Before I’ve even seen all their gardens, my stay in Ono Farm is coming to an end. It’s my second WWOOFing experience in Japan, and the things I’ve learned in this past week here sheds a bit more light into not only how to grow food, why we grow it.
I will have follow-up posts to elaborate on some of my learnings in the past 2 farms I’ve volunteered on. Below are my favourite and most meaningful photos from this past week, and just some random thoughts they bring up.
A love of natural beauty. There’s something beautiful about watching a sapling grow, a peach change colour every day, and the amazing flavors of fresh produce that come in odd shapes and sizes. I was sent to harvest sumomos (sour peaches) on the afternoon of my first day in the setting evening sun. The single tree in the garden was drooping from the weight of these fruits, and some branches had even snapped.
Teamwork. The buckets of sumomos that I got were turned into jam a few days later. My host, Masako-san started late one night after dinner, and Shou-san and I went from being curious bystanders to helping out. That not only sped up the process, it made 3 people standing on the stove comparing our 3 pots quite fun! Eating fresh jam every day for breakfast since is even better.
Preserving. Manual and traditional methods of food preservation are time-consuming. Yet, despite the demands of perfect weather for drying, timing for pickling, and much more, my hosts made their own umeboshi. These jars aren’t umeboshi, they are additional pickles. The closest jar is the one Shou-san started after I arrived. Within a week, the moisture was sapped out of the plums into the sugar and this funny band of liquid near the bottom. We crouched down on the floor every day to check the slowly hydrating sugar like kids. The gist is, there is so much produce that one can’t eat everything all at once, but it is another level to go to such lengths to ensure great produce isn’t wasted. I benefited by having unlimited supply of umeboshi (pickled plums) every meal.
Sharing. On my last day, Ono Farm had lunch guests who came to mill the wheat they wanted to buy. They also whipped up lunch and brought bread, vegan Brownies and cookies. What is normally just a business transaction was much more of a community exchange, which included food, shared tips and food experiences, and growing techniques and practices. They spent a long time discussing how many seeds in agriculture today cannot be reused. Everyone’s passion for food wasn’t just limited to buying the best ingredients to make the ‘best dishes’, but in really understanding how food is produced and where it comes from.
Tenacity. Manual farm work takes time! In 2 days with 2 people, we have only made it through 4.5/7 rows of potatoes! My finger muscles are aching even now from the dirt digging, but there’s a simple satisfaction in discovering what potatoes are underneath each bush. It’s like treasure hunting. I’ve never been a potato fan, but these rows I will forever look proudly back on. Of course, it’s not just potatoes, it applies to gobo, tomatoes, peas, and leafy greens!
Patience. One rainy day, I spent the entire day extracting the dried peas from the bean. These will be used as seeds for next year. It sounds boring, but I found it quite relaxing and it gave me the right balance of something to focus on doing well while letting my mind wander. Even though it’s a simple task, knowing that a year later, these will sprout into the tall stalks I’ve seen adds meaning to the task as well. I find that understanding that whatever you are preparing has implications on how something grows, is harvested, and ultimately tastes, immediately inspires more care in what you do.
Words reclaim their meaning.The Japanese put their hands together and say ‘gochisosamitadakimasu‘ and ‘gochisosamadeshita‘ before and after every meal. They literally mean ‘I humbly receive’ and ‘that was a feast’. Even though I’m ethnically Chinese, I have a habit of mumbling gochisosamadeshita before and after every meal. They literally mean ‘I humbly receive’ and ‘that was a feast’. Even though I’m ethnically Chinese, I have a habit of mumbling’itadakimasu‘ reverently before an amazing looking meal. It somehow always felt right. I don’t mumble them here; I say them empathetically and feel better about being able to ritually express that. Shou-san really does cook up a feast every meal, and produce that’s this fresh is a luxury.
Having a place. I guess what I mean by that is that everyone sort of naturally falls into a role in these places. We’re lucky to have another long-term WWOOFer here, Shou-san, who naturally took up the cooking for the meals and whipped up a feast hour. I didn’t see Ono-san much, but he was always busy running around doing technical work and often couldn’t join for meals. Masako-san took care of deliveries and packaging. Me – well I helped set up the table, ate, and followed Shou-san around doing simple things. I think what I liked most was that you sort of had a place no matter how much or little you talked. We had long periods of silence during meals, and after a long day spent together, it I feel natural in a way where it often wouldn’t in the city – where we only see each other in meals.
Open and personal. Standing at the entrance, you can see through the three rooms and all the way down to the end of the house. Most of the house walls are sliding glass doors, making the house feel like an extension of the garden and work area outside. From the packaging area beside the kitchen, you can see if a car comes driving in. If I close my screen door (the middle room) I can hear when someone is home, but I also have my own space. In this farmhouse, which has warped ceiling cedar beams decades old, it feels like walls are just right for creating personal space, without shutting the world out. The sunlight floods in during the day, the wind blows through the screens, and there is the natural ‘otadaima‘ that accompanies a clack of a closed wooden door. Someone has come home, and it’s perfectly fine for you to say through the screen ‘okaeri‘. You’re home too, but you’re entitled to your own little world.
Tomorrow, I leave to begin my walking Shikoku Pilgrimage in earnest. I’m expecting to be spending a lot of solitary time as I try to walk hundreds of miles across a historical path in Japan’s 4th largest island. Please check for updates as I am writing a diary of the experience of camping (and alone) throughout this long walk.