Growing the community

Kamiyama: rebuilding a local food system in rural Japan

From SAGE member and local vegetable grower Fraser Bayley

While on a long overdue family holiday, Kirsti and I were fortunate to hang out in a small town called Kamiyama on the island of Shikoku in Japan. It’s a small rural town with rice paddies and veggie patches right to the main street. Small towns like this in Japan are suffering the same fate as Australian rural towns. The population is shrinking and ageing, farming is in decline, leading to less supporting industry, leading to more decline in population and so on.

However, in Kamiyama, we noticed there were a few younger, funkier businesses in the town, so we asked what was going on. We learnt that the government, wishing to turn this decline around, has invested in business start ups in exchange for running your business from the countryside. The government also sponsors people, which I think is something like a work-for-the-dole kind of scheme, for 2 and half years to “help.”

“Help” is determined by the community. We met people who helped harvest, helped cut grass on the side of the road, helped keep the streets swept and the drainage channels clean. We heard of a fella who discovered that feral deer were becoming a huge issue for farmers and his “help” was to implement a control program. After “helping” out for 2 and a half years, it is expected that the individual or couple would have made good community contacts, found a need within that community and then move to the next stage of the process, which is to receive government investment to develop aforementioned small business.

The deer hunting chap developed a business selling game meat to fancy restaurants. We met young couples who had started guest houses, timber furniture businesses, a laundromat and bike hire shop, cool cafés and coffee roasters. There was a really cool work place aptly named “Work”, where you could rent a room overlooking the mountains and river but with all the mod cons of a city office and work remotely for a week away from the traffic, the city dirt and that annoying bloke at the photocopier.

Anyways, back to Kamiyama — all these small businesses mostly weren’t agricultural in nature, and therefore not addressing rural decline, until The Food Hub Project kicked off. I’ll let you read about that yourself. There’s lots of good ideas on that website, most of which SAGE has already got going on.

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