pesticide

Meeting Yamada Yoriyuki at Kajima

Recently I met with Yamada Yoriyuki (山田順之), Manager of the Office of Global Environment at constructino company Kajima and a leader in bringing biodiversity ideas to Japanese corporations. He showed me the new interactive illustration Kajima created of an integrated sustainable city, where bees pollinate community gardens, school fields are mowed by goats, falcons provide crow control, rivers support animal life, hospitals have healing gardens, and plants and animals contribute to a better environment.

Yamada’s vision for new urbanism is holistic, with the widest variety of wildlife improving human life. Contrary to the government’s minimal regulations, Yamada boldly states, “I am not interested in greening.” Instead of applying green to existing projects, Yamada emphasizes habitat and culture. Habitat requires links between insects and birds, bees and food, trees and birds, clean water and fish. As an anthropologist, I was also pleased to hear Yamada emphasize culture as key to creating social change in cities. Yamada cites the importance of “eight million kami” (ya-o-yorozu no kami or 八百万の神), a Shinto belief in animism and the presence of spirits in an infinite number of natural beings and materials.

In addition to working with Kajima and the Japanese Business Initiative for Biodiversity, Yamada is very hands-on. He explained how he monitors honeybees on Kajima’s Ikebukuro dormitory using GPS and biking along a 2 kilometer radius. From his observations, he sees urban honeybees avoiding park and street trees because pesticides have made them unsafe, and preferring instead small gardens grown by residents.

Yamada also cites the Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker as a key indicator species. Because it travels relatively short distance, urban habitat requires a series of interconnected parks and street trees creating a green web. I find this idea of the ecological connection between large public spaces and individual gardens very inspiring.

I also highly recommend the article he co-authored: Kumagai, Yoichi and Yoriyuki Yamada. “Green Space Relations with Residential Values in Downtown Tokyo: Implications for Urban Biodiversity Conservation.” Local Environment, Routledge Press, Vol. 13, No. 2, 141–157, March 2008.

Gardex, International Garden Expo Tokyo

Arriving at Gardex, the International Garden Expo Tokyo, was a bit of a shock. First, I could not believe how far it was from Tokyo. Past Disney. Past IKEA. Past Costco. Gardex occupied a portion of one of the five mega-halls. The first impression was overwhelming: a hum of electricity and a burst of fluorescent lighting animating a trade show as removed from nature as possible.

The first booth we passed promoted a pesticide company. Spray bottles seemed to float above colorful flowers, a salesperson spoke with much animation into a wireless mic, and lighted towers offered multiples of each product. The photo mural and garish colors seem to contradict the “natural safety” message.

Click below to read and see more about industrial gardening, a cool vertical garden product, and global business.

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Stop Big Ag in the White House – Say No to Monsanto and CropLife

Stop Big Ag in the White House

Food Democracy Now is organizing an online petition to stop Obama and Congress from nominating and approving industrial agriculture leaders to key government food and agriculture positions. The petition seems organized for United States residents. Nonetheless, appointing executive level GMO and pesticide advocates to senior US government positions will certainly have a global effect on food and the environment.

 

Harvard switches to organic landscaping

Harvard organic landscape

I was proud to see a recent New York Times article about Harvard making its landscaping organic. Despite some initial resistance and skepticism that the new landscaping could withstand its heavy human usage, Harvard has found many benefits from abandoning pesticides and fertilizers: soil microbes now aerate the soil, its trees receive more nutrients and water, irrigation has been reduced by 30% or 2 million gallons per year, and tree diseases such as leaf spot and apple scab have been eliminated.

The photo above shows how grass roots now extend eight inches deep, and the soil, once heavily compacted, can now be cut like a “knife through butter.”

In a one acre test plot, Harvard has saved $45,000 per year by not buying chemicals and by composting grass clippings and branches that they previously paid to be hauled and disposed off-site. Harvard hopes to go from its current 25 acres of organic landscaping to its entire 80 acres of landscape in the next two years.

You can learn more about Harvard’s organic landscaping and what you can do on their website.

It is also exciting to read that the project was initiated by Eric T. Fleisher, the director of horticulture at the Battery Park City Parks Conservancy, during his times as a Loeb Fellow at Harvard Graduate School of Design. Also involved was Michael Van Valkenburgh, the landscape architect whose public space designs includes the Teardrop Park in Battery Park City and Brooklyn Bridge Park. It is great to see money and knowledge being directed at the creation of new public spaces.

Nodai Astro-Turf

Nodai Astro-Turf

University summer break extends through the end of September. I was a bit shocked to see the Tokyo University of Agriculture laying down astro-turf on a playing field close to the center of campus. Some artificial grass defenders might say that it reduces the amount of pesticide and fertilizer, and is somehow more environmental.

Still, I wonder if paving over a huge swath of land is really more environmental. What petrochemicals have gone into the manufacturing and installation of this “ever-green” turf? It seems doubly ironic at a leading agricultural university whose plant specialists should be researching and promoting playing field turfs that stand up to heavy use and do not require chemical pesticide and fertilizer.

Given the TMG’s plans to install grass fields at primary and secondary schools, and the vast number of amateur and professional playing fields, focusing on the best natural turfs seems essential for biodiversity, storm run-off, energy independence, and heat island effect.

Update: One Nodai professor told me that with the artificial turf there will be no fireworks accompanying the famous “daikon dance” this fall. Click the Youtube video below to see this proud and somewhat strange Ag U tradition! I am looking forward to attending a “daikon dance” event this fall.

Another video featuring a strange mix of martial choreography, giant vegetables, and singer Koizumi Kyoko.

Ginza Farm Update

Ginza Farm rice

Yesterday I stopped by Ginza Farm to check on the rice. As you can see in the photo above, the rice seeds are already forming. Despite the challenges of growing rice in a high rise-district, as Iimura-san explained last month, the plants are thriving.

In fifteen minutes, I saw fifteen visitors, plus the attention of the construction workers next door. One visitor was a Ginza gallery worker, another a retiree and his wife, a chef, two smartly dressed young women, and a young guy taking photos of the ducks. Clearly, Ginza Farm has become a neighborhood treasure, with repeat visitors checking on the progress of this urban farm.

Ginza Farm ducks

Born on July 3, the ducks have become almost full grown in just over two months. They have gone from cute yellow ducklings to mature, striped fowl. The sign in front of them explains that they are an integral part of the rice farming, in a method called aigamo nouhou (あいがも農法). Ducks that are a cross-breed that includes wild duck eat weeds and insects in the rice paddy, and provide fertilizer with their droppings. This natural method reduces pesticide, insecticide, and fertilizer, and has been introduced throughout Asia. Aigamo nouhou rice farming was used in pre-Edo Japan, and was recently revived in the 1990s.

Ginza Farm ducks explain aigamo nouhou farming

I am amazed at how well Ginza Farm attracts the neighbors’ attention, how well they communicate their commitment to natural farming, and how they combine attractive design with environmental education. In addition to the well crafted wood logs that forms the paddy and provides seating and tables, there are flowering morning glories, potted pine trees, bamboo, hostas, and wind chimes as decoration.

Morning glory at Ginza Farm

For more information on Japan-Bangladesh duck-rice farming cooperation and science, please see Hossain, Sugimoto, Ahmed, Islam, Effect of Integrated RiceDuck Farming on Rice Yield, Farm Productivity, and RiceProvisioning Ability of Farmers,” Asian Journal of Agriculture and Development, Vol 2, No 1, 2005, pp 79-86.

Ginza Honey Bee Project

Ginza Honey Bee Project, cropped poster

Last week the Ginza Honey Bee Project (銀座ミツバチプロジェクト) founders Takayasu Kazuo (高安和夫) and Tanaka Atsuo (田中淳夫) talked with me about their successful four year old honey-making project in the middle of Ginza, and showed me their rooftop hives.

We met in a unremarkable conference room in a nondescript office building behind Matsuya department store. A group of veterinarians was leaving, and we would soon be joined by a professional photographer. In the years since they launched urban bee farming in Tokyo’s most expensive commercial district, Ginza Honey Bee Project has attracted attention from local, national and international media, including National Geographic, BBC, CNN and many others.

Takayasu-san and Tanaka-san lead an all-volunteer effort, and their backgrounds are suitably in organic farming and real estate. They are deeply committed to keeping bees and reviving an industry that is in decline. Tanaka-san explained two factors contributing to the decline in the Japanese honey industry: deforestation after World War II to rebuild Japan and the increasing use of pesticides in rice farming. And while other countries are also experiencing “colony collapse disorder,” Japan is particularly vulnerable to the advanced age of its farmers and a decline in beekeepers from 15,000 to about 2,500.

Ginza Honey Bee Project aims to revive honey production, and increase awareness of the relationship between bees, nature and people. It was initially difficult to gain the permission of all 25 building tenants to have eight hives on the roof, housing 300,000 bees. Now they are producing 440 kilos of honey per year, one third of which goes to the volunteers and the remaining 3,000,000 yen in sales are donated to Ginza neighborhood projects such as an opera concert, a Farm Aid Ginza event in support of organic agriculture, local tree planting, and roof greening to create bee habitats. The large volunteer base includes Ginza club “mama-sans” and bartenders, landscape architects, art therapists and kids. Matsuya department store, a project sponsor, uses the Ginza honey in special pastries and a cocktail.

Ginza Honey Bee Project label

One interesting story Tanaka-san told was how Ginza Honey Bee Project rescued bees from nearby Tsukudajima that were going to be exterminated. There is now a hive of Japanese bees, which previously were not considered suitable for honey-making. Japanese bees are said to be at once “more gentle” and also “less loyal” to their hives. Despite some initial fears, we were encouraged to put our fingers in the honey-comb for a taste, and it was delicious.

Ginza Honey Bee Project honeycomb

The Ginza bees travel to the Imperial Palace and Hamarikyu, “flying faster than taxis.” The honey is labeled according to the nectar source, including chestnut, orange, clover and mint. The honey bottles are marked with the collection date. Future plans include a hoped-for 20 hive farm near Tokyo Station.

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Super eco marketing urban vegetables

Super eco bitter melon

My local flower and plant store was marketing bitter melon plants as “super eco.” Claims include that it is fast growing, requires no pesticide, provides shade, the vegetable is full of Vitamin C and beta-carotine, and that it absorbs carbon dioxide. Most home vegetables and vines would offer the same benefits, no? I wonder if this eco marketing is helpful or misleading.