Monthly Archives: November 2009

Ethical Feast of Deep and Strong Flavours

Wed, 25/11/2009 – Jude Fanton

Udaipur, Rajasthan: We are stunned, even amazed, to arrive in this apparent fairyland of lakes, palaces, in the desert with night spectacles decorated by men in large orange turbans and beauties clothed in the brightest of colours studded with glitter. Our webmaster, John Brisbin, organised two evening feasts, one for 600 in a village, the other for 108 town dwellers and NGO staff on the edge of Udaipur Lake.

All food was vegetarian and made from locally harvested cereals, vegies and spices prepared with Ayurvedic precepts. Deep and rich fire-cooked flavours at sunset in large tents on leaf plates. Chapattis and papadams made of millets, corn, amaranth, chutneys of coriander, mint and garlic, weeds as spinach, buttermilk soup, chilli and spices in excess throughout. Only small amounts necessary as flavours and satisfaction are so early and strong.


IMAGE Women preparing weed greens for the village feast


Of course behind the gloss we find poverty, more chemicals and hybrids being used, lack of sanitation, infant mortality, although on the decline, and dust.

On top of that I have a toothache that has come and gone over the last three days. It afforded an interesting study of traditional remedies when we went to stay out in a village for two days, hosted by an organisation that promotes these cures. The ache was successfully treated with a traditional mouthwash made from a herbal powder bought from a woman looking like a gypsy, clove oil to put on the gums, chewing sticks made from the all-curing neem tree and chewing on ginger and amla, a wild fruit fresh from the tree.


Mishima Elementary School Collects and Saves Seeds

Sun, 20/11/2009 – Jude Fanton

The principal of Mishima Elementary school was concerned about a local variety of persimmon becoming hard to locate. He and Nikko-san, the head of Chiba Prefecture Museum, therefore devised a project to save this and other local varieties of local fruits and vegetables.

IMAGE Jude and Michel Fanton, middle back, with students at Mishima Elementary School holding okra seeds that they grew and saved.

The students act as seed sleuths, or detectives, as they are called here, seeking out the varieties from their relatives and neighbours. This last northern summer several children returned from their holidays with seeds of local okra, onions and leaf brassicas now all growing in the school vegetable garden.

While we were there they collected seeds of okra for planting next summer and sowed seeds of an onion and a brassica that they had collected.

IMAGES Students picking seeds from okra plant in the school garden


Beyond Organics in Ginza

Sun, 18/11/2009 – Jude Fanton

Dorobushi is a restaurant in Ginza, a smart shopping area of Tokyo. But it is different to all the others. The owner has made a commitment to using not only ingredients grown organically but those from natural farming method that does not use any inputs. They also eschew the use of fridges as they like their produce fresh and consider a fridge a food cemetery.

Last night we were guests of the restaurant for a meal of vegetables and rice eaten with students of The Seed Meister.

Organic production is often heavily reliant on manures as fertiliser to boost production that can result in high levels of nitrates in the produce. The natural farming method rejects their use. Consumers of this produce claim it helps reduce allergies, can cure and alleviate disease and tastes better. Several of the attendees at the party last night were cancer sufferers, some had claims of cures for chronic diseases like atopic syndrome through eating produce from this farming method.

Whatever the effects of eating this food, it sure tasted good. While the ingredients were standard Japanese vegetables – rice, burdock roots, lettuce, grated carrot, pickled daikon, carrot and cucumber, mushrooms – the taste was much more intense than any others we have eaten in our two weeks in Japan.

It made us a bit homesick for the produce we eat from our low-input gardens back in Australia.


Natural Seed Network

Sun, 17/11/2009 – Jude Fanton

We visited the Natural Seed Network here in Chiba Prefecture, not far from Narita Airport to see how organic farmers run their seed bank.


IMAGE Director, Ishii-san, of the Natural Seed Network with their extensive seed collection

Director, Ishii-san, showed us over the collection after visiting his mother-in-law, Kimie’s, farm. See previous blog about how she grows enormous vegetables from only her own saved seed. The Natural Seed Network has 5600 organic farmers nationally, 20 of whom produce seeds for the seed bank. Some are natural farming method farmers who reject the use of manures and even compost, claiming their produce is more healthy.

The seed bank is housed in the cold room of an organic produce distributor. Ishii-san has an easy method of recording incoming and outgoing seeds, a clipboard with forms to fill in. Farmers are expected to return seeds, but not all of them do.

The seed bank had an wonderful air of order and there is certainly plenty of seed there for farmers to pick up when they deliver their produce.



Handbook in Japanese

Sun, 16/11/2009 – Jude Fanton

A meeting with our Japanese publishers in Tokyo revealed that the Japanese version our Seed Savers’ Handbook is still in demand, despite several other publications on seed saving since its release in 2002.

IMAGE Cover of Japanese publication of The Seed Savers’ Handbook


Kimie, Natural Seed Saver Par Excellence

Sun, 15/11/2009 – Jude Fanton

Commercial farmer, Kimie grows the most productive market garden with her own seeds and neither manure nor compost. Kimie showed us her seed collection that she stores in a fridge in her garden shed.

IMAGE Kimie with two dried eggplants that she is keeping for seeds.


Modest in her methods, at 75 Kimie still manages, with her 80 year old husband, to grow an acre of vegetables from her own seeds. She is a practitioner of natural farming method as described in previous blogs.

Kimie has kept some seeds for forty years but is always on the lookout for new and better varieties. When Kimie first became a market gardener she tried to keep the seeds of a hybrid brassica with of course poor results. That convinced her to save seeds of as many crops as possible.

What was so encouraging was to see how casual she was about storing them. Most were in plastic bags, some in little boxes and all kept in the fridge in a garden hut in the middle of their field.


IMAGE Kimie with her seeds of chick peas.


Kimie’s market garden is grown totally from her own seeds and is fully luscious. Especially admirable as she does not use manures or even compost.

IMAGE Rows of greens in Kimie’s garden


Grandma Kiku-yo, name meaning ‘Chrysanthemum’

Sun, 14/11/2009 – Jude Fanton

This original seed saver totally inspired us. She collects every kind of seed imaginable, including the most delicate pulses such as mung and aduki beans and sesame seeds. Her garden is so complex and varied, including of course chrysanthemums.


IMAGE Kukiyo-san in her garden

Mandarins and persimmon, or kaki as they are called here, hang from trees. Shiitake mushrooms grow on logs that her husband harvests from the forest. ery mixed and bountiful garden with successions of crops, such as spinaches in three stages. Most beautiful setting in between forests and with ancient farm houses.


IMAGE Kiku-yo walks with bamboo sticks but is still very energetic. She digs up taro with her hands and showing us how she stores ginger roots and sweet potato tubers underground in rice husks, under straw.


IMAGE Kiku-yo drying aduki seeds in her courtyard.

She has a whole room dedicated to her seed collection in tins and jars. Masses of them that she shares with others.

Kiku is generous to a T, we left with fruits, flowers (chrysanthemums of course), ginger and shiitake mushrooms.


Haiku of Climate Change Readiness

Sun, 13/11/2009 – Jude Fanton

IMAGE Huge concrete tetrapacks line the beaches

Few rivers on the coastal plains of Japan remain wild and the coasts are almost totally lined with concrete blocks. At least they are ready for climate change sea rise and more storms.

IMAGE Flotsam collects behind these piles of concrete. Haiku of rope, net and sandal.


Hervey Bay Seed Savers distributes seeds

Sun, 12/11/2009 – Jude Fanton

The Hervey Bay Seed Savers Network has just distributed 2000 packets of pigeon peas via letterbox drop around town with information on Transition Town Hervey Bay.

We are slowly getting the word out there for self-sustainability in food and a low carbon diet. Thanks for the emails from Japan, what an experience.


Organic Farmer Saves Seeds near Nagasaki

Fri, 11/11/2009 – Jude Fanton

Curious to catch up again after nine years with Iwasaki-san who has become a seed saving household name, we went to western Kyushu. Iwasaki-san is a successful and quite large scale commercial market gardener who grows most of his seeds, starting forty years ago.

As a Japanese seed saving icon, Iwasaki-san has authored several books on seed saving and appeared in plenty of media including television.     In his fields of about two acres, set between Moso species bamboo and mixed forests, we saw these autumn crops – carrots, many brassicas, onions, spinach and lettuces. Iwasaki-san’s favourite vegetable is carrot and he maintains three local varieties, in particular Hinoki.

IMAGE Iwasaki-san in his field

Iwasaki-san had come to meet Michel in 2000 at a seed savers event in Tokyo, more than half a country from his farm on the southern island of Kyushu.

It was truly inspiring to look over his seed collection.