A group of young Japanese students came to volunteer at the farm this afternoon. I usually give groups an introduction to our programs and FOOD for Lane County before leading them on a tour of the site. Today, as I started to explain the mission of our program, I caught myself and backed up a bit to some key terms we use: hunger, food insecurity, and poverty are most central to understanding why we exist. As I explained food insecurity and hunger to the students, their faces turned blank.
"Do you have this in Japan?" I ask. "Do people have enough to eat all the time?"
More blank stares. In addition to being in a foreign country and speaking a new language, they were now faced with a new social reality: that neighbors, classmates, and friends could go home at night and not have access to a nutritious meal. I was curious about whether their reaction to the figures and trends I gave them was due to simply not understanding English well, or to being sheltered from food insecurity in their own lives in Japan, or whether Japan actually has very low rates of hunger.
From a quick online search and skimming some articles, it seems that the latter is definitely not the case. Japan does have high rates of food insecurity, and the matter is made worse because the response to provide emergency food has been much slower to take hold than in the US. The nation also imports much of its staple grains, and a staggering amount of food is wasted. Much like the United States, the poverty that fuels food insecurity is often hidden, overlooked, or downplayed so that more affluent children can grow up without having to give it a thought. We are "world powers" and "rich nations," so how could hunger be so rampant?
Some from the group had volunteered at the FFLC warehouse yesterday, cutting carrots for Meals on Wheels for a few hours. They said they'd visited some other businesses and organizations involved in sustainability work over the past couple weeks, and they'll be going home next Monday. Three weeks to get a glimpse of our local efforts. I wonder how they'll interpret it all. Especially without a full grasp of English during all the talks and discussions they've been a part of, I wonder what they'll take back to Japan.
For their afternoon at the farm, they walked through the greenhouse as I pointed out all the seedlings, got to try arugula and kale straight from the field (mixed reactions), then spent a couple hours planting peas and nasturtiums for the spring plant sale. When I said we were planting peas, they looked confused until I pointed to the seed package. They lit up, nodding with approval at the photograph of plump pea pods. Seeing it, rather than trying to make sense of an unknown word, helped them connect. They chatted and laughed in the intermittent sunshine, plopping three peas in each little cell and poking them under the soil to get them deep enough. Have they seen how poverty affects people here?
Will they recognize it back home?
On another note, I finally planted medicinal herb seeds for the summer plant sale today! I've been putting it off for a couple weeks, waiting for a day when I could stay late and focus on all the types of herbs I wanted to grow for the sale. Instead, after spending most of the day vacuum-seeding our onion crop for the year (done!), I was in the seed zone, without too many distractions, so I just went for it. Skullcap, ashwaganda, echinacea, yarrow, elecampane, red clover, borage, valerian, hyssop, and chamomile will be waking up in the coming weeks, adding loads of plant diversity and some perennial character to the annual veggie centered nursery. Hoorah!