The Japanese team that visited Kansas was accompanied by journalist Owada Junko, who paid her own expenses to come on the trip. She has written two popular books (in Japanese) on local organic food systems, which is her specialty as a journalist. She is planning to include a chapter about this exchange program and her visit to Kansas in a book she is currently writing. She writes a blog in Japanese. The following has been excerpted from it and translated into English for us by KU Japanese studies major Alison Cain (whom we heartily thank for her efforts). For Ms. Owada’s original Japanese language blog, that includes a number of photos she took, see the blog section of the GPLOF Japanese website, or click on this link: http://www.owadajunko.com/archives/2009/06/2009627.html
Junko Owada’s Kansas Organic Farmers and Businesses Travel Diary - June 26, 2009
We arrived in Kansas on the 24th. At last we are abroad and we will tour this hilly farming town.
Kansas is nicknamed “America’s Bread Basket.” Kansas City might be considered the hometown of Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. It seems that Kansas is stereotypically thought of as the countryside because certainly the towns are a bit removed from each other, and the vast corn and soybean fields and pastures are expansive.
We had a transfer in Chicago, and then it was an hour from the Kansas City airport to Lawrence by car. Now we are in the small town of Lawrence, population 90,000. In this town there are two institutions of higher education, and it is the only liberal city in the state. Since the 1970s the area has made an effort to support local businesses and agriculture, including local co-ops. The Kansas Rural Center, a non-profit organization, was created then and it remains active in the community (it is the lead organization for this project). Overall there has been a strong effort to popularize organic farming. There is also a thriving shopping district downtown.
Our tour takes place under the direction of a Japanese-American exchange program called the Global Partnership for Local Organic Foods. It features a partnership between many individuals from the city of Ogawa in the Saitama prefecture and people in Lawrence and the surrounding area who are supporting organic farmers. Of the people from Japan, there is Tomoko Kaneko, the wife of Yoshinori Kaneko who has been practicing organic farming for 38 years, organic farmer Tamiko Iwasaki, and Yuko Takahashi who publishes a limited circulation magazine that promotes sustainable lifestyles. The Japanese group, consisting of ten persons, was organized by IFOAM-Japan (International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements). I was given special permission to be a reporter on this tour.
Family managed organic farming has been going on in Lawrence since the 1970’s. The farmers we are visiting really put family managed farming at the heart of their operations. Many of them started farming for the first time in their 40s or 50s, giving up earlier lives as lawyers, teachers, and company executives. They try their hand at organic farming and within four years they are able to sell about $50,000 worth of products. Small scale organic farmers often sell directly to the consumer through CSAs and farmers markets. People who want to begin farming can do so at an area college (JCCC), which is unique in that the school has courses for people who want to start their own small agriculture business.
We had lunch at the JCCC restaurant where there were also dishes that had been made from organic products that had been prepared by another nearby university that has a department of agriculture and student-run farm.
Farmer’s Markets and CSAs that support family managed organic farms
At CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture), once a week consumers visit a set place to pick up vegetables. One such pick-up spot is hamburger joint, Local Burger, that uses local vegetables and meat. CSAs are gaining popularity and expanding all over America.
Yesterday was the farmer’s market that is held in a downtown Lawrence parking lot. Up to 80 producers set up and 2000 people come to buy. Dietician at Jiyunomori School, Chiyoko Hijiya, demonstrated how to make the Japanese dishes like chirashi-zushi (scattered sushi) and vegetable shiro-ae (white tofu salad).
Local and Organic!
The area, the area people’s health, the soil’s health, the economy, and cooperation with local businesses are all important to local organic farmers in both Lawrence and Ogawa. Lawrence’s well-grounded organic farming activities set a great example for other areas.
Ogawa and Lawrence share the keywords of local and organic. The exchange program will take place again in November in Saitama prefecture. At that time, one entrepreneur from local attention gatherer Local Burger restaurant and a few Lawrence farmers will visit Japan to participate in a public event sponsored by IFOAM-Japan.
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