Saturday, January 23, 2010


Yesterday, one of the staff members (a fellow American from South Dakota) said the mission of ARI is to see the potential of every community member, whether participant or staff or temporary working visitor, and to support that community member in the struggle to realize his or her "the latent excellence." For many of us, Steven said, that struggle involves change - change that is often painful, that we often resist - because developing our potential means learning to think less of how to serve ourselves and more of how to serve others. As Steven said, "As babies, we are self-centered beings. We rely on others to serve us - there is no other way for us to survive. As we get older, we gradually begin to look outside of ourselves. We begin to serve others... I hope to die without a selfish thought in my head."

I've heard similar speeches many times before, but, surrounded by a community of people who have dedicated months or years to serving others, Steven's words really struck me. I sought this opportunity to challenge myself, to live and work with people from all over the world, to listen to their stories, but am I really open to change? ARI has already changed me, in ways both small and large, but will I work to keep that change alive once I return home? Or will I return to a way of living that is more comfortable, with fewer questions?

Food for thought.

And for some thoughts on food and food production, I read an article this afternoon that examines the threat agricultural pesticides pose to many animal species, species as diverse as seals, frogs, bats, and honeybees. According to the article:

"Today, drips and puffs of pesticides surround us everywhere, contaminating 90 percent of the nation’s major rivers and streams, more than 80 percent of sampled fish, and one-third of the nation’s aquifers. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, fish and birds that unsuspectingly expose themselves to this chemical soup die by the millions every year.

But as regulators grapple with the lethal dangers of pesticides, scientists are discovering that even seemingly benign, low-level exposures to pesticides can affect wild creatures in subtle, unexpected ways — and could even be contributing to a rash of new epidemics pushing species to the brink of extinction."

Does anyone remember the Haagen Dazs "save the honeybee" campaign? Several years ago, Haagen Dazs began soliciting money for research on honeybees (honey is an essential ingredient for much of their ice cream), after 35 percent of the domestic U.S. honeybee population died between 2006 and 2009 due to a mysterious new disease. Many scientists now believe that agricultural pesticides, particularly a new class of pesticides based on nicotine, killed the bees rather than disease. (For more details, please read the article here).

It seems that change is needed.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


As I'm sure many of you have heard, Haiti was struck by a magnitude 7 earthquake on Tuesday, January 12. It was the strongest earthquake to hit the island in two hundred years. Thousands are estimated to have been killed, and much of Haiti (particularly the capital, Port-au-Prince) is reported to be in ruins.

Two YASCers, Mallory and Jude, are currently serving at an Anglican seminary in Port-au-Prince. Both fortunately survived (please see link for more details) the earthquake, although the seminary and other church buildings were badly damaged. Please pray for them.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Japan, then and now

Just for fun: I stumbled across this photo from 1934 while doing some research online. It's of the Asakusa Nakamise, the alley of vendors leading up to the famous Buddhist temple Senso-ji in Asakusa, Tokyo. I was there just two weeks ago with Eric - a fun comparison shot.



Now off to a New Year's dinner with the Japanese staff! I've heard there will be lots of traditional Japanese food - nabe (hot-pot stew), kuromame (sweet black beans, a standard New Year's dish), udon noodles... yum.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Food for thought

My mom (the ever-faithful newspaper clipper) sent me an interesting article this week about a farmer named Joel Salatin in southern Virginia who sees sustainable agriculture and environmental stewardship as an issue of Christian duty. As Salatin states in the article,

"We should at least be asking, Is there a righteous way to farm and an unrighteous way to farm? ... The first goal is to at least get people to appreciate that how we farm is a moral question. Once you get to that point, then you can actually discuss: What is a moral farm?"

For Salatin, "righteous" farming means using agricultural practices that are sustainable ("We believe that the farm should be building ‘forgiveness’ into the ecosystem. What does that mean? That a more forgiving ecosystem is one that can better handle drought, flood, disease, pestilence.") and respectful of the dignity of every living creature ("A culture that views its life [commercial livestock] from such a manipulative, disrespectful stance will soon view its citizens the same way and other cultures the same way. It’s how we respect the least of these that creates a moral-ethical framework."). Its farming that acknowledges the blessings, but also the frailties, of Creation.

Food for thought, certainly, that adds another dimension to the sustainability debate. As the ARI farm manager said this week, "Sustainable farming is farming for the seventh generation... We did not receive the land from our ancestors, we are borrowing it from our children." When you place agriculture and environmental stewardship in that perspective, it does become a moral issue.

Saturday, January 2, 2010



I found a website with some examples of how the Japanese prepare vegetables. These are all very common Japanese dishes, things that I've eaten countless times at ARI. My absolute favorite is komatsuna with sesame sauce (komatsuna no goma-ae). Some of the vegetables listed might be difficult to find in the U.S., but you can easily substitute spinach for komatsuna, butternut squash for kabocha, and radish for daikon (if you try the daikon, I would serve with the spicy miso sauce described in the recipe below to give it more taste).

So if you ever have a hankering for some Japanese food, please try!:

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year!

January 1st marks three months since I arrived at the Asian Rural Institute. As I look back at 2009 and the events that brought me to Japan, I must give a huge shout of thanks to all my supporters for enabling me to come and work with this incredible community of activists. Thanks to your generosity, I will enter 2010 with over $9,600 raised – only $400 to go! Thank you for your financial support, for your kind emails, for your thoughts and prayers. Your warm and generous partnership in this mission makes living 6,000 miles from my family and friends possible.

By sponsoring this farm volunteer, you are helping ARI provide thirty dedicated activists with the technical training and leadership skills necessary to realize their dreams for their communities. Their dreams are big. One woman wants to start a demonstration poultry farm for her village, so that farmers will have both a secure source of protein and a reliable source of income. Another participant wants to teach farmers in his community to make and use organic fertilizers, which are safer and cheaper than the conventional chemical fertilizers. And another participant wants to establish commercial contacts between churches in his rural diocese and the city, eliminating the need for the middlemen and helping farmers in his community to break the cycle of debt and poverty. This class of participants graduated on December 12th, proud of their achievements at ARI and impatient to return to their countries to start their work. Thank you for supporting them in their training at ARI!

Some pictures from the Commencement ceremony:

Pre-Commencement gathering

Kingsley (Ghana), me (in Sri Lankan sari), and Reverend Edo (Togo)

Josephine (Sierra Leone), Swae (Thailand), Christy (Cameroon), and Edo (Togo)

A proud Kini (Myanmar) with ARI staff member Tomoko-san

Kingsley (Ghana) and Ruth (Myanmar) with their diplomas!

I’m looking forward to the adventures that 2010 holds in store. The spirit of ARI has already challenged and inspired me, and I expect it will continue to do. Best wishes to all for the New Year!