Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Out There on the Left

Mountain View, CA Farmers Market, Feb. 2008
One of the perks of spending time in Northern California is shopping the Mountain View Farmers Market, which runs every Sunday, year round, filling the entire commuter parking area at the local transportation center with its 85 vendors and 98 truckloads of produce. It was recently voted Number 1 Market in the Bay Area, is ranked among the Top 5 in the nation, and even made the New York Times’s list of things to do with 36 hours to spend in the Silicon Valley.

The timing of our road trip did not allow me to shop there on my recent visit, but I did read in the Mountain View Voice about one of the market’s newest vendors — Shumei, a Santa Cruz farm established in 2004, that cultivates crops using “Natural Agriculture,” a method that is rather unconventional for a commercial grower, particularly in my part of the world.

Shumei Santa Cruz is one of 21 locations of the international organization guided by the teachings of Japanese philosopher Mokichi Okada (1882-1955), who espoused reconnecting with nature through food, an act he called “Natural Agriculture.” In short, his philosophy advocates growing crops without pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers of any kind, including compost. The Shumei folks are hoping to establish a new certificate for Natural Agriculture, to distinguish it from Organic farming.

Rosan Kugler, the assistant development coordinator at the farm, explained the philosophy in an interview in the Voice: “We’re in harmony with the Earth. When you’re not manipulating nature, you’re connecting with it…If you’re trying to control it, you’re not being spiritual with it.” She opines that in natural agriculture the roots of the plants have to go deeper to seek out proper nutrients, making them stronger and more resistant to pests. This sounds like “survival of the fittest” to me. 

The Shumei website explains that the farmer’s work is to “optimize conditions for their [plant] ‘partners’ to use their abilities [to heal and sustain themselves], for instance by saving and replanting seed so that a plant can adapt to its environment over successive seasons and improve its resilience to the changing climate.” I assume this means harvesting and saving seeds from the hardy survivors and using them in future plantings.

The Mountain View Voice reports that the farm has quite a following, and that Shumei’s produce always sells out quickly at the market, despite the $2.00/lb. for onions that I note in the MVV photo.

The farm’s development coordinator, Masahide Koyama, promises, “We give our love to produce, so if people eat our produce they will receive our love…Love is one of the best medicines in the world.” I’ll certainly be getting to the market early so I can check out Shumei’s offerings on my next trip Left.

Those on the Right Coast with a little time and the inclination might like to visit the Catskill Mountain Foundation Farm, a Natural Agriculture farm started in 1999 in the Village of Hunter in the Hudson Valley. The Fresh Harvest CafĂ©, on the site, serves brunch, lunch and dinner. The farm offers tours, and recently received a grant to develop a curriculum on Natural Agriculture. 
Farming to Create Heaven on Earth, Shumei Natural Agriculture
You can read more about the philosophy of Natural Agriculture in Lisa Hamilton’s Farming to Create Heaven on Earth. The book blurb references a Shumei CSA that feeds 1,500 families in Tokyo.

Perhaps this philosophy is not as “out there” as it first seemed.

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