Kyoto Organic Farmer Life–Sustainable Organic Farm Tour
Something strikingly obvious when traveling to Japan, is the concentration of tourists at certain locations. Locations all over the country are currently inundated with visitors, often making for an uncomfortably crowded experience. One Kyoto local has taken the tourism boom as an opportunity to provide a sustainably-focused day tour from Kyoto. Chuck Kayser, moved to Kyoto over 20 years ago and has been organic farming for 11 years. He is also a member of Seeds of Sustainability Kyoto, a group which hosts events throughout the city promoting sustainable ideas.
You haven’t always been an organic farmer, why are you one now?
I have always dreamed of having a logged cabin, somewhere in the woods, and at one point I started looking for land. I was up in the mountains almost every weekend, camping, hiking, swimming, I loved it. But Japanese families want to preserve the ownership of their ancestors’ land, so no one was willing to sell. So instead I started farming as a way of meeting and building relationships with the community.
Learning so much about farming, the problems with the environment were brought to the foreground. As a father, I am always wondering: What will my child inherit? If I can help rebuild his world before he gets it, I will. I started researching how to help, and found that mass scale farming has terrible effects on the environment, and on the food itself. Becoming an organic farmer is the most direct thing I can do to improve the world, to not only minimize my pollution but produce a positive impact. My life has greatly improved from all the fresh air, fresh vegetarian food and hard labour, making me feel much younger.
Having such a life turn around, that you actually feel younger, surely, you’d want to start spreading around the secret to life.
Yes, that’s it. I wanted people to get in touch with the countryside that I love so much. To connect with nature and the importance of these remote places. Kyoto, just being overrun with people, this day gives individuals space. I do the drive up there and back four times a week, it only seems logical to offer people a carpool out of the city – the rest, I just let the landscape speak for itself.
I can’t take all the credit for thinking of offering tours, as many friends recommended I try AirBnB experiences. Some friends recommended I start a volunteering program, where they work a full day on the farm with me, which people can apply for through my website. Being a guide and through the volunteering program, I meet a wealth of people from all walks of life, who are always sharing ideas and inspirations. I really love my job, every day is either a learning exchange, or meditative gardening.
So what is a typical day tour with Chuck? There is plenty of time to admire the landscapes, but what else?
The tour begins with a drive through winding valleys, the country side immediately opens after the city limits. We reach the farm and we have tea. I give a little tour of the fields, show what is growing and the processes involved. That part of the day is always my favorite, to be so passionate about something, and see visitors engaging and learning about the importance of natural work, – I really believe we can change the world.
Then, we pick some vegetables, and we go have a big vegan lunch. The afternoon activity is the guests’ choice. They can choose to hike, to swim, to help farm, to onsen, or we can go for a drive to viewing spots, taking time to stop in small towns to support micro-economies.
By early 2020, there is a plan to get some quality bikes on the property to even give people an option to cycle instead of drive.
Supporting micro-economies, what does that entail and what do the towns offer, that the city doesn’t?
Many towns have something that is special, be it a museum or an antique shop – that are usually a bargain. So many of the villages in the north east of Kyoto are only accessible by car or van. The population is elderly, they struggle to manage their land, most families have children that live in the city. Or the whole house is empty and it is just visited once a month for maintenance. So the townships are in shambles, and any new money that can come in really supports these people. There are some really wonderful things up there too, like I know a family that makes tempeh from scratch, or have neighbours that are pottery artists.
The decline in these villages is a country wide problem. Japan currently imports more than 60 percent of its food. This majorly impacts the quality and cost of the food. The country also runs up a large carbon foot print in the process. It is a result of a farming labour shortage, that could easily be rectified with a small culture shift. Instead of pursuing money, people could pursue happiness.
What are you providing people that isn’t already available?
I think I provide a unique and authentic Japanese experience. There aren’t many tours out there where you go to work with the guide, usually you are their work. Coming out to the farm, you are beginning the day as an organic farmer, and nature just continues to open as the day goes on.
I know having a car, being a native English speaker, and being a local in a remote village is a unique mix of circumstances, but I’m not the only one. However, I am the only one picking up tourists on their way.
You have gradually eased into farming full time, and I assume to lessen risks. If so what are some of the obstacles you’ve overcome?
One of the largest hurdles is sometimes perseverance. There are consistent obstacles in organic farming like monkeys, insects and typhoons, that are just another part of nature. After they visit the farm, I find myself really wondering what I am doing in a field. But I’ve come to understand them as hurdles I will always be jumping, and that isn’t a bad thing. Every time I question myself, I have a chance to reflect on how lucky my life really is, my health, my family, my happiness and my impact. I’d probably have changed careers a long time ago, if I could think of a job that could improve any of those. But I don’t think you can improve on the simplicity of true success.