i just read this article about St. Louis Rams center Jason Brown leaving the NFL to pursue farming to help feed the poor. it really got my heart pounding. he is 29 years old, about as old as i was when i decided to quit my teaching job and become an apprentice organic farmer. i wasn`t leaving a 32 million contract. not even 3. (not even 3 million yen, lol.) i had similar dreams, not to feed per se, but to offer a pesticide free, nutrient rich alternative to local families and the local ecosystem, in a pay-what-you-can model. sigh.
it was about 8 years ago that my husband and i started buying "the library" - we ordered a full course-load of books on small scale farming and organic agriculture. shortly after voraciously consuming these books we rented two plots of farmland nearby and started to grow beautiful, beautiful vegetables. we were totally hooked. there was a steep learning curve, and finally with lots of help and advice, the older farmers who rented next to us would come to us and comment approvingly on the lush plot of green saying in japanese, `you`ve gotten much better`. we spent every weekend there from early morning til sundown, and were sore, dirty and exhausted by the time we crawled home. we started saving our money hard to try and get our own land to farm. i joined WWOOF japan and SOIL canada started looking for a farm to go and stay and work and learn a specialized skill. that christmas we went home to canada to visit and i started interviewing with farmers over the telephone. back in japan i picked out 5 farms that accepted non-japanese workers and seemed interesting. i couldn`t decide between canada and japan, and then one day while i was at work dancing around with five year olds, the tohoku earthquake happened, and the tsunami, and all five of the farms i had been considering were completely wiped out. the whole nation was shocked as the new replayed over and over again, it was impossible to comprehend. suddenly the idea of being separated from my husband in the event of such a disaster seemed terrifying.
canadian farmers on the SOIL list i`d been chatting with started emailing me and asking if i was alright, offering to send me their air miles to come and work, or small weekly stipends to help with the cost of traveling abroad. of course in kansai we were spared any of the effects of the earthquake, but to people abroad we were all in need of help. the outpouring of kindness i received was indescribable. i felt guilty to have so many people concerned for my wellbeing when i was totally fine, but i was secretly intrigued by how people so far away could care so much about what was happening to people on the other side of the planet. i quit my job in march and started tending our rented plots daily, going to the field by bicycle. in may i went back to canada to do a five month internship on an organic farm while my husband stayed in japan and kept saving money. it was the best experience to go and expand my horizons, to be open to learning, and to do what i loved everyday all day. i studied the financial aspects to see if we could make a go at it and stay afloat, and the culture to see if my japanese husband could survive or thrive in such a radically different environment. i felt confident, and above all else (although i`m not at all religious) i felt somehow called to do this work. it just suited me; i had big ideas and i loved the job. long story short, my husband quit his job too, and we took our hard-earned savings and immigrated to canada (ok it wasn`t that easy to immigrate to canada, it took almost two years and alot of money and trips to doctors & lawyers, but that is another story for another day) but finally we started looking for a farm.
skip to (more than) two years later than that, and obviously here we are back in japan. we totally failed at starting an organic farm/business. the reasons for the failure are complex, plentiful, and some of them just plain sad to recall. honestly its taken me a while to come around, as hopes were so high and we jumped through so many difficult hoops to make a go of it that we used to say `there is no plan B, failure just isn`t an option`. turns out it was an option. the bright side, is hindsight. and that we got out with our teeth. when i look back now, i don`t see my hopes and dreams being crushed/annihilated/cruelly peed on by the gods, but instead i see the experience of our lives. i see the sixteen acres we camped out on, the permaculture garden we built, the river running through it that sustained us, and the wood we cut that kept us warm. something we will remember for ever. something that made us who we are, and something we are so proud of. we still dream of having our own land and growing beautiful organic vegetables in a sustainable way. and to the 29 year old ex-NFL center, i offer the very best wishes for success and i totally get the walking away from the 32 million dollars. (money is just so dirty and full of germs.) and to anyone trying to break out of their own lives and do something completely different, despite my own personal failure, i offer nothing but encouragement and support. at the farmer`s house where i apprenticed i found a handwritten note that read `don`t discourage her`. people who walk away from money, from the so-called security of working for someone else, or simply from the wellbeaten path are often met with a lack of understanding, disbelief and even jealousy, and people around you may try to bring you back to the straight and narrow by any means possible. i say keep going and keep your head up, and don`t look back, because at the very least "the road less travelled by" is a beautiful journey.
" So tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" ~Mary Oliver