I’ve mentioned that I’m leaving on a farm-stay a couple of times. Actually, this is my last update before I leave! I’ll be travelling to the farm on the 19th, working from the 20th -28th, then travelling around Kyushu with a friend, hitting up pottery shops and onsen (we have priorities). The area I’m going to is rural, and I can’t guarantee I will have internet access while I’m away. I have some awesome interviews scheduled, and fingers crossed everything will come together, but I am going to apologise in advance for any technical difficulties!
A couple of friends have asked about the farm-stay. Readers of Deep Magic might remember the WWOOFers, Natalie and Rob. They were volunteers who in exchange for their time and labour, received meals and a place to stay. I’ve known about WWOOF (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) all my life — although like Olly, I had no idea what the acronym actually meant. I grew up partially in rural New Zealand, and a lot of our neighbours hosted WWOOFers — usually from Germany, but I’ve met Americans and Japanese people too. It’s an international organization that puts volunteers willing to work and learn in touch with farmers (or small businesses, families, community groups — WWOOF is open to many interpretations) so that both host and volunteer can benefit from the exchange of knowledge and understanding of how farming is practiced in different countries and cultures. I always assumed that WWOOFing was for people who already knew how to farm, so I never considered it for me — until researching Deep Magic and reading up on WWOOFing opportunities in the UK, I realised this was something I wanted to do. I mentioned this to my Stepdad and he told me I had to read The One Straw Revolution by a guy called Masanobu Fukuoka. I figure why not, added it to my kindle and forget about it.
Jump forward to August. Deep Magic has just been published and I am travelling around Japan with my friend from Canada. My vampires are misbehaving and I am having trouble finding something I want to read on my kindle. The One Straw Revolution catches my attention. I am in the perfect mood for some non-fiction, so I decide why not? The good thing about non-fiction is that you can leave it at will, right? Perfect for travelling.
Not so. Fukuoka is so passionate about rice-farming that this book kept me awake reading so that I could find out how he concluded his arguments. I — would not have believed it of myself or of this book. But Fukuoka touched a chord. It wasn’t only that I knew the land and farming he described — when I returned to Japan in 2008, I was in the same prefecture Fukuoka lived and farmed in (and I was there while he was alive, although obviously we never met), so I could perfectly visualise the farms he described. But the philosophy Fukuoka put forward matched my own to a scary degree. I came out of the book feeling that I needed to know more about growing rice.
Since then I have been reading about permaculture. The basic principles — care for the earth, care for the people, return the surplus — are ones I can get behind. I wondered if there was any way that I could experience Fukuoka’s farming methods for myself. Turns out that there is a Japan chapter of WWOOF, and plenty of rice farmers looking for help.
I can’t give the name or location of my host, but they are in the mountains of Oita, a region famous for hot springs — I promise this was not the reason I chose them! That was the fact that they farm rice using ducks. This is really cool. The aigamo method basically consists of using ducks to protect the rice plants from insects, fertilize them, and supply oxygen by kicking around the mud and water.At the end of the rice season, you have ducks to eat or sell and organic rice to harvest. My hosts also have a farm-restaurant, grow organic vegetables, and make soy sauce, tofu and miso, but I am really hoping that I will get to work on the rice.
I am also really nervous. It’s the first time I’ve done anything like this, and my health and fitness levels are not great. I’m also worried about how well my Japanese language ability will hold up way, way outside of my comfort zone! At the same time, I really want to try this. I have food intolerances which means that what I eat directly impacts my health. For a long time, I’ve been wanting to grow my own food, but not sure whether or not a farming lifestyle is something I can sustain. WWOOFing will hopefully give me the chance to learn not only about farming, but about myself.