It was a wonderful opportunity to visit the Nakaoka Natural Farm and eat vegetables picked fresh from the field for lunch while chatting about work, life and the environment with the lovely Yamamoto family. It was a chance to learn not only about farming in balance with the environment, but also balancing the needs of making a living with raising a family.
Wanting to start a family sometimes give clarity to the kind of life you want to live. This seemed to be the case for the Yamamotos when they considered a new, alternative career move. They were living and working in Fukuoka but radically changed their lives to dive into a career of natural farming. After many years of experience on other farms, they settled at the Nakaoka Natural Farm 7 years ago, living a simple island life as a close-knit family.
In 2010, Satoshi gained experience at the Matsuo Honobono organic farm in Fukuoka and the next year at the Hirata Fruit Farm in Miyoshi, Hiroshima, followed by the Yoshiwa Organic Farm, before starting his own small ‘Nakaoka Natural Farm’ on Miyajima island in 2012.
When asked about organic farming, Satoshi is humble saying he’s not clever enough to use chemicals correctly, so he tries things the natural way instead. Don’t let him fool you, he is humble and extremely clever! He told us about how he changed the design of the fields to be more water-efficient, using the slope’s gravity to more naturally irrigate the fields than the original farm design.
Later in the day, Satoshi did mention that he does use some treatments if the pest problem is overwhelming, but he tries as much as possible to take cues from nature and let the environment take care of itself. They never use any chemical or animal fertilizers on the farm and are actively alternating fields with wild plants and compost from leaves in the local forest and seaweed from the nearby coast to keep the plants healthy and growing strong.
When we arrived at the farm after the morning’s Ocean Clean Up, we were announced by their daughter “kita-yo” (they’re here!) at the front gate and soon greeted by the Yamamoto couple coming in from the fields after a hard morning of farming.
Despite the pristine location of the farm, it’s clear that this is not a day at the beach, it’s hot, hard and heavy work! Even though we were interrupting their work time, we were immediately put at ease by the gentle good-natured, calm confidence of people who enjoy what they do and feel that they are on the right path in life.
When I first met the organic farming couple on my way through their fields to the bee farm in June, I was struck by how fondly China-san talked of the bees visiting their sunflowers and vegetables from the Bee Farm that day. Walking around the farm with Satoshi-san reinforced the couple’s appreciation for the Bee Farm as he spoke of the visiting bees which provide surprising diversification to his crops. For example, he pointed out that he was surprised to find both white and green cucumbers on the same vine, ‘Isn’t that interesting how it’s all mixed up!’ he says to the camera.
Satoshi’s farming philosophy is to take a lot of cues from the plants, farm, and surroundings. In his blog, Greens Way, Satoshi explains how he takes in the elements that surround the farm, integrating leaves not only from the plants but also from the forest mixed with seaweed and other naturally occurring elements. He says they never use chemical or animal fertilizers on the fields, but prefer to use ‘natural’ methods whenever possible.
Satoshi explained his approach to organic farming is a lot of ‘trial-and-error’ and actually not as hard and one would think. He is very grateful to be able to grow food on Miyajima as it is such a sacred place and he keeps that in mind as he takes care of the plants and soil.
I love when he explains about the concept to let some of the cucumbers get too large to eat, but which creates more seeds to use for the next crop. He says as a man he is inclined to buy seeds and keep planting new crops, but his wife and daughter convinced him to do it this way and reuse what is provided to them naturally. He says in this part of the video that since this is the era of empowering women he is happy to give up on his typical man-style farming ways and try it this way instead.
After our walk through the lush green fields viewing eggplant, okra, cucumbers, shiso, and so many other local unique, dark green vegetables that I rarely see in grocery stores in Japan, China-san says that they concentrate on growing vegetables which support daily life.
Healthy greens and roots that can be boiled into a daily soup to nurture a healthy family. I love the way their business concept supports not only their own family but also extends to helping the likeminded customers’ families who support their business.
As Satoshi gave us a tour of the farm and explained the techniques of composting and organic farming, I had many occasions to look out from the farm out to sea.
The sweeping views of the ocean and islands around Miyajima from that spot are simply stunning. Organic farming may not be glamorous and it may not make you rich, but it is meaningful work. There is certainly a high quality of life in growing healthy food in such pristine, beautiful surroundings for yourself and also be able to support a family doing it.
My recent attempt to grow the tiniest crop of tomatoes and cucumbers in our own garden has been a lesson in humility. It’s quite difficult to keep weeds and pests at bay, there is a lot of diligence and dedication to consistently yield results.
I have so much respect for people like the Yamamoto’s who have such a talent at growing delicious and healthy food naturally.
Now that we are customers of the Nakaoka farm, however, my fingers are crossed that not only the vegetables will nurture our healthy family, but also that any unused veggie cuttings from the Nakaoka farm in our compost will also bless us with some of the farm’s special Miyajima power.
As residents living in Japan and visitors enjoying great local foods, we need to tip our hat and be grateful for the wonderful work of local farmers. Like many countries, Japan is heavily reliant on imports for daily food needs, but the labor shortage is hitting the rural areas the hardest. There is less than a 40% self-sufficiency rate (60% imported) in terms of meeting the needs of an everyday diet. Food security is always a concern in Japan with risks of natural disasters, climate change and insecure political ties connected to trade.
I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit the wonderful Nakaoka Natural Farm in Miyajima and I look forward to introducing more sustainability-focused ventures like this which are such an important part of building healthy and successful communities.
Please watch the visit to Nakaoka Natural Farm, Miyajima here on YouTube and please subscribe to keep up with future visits to sustainability-focused businesses, services, products and destinations around Japan.