On September 27 and 28 in 2020, ECOPLUS organized a workshop on harvesting organic rice as a part of “ABC in a rice paddy” in Tochitsubo village, Minamiuonuma , Nigata. Due to the situation of COVID-19, we conducted it as a voluntary participating event without overnight stay unlike the usual workshops. Through 2 days, 24 people participated in this event on the non-chemical rice paddy.
Under the very wet weather condition, participants needed to wear rain gears and boots. From Mr. FUEKI Akira who has been taking care of the rice paddies, we learned how to use sickles to harvest rice and the way to tie harvested rice with rice straw. His tying skill was eye-opening and it was just like magic.
We started harvesting….however, it did not go so easily! It was actually difficult to cut all the stems of rice with sickles clearly. Tying the harvested one with rice straw was another problem because it easily becomes loose if you don’t tie it correctly. In addition to this hard situation, the paddy field, which became bottomless swamp due to the rain, caught our legs even up to our knees and didn’t let it go. What you will see if you fall on the ground is your entire body covered with dirt. I assume this was the biggest point that made us suffer the most this time.
As the time went, a sense of solidarity was created among the participants somehow; automatically we set the bluesheets near each of us as a halfway point to collect the harvest sheaf of rice so that we could minimize the walking distance on the muddy ground. Being in the line and doing a relay the sheaf of rice was also helpful in putting them on the rack to dry them easily. The sheaves of rice that were tied tightly didn’t get loosened even if it was treated roughly a little bit.
The creatures living in the paddy were an oasis for us having hard time due to working in a muddy and wet condition. “Schlegel’s Green Tree Frog” was an especially popular star among us. Even the girls who do not touch the insects usually were rubbing the frog who have such an adorable look of typical frog.
We could only see these creatures because it was on the paddy field without any pesticide and working with our own hands but not by the machine.
By the lunch time of the second day, the paddy field which has the size of 1,400㎡ was cleared completely and the rice were all hanged on the drying rack. That scenery was just so lovely to see and I could not help to have an image of newly harvested rice in my mind. Some of the participants made their minds saying “I want to experience planting rice next year but not only harvesting” I wonder what the liquid going down on the face was. Was it the rain water, sweat, or the tears? A sense of accomplishment was filling our mind at the end. Of course, muscle pain didn’t forget to suffer us the next morning though….! (reported by FUKUI Tomoyuki, translated by HASUMI Chigira)
ECOPLUS conducted workshops on weeding in our non-chemical rice paddy in the weekend of June 20 and 27-28 in Tochikubo village at Minamiuonuma, Niigata, Japan. In order to avoid the risks on COVID-19, the workshop, used to be conducted for two days staying in an inn in the village, was changed into one-day program. For the there days, in total 16 persons were gathered and enjoyed the work surrounded by the calls of Ruddy Kingfisher and Gray-faced buzzard.
In those rice paddies, farmers have not been using chemicals for over 15 years. So weeds are also very healthy. Specially “Inu-Bie” or Japanese millet, is so similar to rice that it was so difficult to identify which is which in the field.
Mr. FUEKI Akira, the chief of Tochikubo Panorama Farm taught us that rice has small fluffs surrounding the base of each leaf. So, we were concentrating our eyes very close to those plants before each weeding actions.
Some days before our works, farmers used special tool called “Taguruma,” which has metal rotating claws. So, weeds along the one side were already taken or less but another side was very congested with weeds.
Weeds are grown as same as rice, we need to use all fingers pushed deep into the mud then pull out the weeds with roots. Keeping the bottom very low in the paddy during the work for more than one hour was quite tough for all of us.
Many of participants from Tokyo area repeated that “I never imagined it needs such hard work to grow rice organiclally.” Some university students, once said “I was doing football fo long years so I am confident on my physical strangeness,” complained of back pain.
While weeding, we identified so many dragonflies were emerging on the leaves of young rice. Some are totally transparent like a glassworks. All of us recognized the richness of the nature in the organic environment.
ECOPLUS conducted rice planting workshop on May 23, 2020, at Tochikubo village, Minamiuonuma, Niigata. Considering national emergency on COVID-19 situation, only Niigata locals joined the program although every year many participants from metropolitan area joined the program.
Total nine participants from university students to aged local ex-farmer stepped into the rice paddy with bare feet feeling warmed soft soil. We used old wooden framed to make marks on the soil so that young seedlings could be sit on each crossing section.
Ecoplus conducted rice harvesting workshop on Oct. 13-14, 2019, at Tochikubo village, Minamiuonuma, Niigata. Due to the slow growth of rice in this year, we once postponedthe schedule one week and caused by typhoon #19, or “Hagibis,” we set the workshop one day later. Students and adults from metropolitan area were struggled to come struggling confused train and highway networks. At the end seven participants succeeded to participate the program.
With the heavy rain by the typhoon, the rice paddies was covered by an inch or two of water. It was quite tough condition although most of rice were not knocked down by the wind. In such condition, a high school boy, who experienced the work first time, learned and acquired how to cut straws and to bind those by a year old straws.
In the rice paddy, no chemical pesticides nor weed killers has been used for over ten years. Only organic fertilizer has been used. Because of such efforts, many weeds were covering the ground and many insects were hopping around. Sheaves of rice were hung along the bars called “Haza,” for sun dry for around 10 days. Through this, participants experienced the way of traditional rice production of the area until some decades ago.
Participants left comments like “Accumulating the experience for long years, I am still feeling that how difficult to make food is, and how important to have harmonious relation with the nature is. ” “I identified so many knowledges embedded in the harvesting works and I felt the tick accumulations of knowledge for long years.”