National

Women's group aims for sustainable rural lifestyle

by Keisuke Iwata

Kyodo

It was the taste of fresh tomatoes, corn and figs delivered from her father that persuaded Nahoko Niwa to wind up her eventful urban life and become a farmer.

The freshness and taste of local produce is also what led the 34-year-old professional model and writer to try and make farming more appealing to younger generations, while growing vegetables in her hometown in central Japan.

“Because of my profession and as an amateur triathlete, I have long been careful about health and beauty, and aware of the impact of daily diet on the body,” Niwa said. “My father often sent me vegetables just after the day of harvest and their taste attracted me so much to a lifestyle in farming.”

Niwa bid farewell to her 12-year life in Tokyo in the summer of 2012 and moved back to the city of Kaizu, Gifu Prefecture, where she reunited with her parents and has since farmed their land, while keeping up her work as a model and writer.

“I wanted a fulfilling lifestyle rather than a career,” she said. “And I’m satisfied with making a simple living by growing vegetables.”

Niwa’s active personality, however, has kept her from being a mere farmer. She is now one of eight executive members of an all-woman network named Heroines for Environment and Rural Support, which promotes links between farming and renewable energy production.

HERS, which was established in 1994 and gained nonprofit organization status in 2002, “will act to build a sustainable society,” said Eri Otsu, the 39-year-old head of the group, which has nearly 200 members.

“Instead of merely hiding behind public funds, we will empower women farmers so that we can pave the way (to better agriculture) ourselves,” she said.

Otsu, a mother of three who grows rice in Aso, Kumamoto Prefecture, believes the future of farming lies in diversification, specifically community electricity generation using biomass and other energy sources.

HERS, which used to be led by people in their 60s and 70s, recently shook up its management, and members below 40 now hold all eight seats on the executive board.

Under the new crew, HERS has renewable energy at the top of its agenda and plans to hold its first seminar on the issue in Fukushima Prefecture this summer.