It’s been a busy year for the Final Straw and we’d like to take this chance to give thanks for all of the opportunities we’ve had, and all of the care, support, and kindness which so many beautiful individuals have shown us over this year. This project has been a true labor of love for us, and we’re so glad to have had so many of you join us this year, bringing your own passion and desire for change!
Film and photos have been our storytelling tool this year, and since the film is still being cooked, we hope you’ll enjoy this photo and word overview of our major milestones during 2013…
The year started off in a frigid (-17c) Seoul. Suhee and I got up to watch the ‘sun’ rise for the new year, and were greeted with a good bit of snow. We enjoyed it all the same!
January is not quite the time when you’d expect us to be visiting more natural farms, but it’s actually an important time for farmers as ‘downtime’ is a period of meditation, examining the past year, and preparing for the next. It also gave us the opportunity to introduce two natural farmers to each other. Mr. Choi met at his home farm with Mr. Hong, who had been a long time reader of Choi’s books on natural farming and had spent the past several years putting it into practice. It was a feel-good moment to see a new connection made.
In Seoul, we were lucky to have the friendship and support of Dr. Noah Park, who housed Patrick for several months of the year, and also helped our project create our first public forum on Natural Farming, and our first joint exhibition in Korea.
All of the magic happened at Space Noah, one of Seoul’s most innovative and well-networked social working spaces, filled with people who are working on projects for the wellness of society and the earth.
Later in the year, as the weather warmed up and the snow thawed and brought way to green patches, we began to put on weekend ‘nature awareness’ street campaigns. For these fundraising/awareness campaigns, we purchased flowers on a Saturday which were going to be thrown out over the weekend. This enabled us to 1) buy them cheaply, and 2) save them from the bin. It was a simple act thought up by Suhee, which had great impact as we sold colorful $1 boquets to people and spread the word about Final Straw!
It was a busy time for our farm visits as well. Thanks to volunteers like Kaori Tsuji, who put up with Patrick’s multiple travel and interpretation requests, we were able to interview nearly a dozen farmers in Japan during the spring and summer.
Kaori helped coordinate visits to the Akame farm school and home of Kawaguchi san, twice! As well as home stay with Okitsu san.
We were also assisted greatly by Eri and Kazu Domae, who brought us to several natural agriculture farms and helped facilitate much travel and interpretation during visits. It will never cease to amaze us, how much coordination and effort this kind of project takes, and how much the dedication and kindness of others can help to make the process go so smoothly.
In addition to our interviews, there were two, week-long farm stays with farmers Okitsu san, and Kohno san, both working on the island of Shikoku, where Masanobu Fukuoka pioneered his methods. The stay with Kohno san (which we did twice!) was courtesy of my lack of navigation skills in the streets of Takamatsu. To condense a long story, I happened upon Naho and Youji, the son and stepdaughter of farmer Kohno while looking for a ramen shop and ended up on their farm a week later!
We enjoyed a visit to the farm of Matsuzawa san, who works natural farming into a complete permaculture-style system of self sufficiency. This farm visit was arranged by Professor Suizu from Aichi University of the Arts, and attended by Ikumasa Hayashi and Ross McLean from Edinburgh College of Art.
In the city of Tokushima, we were brought to the urban natural farm of Mr. Osamu, who at 80 years young had started natural farming in between several large housing tenements. A short time later, just outside of Tokyo, we were able to visit a small farm of the Koda family, thanks to our friend Kyoko and her parents who we recently found out were aware of and practicing natural farming. Both of these visits were previously unplanned and are just a few examples of the ‘underground’ popularity of the movement, which we are constantly finding almost everywhere we turn!
Thanks to a chance meeting at Space Noah in Seoul, Suhee and I were able to assemble a volunteer team including talented software engineer (Johann Barbie) and social activist (Song Yi Lee) to work on a unique community engagement project in Japan over the summer.
The four of us lived on a small island in Japan’s Seto Inland Sea for a few months during the Summer to study the relationship between people and nature.
In getting to know the people and the land, we were introduced to a way of thinking which very closely associates family, community, and food-production. It is something which Suhee and I had learned much about during our interviews with natural farmers, but here in Megijima, we were able to see the relationship up close. Farmers such as Mr. Nakamura, equated family connection with the growing and sharing of rice with his family members, all of who live in other parts of Japan.
Suhee particularly enjoyed doing what she does best, photographing the people of Megijima. In all, we did interview sessions and portrait sessions with over 30 of the island’s residents.
In the second half of our stay on Megijima, Heeyoung joined the Final Straw project as an animator/illustrator. Since then, she’s been out on farms with us in Japan (and is now on a natural farm in California) to take in the experiences necessary to create meaningful animations for the film. We’re lucky to have her!
While on Megijima, we were given a up close and personal look, into one of the traditional cultures of a small island, although we came to know that even this culture is very rapidly becoming ‘obsolete’ within a modern Japan.
As the festival date neared, we organized a regional conference on natural farming for the locals on Megijima and visitors of the festival. The discussion featured three farmers from Shikoku and Nagoya regions.
And, of course, we made time to befriend the local population, including the two children resident on the island for the summer (other parts of the year they must live in the neighboring city to attend school). The kids found joy in saying Patrick’s name (sounds like: pa-toe-lee-ku) in Japanese, and also probably taught us the more Japanese than anyone else could have!
During the festival, our interactive documentary about the island’s people and their connections with nature was used by visitors and locals alike to navigate social and ecological spaces and relationships on the island.
Especially with the language barrier, none of this would have been possible without such an amazingly hard working group of volunteers from Aichi University of the Arts, Setouchi Triennale, and two helpers from as far away as California and Maine…
This research-based art project and symposium was produced in cooperation with Aichi University of Art and Edinburgh College of Art and ended with a symposium on natural farming. community-involved arts project for the Setouchi International Triennale.
We were invited by N3 Art Lab to take part in the “Eco Art Village Project” where we showed sneak peek scenes from Final Straw and created the first Free Food Kit interactive installation. In a simple way, the installation asked visitors to consider the re-connection of people with the source — and cost — of food. We heard news back from gallery owner, Nakano, that the seeds were distributed with much enthusiasm by gallery visitors!
On a stopover in California, Patrick had the pleasure to meet Kristyn Leach, farmer for the popular Namu Gaji restaurant in San Francisco. Here we interviewed Kristyn on the farm, and also took a trip to the restaurant for a taste and talk with Chef Dennis Lee.
Suhee and I created an exhibition of Final Straw film bytes, and an event which brought together Emily Brady (Edinburgh University), Mike Small (Fife Diet), and Ben Twist (Creative Carbon Scotland) three prominent figures in ecology with varied backgrounds.
The event was a time for us to showcase the philosophy of the farmers we had interviewed over the past two years, and a way for us to spend several days, visually storyboarding the entire film onto a gallery wall. What a great opportunity!
A group of over 50 registered educators, activists, and artists signed up for the event, to talk with us about sustainability and solutions for fostering a re-connection of humans and nature within the confines of our modern industrial world.
The show also included a revision of our “Free Food Kit” project, put together using handmade plant-based envelopes donated by local fair-trade pioneers at Paper Stuff and assembled by Suhee along with the help of fellow ASN student, Yanli.
Here is where you find us now. The year was often tiring and relentless, with travel for days on end, lugging camera gear across Japan, Korea, and the USA, arranging schedules in languages we can’t speak, organizing big talks, small community gatherings, exhibitions, and many nights of study and preparation in wherever we were at the moment, for wherever we had to be in the next moment. It’s also been a rewarding learning experience for us, and just a really beautiful way to see and experience how people think and live in different areas of the world.
We are excited to get to work on the editing process this Winter, and to emerge in summer with a film that can hopefully bring equal parts emotion and utility to viewers. This documentary wishes to be an experience which will intrigue and spur others to action to have their own experiences. The ‘experience’ aspect is important because even for us, many of our answers came not just from the farmer’s mouths, but from the experience of being out there in the field.
There are many many others who helped this year shine bright, too. So here’s to you, then. Thank you for your support, encouragement, constructive feedback throughout the year.
Patrick and Suhee