KUALA LUMPUR – Kazumi Fujimura has not only sworn off meat and alcohol but also many of life’s luxuries.
Fujimura, 38, lives about 50 km south of Kuala Lumpur, deep in the bucolic town of Bangi, and, together with her Malaysian-Chinese husband, Gan Koon Chai, 41, runs the 4-hectare GK Organic Farm.
But Fujimura’s story is not that of a dutiful wife simply following her husband. It is instead a tale of a woman who tries to shape her own destiny and lives life as she wants.
Fujimura used to be just another salaried employee slogging it out in the information technology industry in Tokyo.
But in her heart, she yearned for something more fulfilling.
“I could just foresee my life in the future, working and working just so I could save enough money for a small flat, and then what?” she asked over a seven-course vegetarian lunch she cooked at her farm.
Even stuck in the concrete jungle of Tokyo, she spoke passionately about the environment and wondered “where the water that goes down the drain ends up.”
“I felt like I didn’t have any connection with society and the environment. . . . I felt very alienated.
“This is not life, I thought, so I decided I needed a change,” she said.
The first drastic thing she did was turn vegetarian and stop drinking.
“In Japanese society, no one expects you to be a vegetarian. If you choose to be one, people think you are very weird,” Fujimura said.
She then decided to answer a call to nature.
Having studied about organic farming and its culture in a university, Fujimura decided to embrace it full time. She quit her job after six years and took up an apprenticeship with a local organic farm.
“Everything is my own choice now. I choose what I eat or don’t eat, and I don’t drink,” she said. “Organic farming is not just about the products but is a lifestyle.”
A New Zealander roommate later persuaded her to expand her horizons and she soon packed her bags and set off for New Zealand.
Through the International Willing Workers on Organic Farms Association — a worldwide network that introduces volunteers to organic farms — she hitchhiked her way across New Zealand, staying at one organic farm after another for more than a year.
Some of the farms took their back-to-nature living seriously, even shunning electricity.
New Zealand’s laid-back lifestyle, Fujimura added, was like a breath of fresh air.
“My life (in Japan) had been confined by a rigid social system,” she said. “I felt stuck. But when I was in New Zealand, life started to open up. It has been a striking experience.”
Her life then took another turn.
Fujimura bought a ticket to return home, but she decided to transit Malaysia’s northern state of Penang to check out an organic farm.
There she learned about the GK Organic Farm in Bangi, 500 km to the south. She headed off for what was supposed to be just another brief farm stay.
That was eight years ago.
“He is lucky I came. Malaysian women do not want to marry farmers, you know,” she jested as her husband, Gan, smiled in agreement.
But Fujimura considers herself lucky as well to have found a companion who shares her passion for the environment. And it delighted her independent spirit to discover she did not have to take her husband’s name after marriage in Malaysia.
Gan, a graduate in agriculture, had started his organic farm two years before Fujimura arrived.
Before that, he was an agrochemical salesman and then a conventional farmer who relied on pesticides and other chemicals to ensure a good harvest.
But when he realized the harmful effects the chemicals can have on the environment and consumers, he decided to switch to organic farming.
Life was tough, initially.
While a modern, conventional farm could yield 12 tons of harvest per half hectare or so, Gan’s organic farm could only produce half a ton.
And because organically grown vegetables are more expensive than those from conventional farms, they were difficult to sell.
But today, as Malaysians become more health conscious and more prosperous, there is increased demand for chemical-free vegetables.
GK Organic Farm now employs 12 Indonesian migrant workers and has grass-cutting machines, a small tiller and a delivery van. Gan and Fujimura, however, still live in a two-bedroom cottage with three cats and two dogs.
They do not own a television because the mass media creates “want,” Fujimura said, adding, “TV makes you want this and that,” which contradicts a Buddhist philosophy of austere living.
And to save trees, they do not buy newspapers. But they do connect to the outside world through their computer and via visitors who come for lunch or to offer volunteer work.
Recently, there were two Canadian researchers and a Taiwanese volunteer staying on the farm in addition to 12 visitors who paid 25 ringgit (700 yen) each for a half-day educational tour on organic farming and lessons on how to lead an environmentally friendly lifestyle.
The highlight of the tour is the home-cooked vegetarian lunch prepared by Fujimura.
“You know, it’s possible to create the life you want,” she said as she bid farewell to her last guest.
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