Over winter break last year (December 28-January 19 2013) I traveled to Japan for a course and to research small-scale agriculture for my master’s thesis. It was an interesting time to study agriculture – considering the winter is often viewed as an agricultural off-season. I was intrigued by what I was able to learn and see while I was in country.
For a variety of different reasons Japan, unlike the United States, has long relied on small-scale agriculture to feed their population. While small-scale agriculture cannot fully replace industrial agriculture, it can serve an individualized and flexible alternative for those who seek to unite their food choices with their environment. Small-scale agriculture seeks to delve beyond the modern-day all-important imperatives of time and convenience to provide both farmers and consumers with a more direct connection to the source of their food, resulting from agricultural practices that respond to the local environment and are focused on feeding nearby communities rather than faraway cities. As a highly urbanized society/developed nation, Japan is considering how, as a country and people, it can continue to integrate small-scale agriculture as part of a robust food network. Japanese agriculture is currently struggling between two agendas – the first, to proceed with modernization in the way the United States have through mechanization and monoculture and the second, incentivizing small-scale agriculture that requires intensive labor. There is a push-pull relationship between agriculture and development – the two are not mutually exclusive and there is a lot of gray area between the two extremes – small-scale agriculture can fit nicely into developing cities if attention is given to its incorporation and communities are advocates for its retention. Small-scale agriculture, local food and alternative food networks seek to connect consumers, producers and food in a new economic space, provide a supply/distribution channel detached from the industrial, corporately controlled food chain while adopting principles of social-embeddedness, like trust and community, and are based on providing quality products with hopes of preserving or creating traditions. Most small-scale agriculture operations participate in multiple means of revenue creation, where alongside traditional fruit and vegetable production, raising of livestock, value added goods such as jams, sausages and pastries are produced. These places also serve as makers of textiles and household goods, language schools, nature guides, and tourism hubs.
The images in this post are from my time in Japan. I spent the first two weeks in country with a Geography course, had a few days of independent travel with one other student before finishing my stay with a week on an organic farm that I connected with through WOOF Japan (www.wwoofjapan.com) outside of Kochi City on the island of Shikoku.
Fig. 3 and 4 show the difference between an extreme urban setting and a fringe peri-urban area that incorporates agriculture.