A Japanese perspective on organic agriculture

This is an excerpt from the introduction to "Some Concerns About Organic Agriculture" by my friend Hiroyuki Tateno. He is an organic farmer active in western Japan. We will post more excerpts of his work later.

What is organic agriculture?

For most of us, seriously thinking about the meaning of “organic” brings a mixed sense of understanding and confusion. The common definition of the term refers to farming that eschews agricultural chemicals and chemical fertilizers; while this is superficially true, I believe that the essence of organic agriculture can be found in a world which runs along the laws of life and nature. "Organic" can and should represent a deep and complete change in the values of the world—changes in agriculture, society, and the way we live.

Nowadays, most of us already know about organic agriculture and organic production; moreover, many are already eating “organic” food. Organic produce has become widely known, and can be easily purchased for those willing or able to pay for it. However, a certain feeling of wrongness comes with the thought, “Is this it?” Even when we see organic vegetables and food products labeled with approved organic seals in supermarkets and large chain stores, it is difficult to be blindly enthusiastic.

If no agricultural chemicals and chemical fertilizers are used in growing a food, does this alone make it “organic”? Does using compost and natural fertilizers make a crop organic? Are organic foods healthier than conventionally produced ones? Are organic foods which have been imported from thousands of miles away really good for the environment? Can the place of production (the farm) be seen behind the certified organic label? Even as the word organic is being used freely, a great number of unresolved questions and misunderstandings remain. Originally, organic meant not the manufacture of products but a “life industry.” It is important that we always carry with us the questions, “What is organic agriculture?” and “What are we striving for with organic farming?”

One definition of organic farming is "a method of production attuned to and facilitating a life system shared among many living things." The world of organic agriculture begins with the fundamentals of human survival, food and agriculture, and extends to include commerce and industry, education, medicine, and politics. In reality, of course, contemporary society is by no means suited to organic agriculture, meaning it is impossible to perfectly implement and practice. In fact, we humans have created a society that is uniquely unsuited to organic farming. Despite this (or because of it), no matter how incompletely we understand it, organic farming is the path to making necessary amends with countless living things. It is the first step forward from an organic farm to an organic society, and from there to an organic world.

Part 2