The Japanese kanji kibou meaning HOPE
Walk the Farm
Harvesting "Hope" for farmers
suffering from the devastation of natural disasters.
April 2011 - Initially our search was for individual farms to aid and help get back on their feet to help them begin feeding their community.
In our search, we have found that the majority of farms are small in size and depend largely upon family members to work the land. Because of the small size of the farms, the vast majority of them belong to cooperatives to get better prices on the inputs that they require and to market their produce. Because of this, a strong bond is created among the members, many instances one farmer helping another to tend the farm.
This leads to the difficulty of finding an indiividual farmer to accept a donation for their farm only. They would be embarrassed to be singled out for aid. No matter how much or how little, they would want to share with other farmers in their coop.
Now our search has narrowed itself down to seeking out a small group of farmers and below is their info.
Please check back as we will be updating as the info comes information comes in.
Thank you for supporting "Walk the Farm!"
Takao (I will just use their first names) and Four others
Takao is 65 years age and lost his wife three years ago. He has one son, two daughters and three grandchildren and all of them help on the farm. They did not hire any outside labor.
As with many farms in the area, the main crop was three acres of rice and one third of an acre of greenhouse strawberries (commercial production, not u-pick).
Even though his home was not located on the farm, as a result of the tsunami, he did lose both his home, the farm, several vehicles and farm machinery to the tidal wave.
Before the tsunami there were about twenty eight members in his coop. Four members were killed and nineteen he does not know their whereabouts. He has met up with four others and have decided to work together again.
We will be revceiving information about the others in his newly formed coop and will post as soon as possible.
Takao and his family has just moved from a shelter into a goverment built temporary house where they may live for two years. He is currently looking for a job (to help out with the bills until he may begin farming again) but is extremely difficult in the damaged area.
If we are able to help them out, more than likely the funds will go to living expenses. They have agreed to keep us updated as to their progress.
Strawberries inside Takao's green house before the tsunami
Yukikaza, Tsueno, Kiyohiko and Kazuo
These are four farmers in the Sendai area and have similar stories. Each farm about four acres of rice and about three quarters of an acre of vegetables.
Yukikazu lost an uncle, otherwise everyone else's immediately families are fine. They are fortunate that they are living in apartments except Kiyohiko is living with relatives.
All of their farmland, farm equipment and most of their vehicles are gone.
They are waiting for the government to decide what they will be allowed to do in the area.
If we are able to help them, most of the funds will be used for living expenses until they can begin farming.
Debri inside Tsueno-san's home
Many areas of affected farmland remain submerged in salty ocean water.
One other group
One more group of farmers that we are considering are some peach growers. They have the situation where they cannot sell their fruit due to radiation concerns but they still must maintain their orchards otherwise risk letting the trees die. This would mean losing mature trees and an infrastructure that took four years to build.
We hope to have information this group soon.
Heartfelt and gracious, the recipient farmers of our “Walk the Farm” donations commented that these funds have provided them the courage and strength to move forward. These farmers were extremely upbeat and anxious to share their stories, as they were grateful to be alive, and all felt they didn’t want to be forgotten. They saw this as a time to revive and move forward. Truly, their courage and strength are an inspiration of “hope” for the future
Twenty-four farmers located in Sendai and Fukushima, Japan, directly received funds from the “Walk the Farm” event sponsored by the Orange Coast Optimist Club and Tanaka Farms. These farmers were hit by the magnitude 9.0 earthquake, which unleashed a tsunami and a wall of water that hit Japan’s northeastern coast, and later triggered a nuclear crisis.
The majority of farms in Japan are small in size and depend largely upon family members to work the land. Because of the small size of these farms, the vast majority of them belong to Cooperatives (Co-ops), which allows them to get better prices on their inputs that they require and to market their produce. Through this arrangement, a strong bond is created among the members and in many instances the farmers help one another to tend their farms
In most cases, the farmers must wait for the Japan government to redistribute
the land. This “plan” could take up to five years, as the debris must be moved and disposed of, the salt must be removed from the soil, irrigation systems need to be rebuilt, farmers need to decide if they plan to farm again or not, and electricity, communication, and water need to be restored to these areas. Once the land is redistributed, farmers will need to not only rebuild their home, but purchase farm equipment and build farming structures, as well as till the land.
Meet some of our farmers…
Tsuneo and Kiyohiko lived in the Idohama community in Sendai, less than a mile from the coast of the Pacific Ocean. They were home when the earthquake hit and, when they received the tsunami warning, assisted in transporting elderly neighbors to the evacuation center. When they returned to their home, they found the front side of the bottom floor of their home
The contents of their first floor are no longer there; instead, debris from other homes and businesses in their community was deposited by the surging currents. The piano that once sat in their living room was never found. The barn and all its tools and equipment are gone as well.
The second floor of their home is still accessible, with all the contents still intact. Their house is one of three that is still standing, all uninhabitable, and it is hard to imagine that it was once sitting in a neighborhood of numerous other homes.
They own their land that they once used to farm rice and vegetables. In their 60s, they have still to make a decision as to what they plan to do next – try to rebuild their farm and home, or lease their land and plant their “roots” elsewhere.
Yukie just had a baby in January of this year and already she is back to tending their farm. Living with four generations in her home, she is running the farm growing a form of spinach, komatsuna. She also grows rice (which is mainly for those in her Co-op) as well as grapes, apples, and other vegetables.
Yukikazu and her husband have decided not to rebuild their home that was also located in the Idohama community. Their home was 11 years old when it was hit by the tsunami; they still will have to pay off the mortgage, even though their home will be demolished. Like the home of Tsuneo and Mariko, the structure of Yasuko’s home is still standing. However, she and her husband are haunted with the memory of a neighbor who was found dead two months after the tsunami in their kotatsu (warming unit that sits below the floor). Six-foot water marks line the walls on the first floor of their home. A second and a third set of lines can be seen below the 6-foot lines, obvious that water had been at a constant level for some time.
Yasuko commented, “They must live positively for the sake of all the people who unfortunately lost their lives in the tsunami.” She plans to borrow land space from her uncle, to farm vegetables. Whether this will be enough to make a living is somewhat doubtful. Her husband has a second job, working for the government.
The tsunami completely destroyed the home of the Miura’s. Also, living in the Idohama community, they were able to escape the disaster; however, they have nothing but memories of their home and past lives. Miura-san commented, “The day the tsunami hit was the blackest day of her life. She lost all hope and will to live. But when the volunteers that came out to help them clean up the debris in the days that followed, this gave her hope. She is now glad to be alive.”
Mr. Miura was working a second job, but lost it after the tsunami, as the business was also affected by the tsunami. The Miura’s plans for the future are still pending.
Motivated by his pride and his determination to overcome the disaster, Takao is the only one in his Co-op, located in the Watari area of the Miyagi Prefecture, who is starting to rebuild his home. Of the 26 strawberry farmers in the Co-op, only 10 have plans to return to farming in the area. Their community was completely demolished by the tsunami.
Today the land sits barren, as the debris has all been cleared and placed in flat piles. The Japan government is building a plant in which to burn all the debris from this area only. The plant is anticipated to be completed in April, and it is expected to take three years to process all the debris.
Takao also plans to start planting strawberries in April, with the hope of harvesting them in November… anxious to move forward before he loses his knowledge of this skill. His strawberries were known for their quality and sweetness. Takao mentioned that with this disaster, they saw the kindness of people. The first people to contact them were their strawberry customers. His hope is to start growing again as a sign of recovery, which will allow them to give back to all who helped them rebuild.
The others in the Co-op, such as Keiji and Hideo, must wait for the Japan government to redistribute the land before they can start farming again. These farmers grew their strawberries in greenhouses, thus the area was a sea of greenhouses. During the clean-up efforts after the tsunami, the plastic from the greenhouses was never found.
Posed with a different situation, the farmers in the Fukushima area did not experience damage to their home or crops; but because of the stigma of the radiation, they are not able to sell their crops as easily as they did before. These farmers are located 60 km from the nuclear power plant, 20 km outside of the government-designated evacuation area. Radiation levels are constantly monitored in this area, even though it is clear of danger. Most in this area had to make a decision whether they planned to stay or leave. In most cases, the young families decided to leave for fear that the air quality was not safe for their children. The farming families decided to stay, as this is their livelihood.
Kohno took over their farm when her husband hurt his back a year ago. They grow cherries, apples, peaches, pears, and grapes. Her husband is a well-known and honored farmer for his cutting-edge farming and fertilizing techniques. Once revered for their quality fruit, they are finding that the radiation stigma is making it difficult to sell their products.
Extra precautions must be made by the farmers in this area, which include removing the bark from fruit trees and power-washing the trees. Branches cut from the trees cannot be burned, as the ash would then float in the air, potentially spreading any radiation that might have been in the wood.
Kohno and her husband have to make a decision whether they plan to continue farming or to look for other options. But Kohno was most thankful that people from another country cared about them and were willing to help people that they never met. They were not forgotten in this disaster..
Shoichiro snow plows the local roadways and started farming leased land a couple of years ago. Currently, he isn’t quite able to see the future of his grape orchard. But because of his helpfulness to his fellow farmers, they are all willing to help him and motivate him to continue through this setback.
Although it is hard to fathom what these individuals experienced, one can only “hope” for a brighter future for all of them.
Letters from our Farmers
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Dear Walk the Farm Supporters,
Thank you so much for the support you have sent to us. Our rice field as been deflated and we are now beginning to grow rice that we can now eat. We have overflowing gratitude with our first harvest for your support. We have also started growing vegetables, sharing our harvest with the many other families who have helped us in removing the debris on our land.
Your funds have been used to to re-purchase machines and allowed us to experiment with different seedlings that could be grown in the soil. We owe you all a lot. We know we will have a strong crop with your warm support.
We are moving forward. We are hoping to build a house we can live in soon.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Dear Walk the Farm Supporters,
Thank you for sending us support once again. It has been four years since the disaster. People have begun farming in the disaster areas. It is very rare to find any farmers who are farming independently, as the expense of replacing the machinery and barns is too great. For this reason, I plan to start farming together with about ten other victim farmers in the Sendai area. We have purchased 4,800 square feet of land.
People in Japan no longer think about the disaster-hit area and its people. It warms our hearts to know that you all who are far away continue to send us the support that you do. You have encouraged us and have given us tremendous joy.
Thank you so much.