Friday, July 2, 2010


ARI changes with each season. During my time here, I've experienced the fall harvests, the winter doldrums of food processing and farm maintenance, and the spring sowing. I've lived with three distinct ARI communities: the 2009 participant community, the staff/volunteer winter community, and now the 2010 participant community. I've watched the surrounding mountains progress through their seasonal coats of fiery red and orange, white steel, and hazy blue. And I've eaten my way through the wonderful variety of three seasons, each with its own taste: a pumpkin and radish fall ; a sweet potato, taro, and carrot winter; a wild green buds and red radish spring.

And now we're in the midst of summer, which brings a new landscape, new work, and new flavors. Summer in Japan is dominated by the annual rainy season (tsuyu), which lasts roughly six weeks, from the beginning of June to the middle of August. I'd been dreading rainy season ever since arriving at ARI last year, but (knock on wood!) tsuyu has so far proved quite manageable. It rains often, but rarely for the whole day, and we usually have one or two sunny days a week. But the humidity can be awful, masking the beautiful mountains in a bright grey haze and making farm work a very hot and sweaty affair. I almost miss the winter cold!

Tsuyu brings new farm work. In the paddies, we've finished with the spring transplanting and weeding, and now we just support the rice with occasional fertilizer boosts, applied by hand while walking through the paddies. In the fields, we're harvesting the winter wheat and preparing to harvest the potatoes next week. Our summer vegetables (tomato! bell pepper! egg plant! cucumber!) are starting to mature, and our fall and winter vegetables (pumpkin, sweet potatoes, taro, and carrots) are already growing nicely. Summer seems to be the season of watching - not a passive watching, but an active watching that involves weeding, supporting, fertilizing. As one Japanese proverb says, vegetables grow by listening to the sounds of a farmer's boots - vegetables need our attention, even if just our watchful eyes. Judging by the sorry state of the beets in my individual field, this seems to be true! I planted the beets in early May, and I could see several tiny seedlings by the time I left for vacation in early June. But when I returned in late June, all the seedlings had died! Admittedly, the seeds had expired in 2007, but I think my general neglect also had a hand in their demise... My bell peppers seedlings, however, are doing well after their recent move from the greenhouse to the field, so I hope to see at least a few fruits from my labors.

And with the coming of summer, the food on our plates also changed! After the cruelty of late spring (when all the flowers and trees were blooming, but the vegetables were still far from mature), we can finally eat our fill of vegetables again. Komatsuna, cabbage, spinach, turnip, spring chrysanthemum leaves, broccoli, celery, beets, cucumber, onion, garlic, mint, green bean, green snap pea, lettuce, Chinese leek, radish... A wonderful, delicious variety. We harvest from the participants' group fields every Tuesday and Friday, so we always have fresh vegetables in the kitchen. Here are some pictures of last week's harvest days taken by a new American volunteer, David, from Oregon:

Preparing for the harvest

A participant group field

Weighing and recording the harvest

Taking the harvest to the kitchen


With the coming of summer, I also see significant changes in the ARI community. The participants are uniformly more confident, more relaxed, and more open than when they first arrived in Japan three months ago. In conversations with them, many participants talk about how much they enjoy ARI life, about how much they're learning, about how they're beginning to see themselves and their home communities in new ways. And, as people begin to make a home here, ARI begins to feels like a real community again - as one participant put it, a "miracle" community of individuals from so many different places and walks of life, gathered together on a small farm atop a small hill in a small town in Japan.

Sumathi (Sri Lanka) enjoying ice cream during a break from farm work

Aneth (Cambodia) and Lester (the Philippines)

As this is my last season in ARI, I'm planning on enjoying it to the fullest. I'm trying to learn as much as possible before I leave - about the farm, about the participants, about Japanese culture. I'm also planning several off-campus adventures with the other volunteers, most notably an expedition to Mount Fuji, Japan's highest mountain, next weekend. Wish me luck!

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