Tuesday, September 7, 2010

ただいま: I'm back

I left Japan one month ago. Since then, I've been in Virginia, North Carolina, Texas, and Massachusetts. I've spent time with family and friends; I've unpacked and repacked and trucked my worldly possessions across several state borders; I've sailed around Cape Ann, Massachusetts; and I've eaten sushi at least three times. I've gone through culture shock (as the stereotypes tell us, Americans are indeed much louder than the Japanese) and farm deprivation (plastic-wrapped vegetables?!), and I've enjoyed being back in a culture whose rules are more relaxed, more fluid. I've a lot thought about what ARI meant to me while I was in Japan, about what it means to me now, and about how my experience at ARI will shape my future plans.

With my sister and mother in North Carolina

I learned a lot from ARI. I learned about farming and about how to live more simply; I learned how to interact and how to form meaningful relationships with people from drastically different backgrounds; I learned more about what makes me happy, about what I truly need. ARI is a radical place (I often refer to it as my Japanese hippy commune), and I loved it for its radical message of (paraphrasing from Ghandi here) living simply, so that others may simply live.

Most importantly, my time at ARI reminded me of the importance of slowing down. Not slowing down physically or mentally, but slowing down your pace of living – taking the time to appreciate the world around you, to appreciate the gifts and the challenges of the moment, to appreciate people. At ARI, we’re forced to pay attention to the natural world, a world that many of us are far removed from in our daily lives. We’re asked to adjust our working pace to the pace of growing vegetables and livestock; we’re asked to adjust our speaking to the English abilities of our Japanese and Indian and Indonesian friends; we’re asked to adjust our eating to the rhythm of the seasons. I especially loved eating in season, even though that sometimes meant eating inordinate quantities of carrots and sweet potatoes or doing without onions or tomatoes.

I would like to share a passage from a book called The One-Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka, a Japanese farmer who rebelled against the industrialization and commercialization of food production that occurred in Japan after the end of World War II. In this passage, Fukuoka-san describes the commercial production of mikan, or Japanese mandarin oranges.
Farming out of season is becoming more and more popular all the time. To have mandarin oranges just one month earlier, the people in the city seem happy enough to pay for the farmer’s extra investment in labor and equipment. But if you ask how important it is for human beings to have this fruit a month earlier, the truth is that it is not important at all, and money is not the only price paid for such indulgence.

Furthermore, a coloring agent, not used a few years ago, is now being used. With this chemical, the fruit becomes fully colored one week earlier. Depending on whether the fruit is sold a week before or after the 10th of October, the price either doubles or falls by half, so the farmer applies color-accelerating chemicals, and after the harvest places the fruit in a ripening room for gas treatment.

But when the fruit is shipped out early, it is not sweet enough, and so artificial sweeteners are used. It is generally though that chemical sweeteners have been prohibited, but the artificial sweetener sprayed on citrus trees has not been specifically outlawed. The question is whether or not is falls into the category of ‘agricultural chemicals.’ In any case, almost everybody is using it.

The fruit is then taken to the co-op fruit-sorting center. In order to separate the fruit into large and small sizes, each one is sent rolling several hundred yards down a long conveyor. Bruising is common… After a water washing, the mandarin oranges are sprayed with preservatives and a coloring agent is brushed on. Finally, as a finishing touch, a paraffin wax solution is applied and the fruit is polished to a glossy shine…

So from the time just before the fruit has been harvested to the time it is shipped out and put on the display counter, five or six chemicals are used. This is not to mention the chemical fertilizers and sprays that were used while the crops were growing in the orchard. And this is all because the consumer wants to buy fruit just a little more attractive. This little edge of preference has put the farmer in a real predicament.

… Fruit which is not wax treated no longer brings so high a price. In two or three years waxing is taken up all over the country. The competition then brings the prices down, and all that is left to the farmer is the burden of hard work and the added costs of supplies and equipment. Now he must apply the wax.

Of course the consumer suffers as a result. Food that is not fresh can be sold because it looks fresh… until there is a reversal of the sense of values which cares more for size and appearance than for quality, there will be no solving the problem of food pollution.
I like what Fukuoka-san says about slowing down our desires. Before coming to ARI, I had never eaten in season. Like most Americans, I had eaten tomatoes, kiwis, and spinach all year round – barely even aware that vegetables and fruits have seasons, or that, outside of industrialized countries, you must reconcile your desires with the progression of the seasons. By eating in season, I had more appreciation for the variety of nature, and I felt more connected to the rhythms of the year. I found that I could do without many things I had thought essential, and that I felt healthier and more balanced for it. And, most importantly, I didn’t take food for granted anymore.

I want to keep these ARI lessons close as I start a new life up here in New England. I want to always remember to appreciate the soil, the food that it supports, and the people who cultivate it. I want to always remember to slow down enough to really appreciate the friends and family around me. I want to always seek ways to build connections within my community.

This will be my last blog entry, but I'm working on compiling an ARI cookbook (in the form of a website) that will also include more information on what the ARI farm produces and how we produce it. I'll be sending out the online link for that sometime before Thanksgiving. So to everyone who supported me financially, who read my blog or sent me an email, who thought about me while I was across the Pacific: Thank you, again, for an incredible year. I hope to pay it forward.

1 comment:

  1. Lizzie, Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I remember you telling me the mandarin orange story! I'm sure you will make ARI learning a part of your life and find ways to pay it forward.

    Bob and I are thinking in similar ways and will be a lot more supportive of local farmers on a regular basis. Good luck in the Boston area!