Today we are back to share the second part of our interview with Ayumi Kinezuka from Ayumi Farms, Cyittorattu. In the first part, we asked Ayumi-san what inspired her to establish her own farm. Today, we share the second half of the interview as we touch on topics of the influences of global warming on tea farming as well as Ayumi-san’s visions for the future of farming. Enjoy!
The Influences of Global Warming on Tea Farming
Moé: Global warming continues to be an ongoing and pressing issue. Being surrounded by nature and doing farm work on a day-to-day basis, have you noticed any changes?
Ayumi-san: Yes. For instance, I feel that tea harvest time for the very first flush is getting a little bit earlier and earlier. And the way it rains - there are times when it rains very heavily or longer time periods without rainfall. The temperature changes can be more drastic and unpredictable. Previously, I felt there was a natural rhythm that I could sense into or read. Like during this time, we do this task, and during this other time, we do this task. Now, the rhythms are more challenging to follow. Although, I do think that tea isn’t as difficult compared to other crops. For example, vegetables can be heavily affected by climate. So much that there are times when you can’t grow any vegetables in a season. But tea is a perennial plant so the roots are very deeply rooted into the soil and the impact is less.
Another interesting observation is that during drought in the summer when it is very hot, and the sun is very strong, tea bushes can of course be negatively affected. However, I’ve observed a difference in the extent to the impact depending on whether it is an organic farm or not. A few years ago, we had a very heavy drought during the summer. That winter, I would see some of the tea bushes from the farms that were not organic and used chemical fertilizers had withered but tea bushes from the organic farms were unaffected. This is because the chemical fertilizers utilized on the non-organic farms, these things are spread on the top surface of the soil. So, because the nutrients that the roots need are more on the surface, the roots of the tea bushes will not be too deep. On the contrary, organic fertilizers take time to become available and they are subject to complex biological processes as they move down into the soil, so the tea bushes grown with organic fertilizers, their roots will be deeper down into the soil and therefore more resilient to drought. In this sense, because of global warming and climate change, moving forward with organic farming perhaps provides more resilience and/or flexibility to the current situation of our environment.
Moé: So you would say, with the demands of global warming, one way to continue moving forward would be to be resilient with organic farming? Is this something that you think about on a regular basis? Or does it not cross your mind often?
Ayumi-san: Well, actually I have thought about it quite often, with respect to how to move forward with global warming... One is like I mentioned previously, to continue with organic farming as it provides a more flexible and resilient system. Additionally, with the continuous influences from global warming, I believe it is very important to be conscious and aware about how to live on a day-to-day basis that is less burdensome to the land and Earth, and to be aware of the choices one makes as a consumer. For instance, as a farmer, the first thing that comes to mind is what do we make and how do we make things? We think about how to grow things without harming the environment and how to make that possible. And, as farmers, we are also consumers. So we also take care in the choices we make when purchasing products. Basically, as a consumer, one is supporting the product that one is buying as well as the way in which it is produced. Therefore, it’s important to know clearly what you would like to support and to support the process in which the product you are buying. Hmm, do you kind of understand what I mean [laughter]?
Moé: Yes, I understand [laughter].
Ayumi-san: And also what is valuable is to do that not by myself but to share this with other people. For instance, at Cyittorattu, we hold many events. Like sharing the experience of rice planting or hand picking tea leaves. However, we do not just host workshops… as a farm, we would like to be a means in which people can learn and increase their knowledge about something and we also make space for participants to discuss with each other during the workshops so that it hopefully gets people to start thinking about certain issues. That being said, our events are more than just a fun experience, more than just eating delicious things! Of course, those are integral aspects of the workshop, too. But we also make an effort to include an educational aspect so that we can create opportunities for learning and to provide material for people to chew on. For instance, in our workshops on tea, we talk about some of the things I’ve shared with you today while we are hand-picking the teas or perhaps during the periods of rest.
Moé: I would love to be able to participate in your workshops the next time I go back to Japan. I have to share that when working on Cyittorattu’s collection page for Yunomi, I was looking at your farm’s Facebook page to find out more and to obtain photos… and was quite jealous you will have a *mochi-pounding event (*note: this interview was held before welcoming the New Year, 2021)!
Ayumi-san: Yes, yes, please come! The mochi we pound for that event before the New Year comes from the mochi rice that we planted and harvested this year (2020). So, people can participate for that one event, or some people choose to participate for the full series. So for one year, they can join us in rice planting, harvesting, and then the mochi pounding.
Moé: At Cyittorattu, you not only grow tea but grow various crops and make different products. Amongst all these things, is there a favorite farm task, or something that you especially enjoy doing with others?
Ayumi-san: Hmm, what I like to do most… I guess I really can’t choose one thing because everything can be enjoyable. So, I would say the thing I am doing at that moment is the thing I like to do the most… [laughter]. That is, because throughout a year, the seasons are very different, and the tasks vary from season to season. No day is ever the same. Because even on a day-to-day basis, there are smaller, minute changes. And our farm also changes. The more we take care of it, the better the conditions. So, being able to sense these changes is also something I very much look forward to everyday.
A few heart-warming seasonal snapshots from Ayumi-Farms, Cyittorattu. Despite the difficulties of the world we live in now with climate change and the pandemic, Ayumi-san finds gratitude in being able to continue day-to-day tasks on the farm and in the unchanging small everyday delights. Like children always having a good appetite and the ume (plum) obtaining a reddish color with the strong sunlight. Photo by Ayumi Farms, Cyittorattu; posted November 24th, 2020 and August 21, 2020.
About Cyittorattu and Ayumi-san’s Vision for the Future of Farming
Moé: Changing topic a bit from the present to the future, do you have a specific vision for the future of tea farming and farming in general? For instance, in 10 years if you could see a way of farming that would be your ideal, what would that look like? Would it be farming utilizing traditional Japanese methods?
Ayumi-san: Well, I wouldn’t exactly say just sticking to traditional methods. There are things that we can do now that we couldn’t have done previously because of advancements in technology. So, we utilize what is available today while referring to traditional methods. Also, I believe we are in this time when we don’t just rely on farmers to produce. Today, there really aren’t many farmers. There has been a drastic decline of farmers and farmland, including tea farms that are becoming abandoned. In this current situation, we farmers cannot protect these farmlands and rural communities by ourselves.
One approach that we have been taking is to have people who are not farmers help on our farms, such as in hand picking tea leaves. And for different tasks, different people will come and help us. And another approach we are trying now is to encourage people to produce rice just like farmers on the weekends. As you may know, nowadays, people produce their own vegetables and community gardens are becoming more common like you see overseas. But with respect to growing one’s own rice, people may be more hesitant as many people have never done it before and they also don’t have people that can teach them how to do it. So people kind of create their own barriers thinking that it is more difficult than it actually is. But in reality, I think making rice is quite easy [laughter]! Of course, making rice at the level of a rice farmer - high quality and in large quantities takes time and effort. But to grow rice enjoyably just for consumption with your family is very easy. So, I believe that people who aren’t farmers can easily make their own rice. And we would like to lower the hurdle for them and to show and to teach them that it is feasible. So we have started to hold workshops since last year. And because of that, this year two families have started to make their own rice. Additionally, we will teach 3-4 families who would like to start growing their own rice how to do it; from how to use a rice harvesting machine and the different tasks associated with producing rice depending on the time.
Scenes from the rice harvest festival in October 2019. More than 60 people participated, with about a half of them children. This is a busy but magnificent time in Japan. Photo by Ayumi Farms, Cyittorattu; posted October 9, 2019.
And we are thinking we would like to expand this kind of workshop to growing tea. But tea is a bit different in that if a family produces 100kg of tea, they may not consume it all themselves [laughter]... So, we are still at the initial stages of deciding how best to do this kind of workshop. But as a vision, I would like to take this kind of reciprocal (learning - teaching) approach across various crops so that many different kinds of people can become familiar and be comfortable but also have a relationship with farming.
Moé: So your vision would involve co-being, co-living with people who are not farmers? A community supporting AND community supported way of farming?
Ayumi-san: Yes, because in a rural community/farm village (農村; nouson in Japanese), even if one family is farming very well, you actually cannot continue agriculture. For example, in tea farming, tea farms can be located at the very top of a mountain. And so the farm roads to get to these tea farms need to be taken care of (e.g., cleaning, repairing the road, etc.) by everyone who lives in that community. That being said, if these tasks are just left to one family or farm, it would not be possible. It takes an entire community to keep a rural community alive, and because of the community, farming is possible. That is why our vision and hope is to increase the number of people who are interacting with us and in relationship with each other, so that we, ourselves can also continue farming. In the short term, this may not look like the greatest approach. Because we are teaching the people that would or used to purchase our rice (i.e., our customers) how to make rice themselves. So then, we will eventually not be able to sell our own rice. Some people have actually worried about us because we are losing our own customers [laughter]! But what is more important, in the long-term is to have a sustainable community. We wouldn’t want for the farming and agriculture of that specific place to wither and die…
Closing Messages from Ayumi-san
Moé: Well, we’ve covered a diverse array of topics in our conversation today, and you have definitely got me thinking and inspired. Is there anything else that you would perhaps like to say to the customers at Yunomi? Or to the people who drink your tea?
Ayumi-san: I really take care in where the products that we use on our farm come from, and I personally think about where they have been made, in what context the product comes from --- such as the farm and the people, and their philosophy in the growing process. So I take that into consideration on our farm when we are growing our various crops. With the help of people like Ian-san and yourself, even if people are purchasing our products from overseas, I hope that people will be able to know and understand; for instance, where the tea is coming from, or how our miso is produced. And when they actually go to drink our tea, they may say something like, “Oh, this is what sencha grown with rice straws tastes like!” [laughter] That kind of way of appreciating our products would make me happy…
Moé: That’s lovely. Actually, when I was working on your collection page and product descriptions for the Yunomi site, I started to admire all of your tea names (e.g., sencha that laughs with the mountains). It made me wonder, wow, if I drink this tea, will I really be able to hear the laughter from the mountains in Fujieda?
Ayumi-san: [Laughter] Yes. Well, at that time, the mountains are indeed so beautiful! And if you can imagine, it is the first tea harvest season, so the people making the tea are also very excited and enthusiastic. Additionally, when we hand pick the tea leaves, we also have visitors helping us out so it is such a wonderful and joyful time! I guess that can also be said for our 3-year bancha tea, we are all laughing “wa-ha-ha” during the process. Hence the name, the “Wa-ha-ha three year bancha” [laughter]. Oops, maybe we are joking around too much...
View of the beautiful tea fields at Ayumi Farms, Cyittorattu. Ayumi-san's tea fields are located in the mountains of Fujieda, Shizuoka prefecture at an altitude of about 600m. In the North, one may spot Suruga Bay over the mountains. If you open your ears, you can hear birds chirping and singing. Photo by Ayumi Farms, Cyittorattu; posted April 20, 2020.
Moé: That all sounds beautiful and valuable to me and makes me want to be there in person. Well, thank you so much for your time today. I personally would like to gain more experiences in farming and agriculture, especially in Japan. So hopefully, when travel becomes safe and a bit more fluid, I will look forward to visiting your farm!
Ayumi-san: You’re welcome any time. We’ll be waiting for you!
Feature Image; Ayumi Kinezuka in her tea fields located in Fujieda, Shizuoka prefecture. By Ayumi Farms, Cyittorattu