ZAO, Miyagi Pref. – The “edamame” green soybeans, eggplant and maize were about ready for harvest. But a closer look showed that bugs had eaten up some of the vegetables and that weeds had grown in parts of the field.
“This is no good, because it’s the work of shield bugs,” said Tsuneyoshi Mita, 48, as he examined the soybeans. He did not seem disappointed, however, because he knows his chemical-free vegetables are not immune to the assault of bugs.
A former physics assistant at the University of Tokyo, Mita severed his ties with the ivory tower and settled down in the town of Zao, Miyagi Prefecture, near the Zao mountain range, 17 years ago to grow organic vegetables.
Mita grew up in the rich natural surroundings of Mishima, Shizuoka Prefecture.
“I could have studied biology, because I took it as an extracurricular activity in high school,” Mita said. But he majored in physics at Tohoku University, completed his doctorate and became an assistant at the University of Tokyo.
While others thought he was making steady progress as a researcher, he was in agony.
“I liked physics research, but I didn’t think it was the job I should pursue all my life,” he said. “But I could not find what I really wanted to do.”
His wife, Saeko, 45, recalled that he was “mentally fatigued and his health was not good.”
Tsuneyoshi gave up his university post after three years, moved to Zao and started organic farming, feeling he wanted to protect nature at a time when the environment throughout Japan was being destroyed.
The Mitas lived off their savings until the farm was on track. Initially, they were content with harvesting just enough crops to feed themselves and do what they wanted.
The environment surrounding them has undergone major changes in the 17 years since they began organic farming.
The number of producers has increased in recent years, Mita said. “The relationship in which the faces of producers and consumers were known to each other has collapsed,” he said. “Vegetables grown using low amounts of chemicals are on the market as organic vegetables and mixed with proper organic farm products.”
Mita’s sales centered, at the beginning, on group purchases through word of mouth. However, of late, shipments to home-delivery businesses are on the rise.
The size of their paddies and vegetable farm has steadily expanded to about 2 hectares. That is rather big for an organic farmer, and Mita said he is considering cutting it back in the future and starting over again.
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