In 2019 Ayumi Kinezuka, a founding member of the 40 year old NaturaliTea cooperative, established Cyittorattu in Fujieda, Shizuoka. "Cyittorattu" is a phrase in the Shizuoka prefecture dialect from the Fujieda region which means little by little (just like, poco a poco in Spanish or petite à petite in French). For simplicity, we will refer to Cyittorattu Farms as Ayumi Farms as the word looks quite complex using the English alphabet.
Cyittorattu is a small scale farm community located in a mountainous area where the fields are too small and sloped for machines to operate. In the mountains where they are located, there is a diverse range of living organisms that co-exist together. Natural river water flows directly into their rice fields and every summer, fireflies can be seen rising from the rice irrigation channels. This abundant biodiversity is what protects Cyittorattu, not pesticides or chemical fertilizers.
Ayumi-san’s philosophy is that the landscapes and traditions of their little mountain farm village grew from many small steps (cyittorattu).She continues on with thecyittorattuapproach to farming and living. Indeed, many valuable things are not meant to be mass produced and consumed. This philosophy is directly related to their farming system that emphasizes artisanal, natural farming methods that are chemical and pesticide free. Which in turn affects their tea and how their tea cultivation impacts the surrounding environment and its people, plants and animals. The community believes:
Diversity of the region is enhanced by cultivating seasonally appropriate crops.
The environment is protected when using on-farm or locally sourced products.
By promoting this kind of cyittorattu approach, people and their relationships will also change, one step at a time. Eventually, there is potential for transformative societal change.
Plants absorb nutrients from the soil, but some of these nutrients leave the farm when crops such as tea or rice are harvested. This open nutrient cycle means a fresh source of nutrients must be added to the soil to keep it healthy and the plants productive. The reality of agriculture in Japan is that it relies heavily on imported fertilizers. 100% of the crude oil and ore, the energy source and raw materials needed to produce chemical fertilizers, are imported. Even many organic fertilizers are imported. So what does it mean to be self-sustaining, to limit reliance on outside inputs and to close the nutrient cycle?
As a first step, at the Cyittorattu community, they utilize resources that are available at the farm level by re-integrating organic materials. Their rice, wheat and soybean fields produce a significant amount of straw which are re-utilized as food for livestock, and the manure is returned to the fields. Even weeds are recycled as food for chickens, and chicken manure in turn goes back to the fields. In the fall and winter season, fallen leaves are collected and used to enrich the soil.
Secondly, they find resources at the local level. In Fujieda, Shizuoka prefecture, there is a sake brewery which gives them access to sake kasu (酒粕); the fermented rice left overs. In a neighboring city, there is also a traditional soy sauce brewery that still uses wooden tubs that contributes soy after they have extracted the liquid used for soy sauce. At Cyittorattu, they work to apply local resources to the soil so that they may once again receive from the soil.
Ayumi-san feels the agricultural and processed products made at Cyittorattu are not particularly special, but that they’re rather actually quite typical of what was common in the past and what may help us move into the future in a good way. As described above, the people at Cyittorattu intentionally place themselves within this beautiful cycle of life. Not too long ago, the vast majority of rural households in Japan had a farm, grew their own food, and practiced self-sustainable, environmentally friendly ways of living. Seasonal field work along with traditional handicrafts are simple (but also extraordinary!) aspects of life that were practiced throughout the four seasons of the year in Japan.
While non-mechanized systems have the reputation of being less productive, cultivating cyittorattustyle, in a small scale, minimally mechanized way, allows the region’s beauty and terroir to be expressed. It may sound paradoxical but there is this wondrous sense of abundance which is felt on a small scale farm. It may have something to do with a special, dynamic energy produced when people come together to help in collective tasks, like rice planting or harvest. At Ayumi Farms, Cyittorattu this past tea season (2020), they revitalized hand-picking with an early sencha harvest and then hand-picked for black tea in June. All the crops at Cyittorattu are filled with good intentions to protect, preserve, and re-connect to the land of this region.