SHINJO, Yamagata Pref. – Former schoolteacher Aiko Sato, 65, now serves as a bridge between consumers in urban areas and farmers in Yamagata Prefecture.
After spending more than 30 years in Tokyo, first as an elementary school teacher and later as a local assembly member, Sato moved to Shinjo in the spring of last year to join Network Noen (Farm Network), a group of farmers producing organic crops.
Network Noen operates a “soybean trust,” which encourages urban consumers to invest money in return for chemical-free crops. It also allows investors to work side by side with farmers in planting and gathering soybeans.
The project is aimed at raising Japan’s self-sufficiency in soybeans and opposing production of genetically altered farm products.
Sato owes her introduction to Network Noen to the allergies she suffered from drug and food additives. Because of them, she bought rice straight from the farm and eventually opened a health food store.
Through her business, she learned that a surprisingly small number of farm households produced chemical-free rice.
“You should grow rice free of chemicals and chemical fertilizer at least for your own family,” she told farmers. “Instead of complaining about not having anyone to succeed you in the farm industry, you should tell your children that they can eat safe and tasty rice simply because they are members of a farming family.”
The network farmers agreed with her. After her husband having died a year earlier, Sato decided it was time to leave the city and settle in Shinjo.
“The passing of a person is not a big deal,” she said. “We should keep places for other living things to live after mankind perishes.”
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