Forum “Towards the future of organic farming: Thinking about good life and society with young farmers” (Yuko Kobayashi, Project Research Associate)

FEAST HQ Report, WG2, WG3

Forum “Towards the future of organic farming: Thinking about good life and society with young farmers” was organized by NPO Tsukaisutejidai wo Kangaerukai (The Association for Ethical Waste & Disposal Awareness) and its associated organization, Anzen Nousan Kyokyu Center (Center for safe agricultural products) at Coop-in Kyoto on February 18th, and FEAST Project was invited to conduct visioning and gaming workshops as a part of the forum. A total of 70 people joined this event, which made the event very lively with enthusiastic discussions and kids’ chuckles and laughs.

FEAST Project has been organizing a number of workshops to explore better futures of agriculture and food, employing various methods such as visioning, backcasting and gaming so far. Visioning can be used to draw a clear picture of a desirable future. Backcasting is a method in which a pathway to the envisioned future is made step-by-step, working back from the future to the present. In gaming, players are assigned a role in food system and make a concrete project plan to realize the future. Separate workshops are usually organized for each method. For this forum, however, the preferred future vision was set in advance, and backcasting and gaming were to be conducted in a day. FEAST Project was interested not only in the ideas that come out by employing these methodologies, but also in the effect that they had on the players.

The envisioned future consisted of varied topics: “You cook for yourself and your family using organic produces from the local area, organic vegetables that you grow, condiments and processed food made with traditional recipes. You eat good and healthy food while enjoying a conversation with your family and friends. Young people are engaged in farm work with children running around and dragonflies and bees flying around. Cooking ingredients, and labor and material necessary for farm work are available in the local area. Food, energy, money and people circulate on a small scale. The preferred way of food and agriculture casts a remnant of good old days.”

The participants were divided into six teams (tables) according to their real-life role in food system (production, distribution and consumption), and one young farmer (producer) was assigned to each team. In backcasting, the players started off from 30 years from now in the year 2048 when the preferred future was postulated to be achieved, and worked back in time, visualizing how the society would look like and what should be achieved, for example in 2043, so that the envisioned future was to take place in five years’ time. The players wrote down their ideas on sticky notes and place them on a blank poster. Such keywords as nature/environment, organic vegetables, agriculture, (delicious/safe) food, share/sharing, urban-rural communication/exchange, tradition (grandma’s knowledge), working style, self-sufficiency (as in rate, technology, capability), local economy, energy were found among most teams. One team with a tea producer visualized a society where everyone would have access to safe food, engage in agriculture regardless of the place of residence, and be able to live without money thanks to the cooperation among local residents, in the phase right before the envisioned future. Further back to the present, by 2035, farming would be a profitable occupation, pesticide and food additives should be taxed, a transportation system that provides preferential treatment to small-scale and organic farmers should be established, people’s mindset towards the environment and the related practice should change, legislation and budget allocation in relation to the environment conservation should be enforced. Then back to the present. What should we be doing now? The gap/distance between producers and consumers needs to be reduced, education on taste (food education) initiated, food-related healthy and traditional methods re-introduced, the legislation regarding exchange and procurement of seeds liberalized, people grow tea from seeds, and more opportunities for hands-on farming experience are available for kids. Among those agendas, the players voted for the one that they actually would like to work on now, and this is when gaming comes in.

First, each player picked a card out of four which had a list of ten jobs/social positions in four different sectors in the society: 1) producers/distributors/retailers (e.g. organic farmer, staff of farmers’ market, food processor), 2) consumers (e.g. a family with small children, NEET (not in education, employment or training), a member of consumer coop NPO), 3) government/public (e.g. local government officers in charge of urban planning, waste management or wild animals, a member of Board of Education, a researcher at an agricultural college) and 4) joker (e.g. a board member of a funding agency, Youtuber, CEO of artificial meat producing company). Two numbers from one to twenty were assigned to each job on the list. Then, the facilitator at each table rolled a 20-sided die. The players would play a role on the job list of which the number corresponding with the roll of a die and make a project plan/proposal for the agenda that they voted for. The aforementioned team chose the agenda “planting tea seeds” to work on. This team consisted of a staff of farmers’ market/direct sales shop, a poultry farmer, a family with small kids, a member of consumer coop NPO, an officer of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF), a researcher at a university/agricultural college, an executive member of a religious organization, and a board member of Japan Lottery Association (JLA). “Let’s plant one tea seedling per a person and get healthy!” was chosen as their project’s catch-phrase. With a financial support for the project implementation including purchase of land and seeds from JLA, they suggested that the trust movement be carried out that one seedling would be planted when one baby was born. A poultry farmer would feed chickens with green tea to improve immunity. Researchers and MAFF would collaboratively compile a database of tea seeds and NPO create relevant written materials/booklets, which would raise more awareness on the benefits of tea and lead to more tea consumption. The information and knowledge would be shared among the followers of a religious organization as well, which would also promote more consumption. Diverse and interesting ideas were germinated with their imagination. The selling point of this project was that people and chicken could stay healthy with tea grown from seeds, and it beat other five projects to win the best plan award.

Travelling backwards in time and putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes may allow you approach an issue from a different perspective. And, the opinions of others might also feed you a brand new viewpoint. FEAST Project hopes that this event has given the participants as well as the organizers such opportunities and motivated them to start taking another step towards “the future of organic farming.” FEAST Project would like to take this opportunity to thank all the participants and the two organizers! Thank you!

The participants gathering to hear about the outcomes of backcasting (Photo: FEAST)

Outputs of backcasting (Photo: FEAST)