Friday, February 26, 2010

Talk with a veteran farmer

This morning I went to meet with a local veteran farmer who shares similar views on farming. His name is Kannnatsu. Our friends introduced us, because he was such and interesting person, and also may be able to start our rice seedlings for us.

There is some background here that is important. Though we initially started farming, expecting to plant rice in an untilled paddy, we have since found that tilling will be essential, until we get a good cover crop established. So this year we have plowed and will be planting rice sprouts.

Starting the seedlings from scratch is a tricky job that starts with selecting the good seed from the whole batch, soaking it until it sprouts, and then planting it in small containers something like ice cube trays. After the sprouts grow covered for about 10 days, then most farmers uncover them for 10 more then plant. Mr. Kannnatsu plants his after a total of 35 days, so they're quite a bit taller.

Mr. Kannatsu is convinced that building the soil is the key, and not with chemical additives, but with rice straw, husks, and bran. He also suggested that if our goal is to plant our paddy without tilling it, then leaving water in it year round is the best way to go. Writing this makes me wonder what will happen around harvest time, when other farmers' paddies are relatively dry and they can lay their cut rice plants on the ground before binding them and hanging them on the racks to dry. Something else to learn.

It was a dense conversation with more content than I could easily process. He is a professional with a lifetime of experience, and I am a true beginner. It is funny to me that I started on this journey of self sufficiency thinking that our small family would be alone in our efforts. I had no idea that I would meet so many like-minded people who are working with nature and with each other to provide good food for themselves and others.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Japan: Far too much roadway for one country

There is a Japanese myth that tells of a country, a nation of cars. It is a country where automobiles capture the imagination of the young, and the ethos of that people is melded with the machines. To the Japanese this country is across a vast ocean, but like in most stories of this kind, it is actually themselves.

Japan has become a car society, and they are willing to sacrifice greatly for it. They are willing to pave over more of their country, and die in greater numbers than that far away country to appease the auto gods.

Of course the fabled country in Japanese myth is the United States, but let's compare. Japan has 377,835 km2 of land area. They are number 61 in the world. The US has 9,629,091 km2 of land, number 3 in the world. Japan has 949,101 km of paved road, number 6 in the world. The US has 4,209,835 km of paved road, number 1 in the world.

That means that Japan has 2.5 km of paved road for every km2 of land. The US has 0.43 km of road for every km2 of land. Japan is willing to pave over their rice fields for their cars, even though their food self sufficiency is only 40% (An exaggerated, terribly over optimistic figure).

They are also willing to sacrifice their people in greater numbers. For every billion vehicle-kilometers, 10.3 Japanese die for every 9 Americans, even though Japanese travel less then half the distance annually that Americans do, 24,000 and 57,000 miles respectively.

This ridiculous situation grows worse by the day, especially at this time of year when they are crazily spending up every last yen of their budgets on road work. This also effects me, because the country is planning to build two more roads, one an elevated highway, and the other a road to service it, that will pass uncomfortably close to my home. This while the population shrinks and ages at a rapid rate. Its population could drop by half this century, meaning year by year the burden on each person of maintaining these roads will grow and grow.

It's time Japan rethink its automobile fetish. It will need all of its people and resources to maintain their people in the years to come, but what it does not need is more roads.