put into nourishing the barren soil with compost and ensuring its nutrients are well-balanced to grow quality pasture. Being unusually passionate about sashimi, he also tries to convince me (a vegetarian) at literally every meal that eating fish at Noto, Ishikawa, is ok as they are caught sustainably. He explains at length how both the law and the residents themselves guard against overfishing, and that having local fish as a main protein source reduces food miles significantly (Noto is right along the sea!). On that note, his family also exclusively eats local produce — their fruits, veggies and meat are all either grown or caught by themselves or sourced from other farms in Ishikawa. He also shares enthusiastically how farmers in the region have been collaboratively planting trees since ancient times to counter deforestation for timber, thus allowing Noto’s mountains to still be flourishing with lots of flora and fauna. His knowledge extends beyond Noto — eating local also applies to mountainous areas of Japan where people eat snakes and insects for protein as they do not have easy access to fish.
The camaraderie between Otou-san and Okaa-san (his wife) also deserves a mention. They started their dairy farm from scratch after their marriage and have been working cooperatively till this day, both showing the same dedication and sharing the same love for this family business. They consult each other on all issues big and small, be it about the dairy farm, their own veggie farm or what to eat for dinner. As true epitomes of life-long learning, they both continue to read widely and share with each other new things they learn every day. Even though they bicker all the time, they never fail to get work done together and to care for each other, acting like a couple on honeymoon whose bickering is just how they show affection and even how they work together. I believe it is this mutual support, common vision and shared diligence that at over 70 years of age they are both still able to work day in, day out on their farms together with their son and an old friend. One afternoon, after working on the veggie farm (more like standing aside listening to the two bicker about how to plant the new crops), we found ourselves being driven by Otou-san to a rose orchard nearby because Okaa-san loves roses and saw on TV that now’s the best time to see them. I’m amazed enough that they continue to work so well together after five decades of marriage, while divorces are getting more common these days, and even more amazed to learn that theirs was an arranged marriage!