Agriculture and welfare groups are joining hands to secure jobs for people with disabilities as part of a program that is also providing support to local farmers.
Tama Kusamura no Kai, a nonprofit organization, is one such group, growing potatoes, green onions, spinach, shiitake and other vegetables on farmland near Tama New Town, a residential area in Hachioji on the outskirts of Tokyo. The group calls the farmland, which is leased from an older local farmer, Yumebatake, or Dream Field.
Designated by the government as a farm to support the employment of people with disabilities, some 20 to 30 members of the organization, most of whom are mentally disabled, work there each day.
Yoshimasa Tebayashi, 65, who leads the work on the farm, said the participants’ faces light up when they take part in “green jobs.”
A 49-year-old man who began working on the farm three months ago said, “I now feel relaxed when I talk with other people.”
Once harvested, the vegetables are sold at a local supermarket and used in a restaurant and cafe run by the organization.
Workers are given assignments to suit their conditions, such as planting, cropping and packing, and receive wages in line with their jobs. Although there are no employment contracts, wages average some ¥25,000 per month, ¥10,000 more than the national average for disabled workers on such programs, with some workers earning ¥50,000 or more.
“Sales of products and wages give (workers) a sense of achievement,” Tebayashi said.
A number of members return to ordinary working life each year, he added.
As part of the initiative, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries provides subsidies for projects to make agricultural facilities barrier-free.
The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has asked for a budget appropriation of ¥110 million for fiscal 2016 to support the employment of disabled people in agriculture. Last November, it held a fair in front of its building to sell products from collaborating farms.
Tama Kusamura no Kai originated from an association of families with mentally disabled members and was established under the leadership of Miyoko Kazama, who heads the group.
Kazama, 69, decided to form the association after recognizing the strong prejudice against mentally disabled people through her eldest son, who had schizophrenia.
The association started activities, such as running a group home and cafe. The cultivation of farm products started in 2000 at the request of some members.
Kazama said agriculture was very meaningful to people with a mental illness because they can relate to society by producing and selling farm products.
“We would like to offer them opportunities to work with pride rather than at other people’s mercy,” she added.
Kenji Hamada, chief researcher at JA Kyosai Research Institute, said, “People with disabilities can work confidently in local businesses and exert a social impact,” because they act as a bridge for residents.