“Natural Agriculture is simply the belief that we can achieve the state of “Heaven on Earth” – here, now, and with the tools we have in front of us.”
I had to go to India in order to discover an amazing place in the middle of Germany! I had known from the first time that I had met members from “Shumei International” during a Navdanya event in Delhi that I would get in touch with this organization – it seemed too amazing to me how many of my main passions they combine: Natural Agriculture, spirituality, an origin in a country with a fascinating culture and internationality to the whole extent – apart from the main centres in Japan there are several ones in the US and furthermore in London, Canada, France, China, Ireland, the Phillipines, Brazil, Taiwan, Turkey, Germany and Italy. Since 2004 they have also been having a project in Zambia (“Empowering Women Farmers in Rural Zambia through Natural Agriculture”). I will try my best to capture the most important aspects of Shumei, their concept of Natural Agriculture and my personal experiences here in Germany in this entry!
When I came back from India I contacted the centre of Shumei in Germany and received a reply by David who came to Germany from the US in 1967 and has been working with Shumei since 11 years. I visited the centre, was over the moon and came back for an internship.
The spirituality of Shumei derives from Shintoism, the indigenous spirituality of Japan, and is based on the teachings of Mokichi Okada (also known as “Meishusama”, which translates as “Master of Light”) who was born in a slum of Tokyo in 1882 and suffered from more illnesses and calamities in his life than one would believe a human being can endure. As with other spiritual leaders, he didn’t yield to despair but countered his fate by focussing all that seemed in his power on creating beauty and alleviation of suffering of others. Following different faiths and even a period of atheism, he finally found that God was within his own being (which very much reminds me of the “yoga philosophy”!). He furthermore developed his own method of healing, which is today known as “Jyorei“. This method involves the transmission of positive thoughts to others – Mokichi Okada found that this is a much better way of healing than medicine. It doesn’t seem like a coincidence to me that his theories are reminding of those of other Japanese fellow men, such as Masuru Emoto’s water crystal findings.
Another suffering which he sought to alleviate was the one of poor farmers and this is how he developed “Natural Agriculture“.
The main differences to organic farming are the complete dispensation with fertilizer (even manure) and continuous cropping instead of crop rotation. The underlying principles here are the premise that nature is perfect and the importance of the soil. Thus, it is perceived as powerful enough to produce crops by its own, and furthermore it is seen as beneficial to allow both the soil and the crops time to adapt to one another.
Natural Agriculture encourages minimum intervention in the growing process and involves:
- The use of indigenous seeds
- The practice of saving seeds
- The cultivation of soil in its natural state without additional elements, such as fertilizers or manure, and
- A comprehensive understanding of the role of insects, neighboring plants and weeds and how to maintain their balance without the use of any pesticides or herbicides.
The principles are based on inner values rather than science, most importantly love, respect for nature and gratitude.
“I would like to question here the contemporary reputation of science, which most people think of as the only way to solve any type of problem. (…) My question is whether problems of morality, of art, or of love can be solved by science.”
The third important “pillar” of Shumei is art since Mokichi Okada originally studied at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music and later was very passionate about collecting objects of art. He was convinced that education, religion and morals were not suffiecient for changing the human heart, but that this could only be achieved by creating beauty. Today, close to the international headquarters of Shumei in Misono (in the Shigaraki Mountains, near Kyoto) you can find the “Miho Museum” which is named after the first president of Shumei, Mihoko Koyama. Not far from Osaka, there is furthermore Kishima Island, a Nature preserve owned by Shumei and site of a Natural Agriculture model farm and research centre. The US centre is located in Crestone, Colorado and has a number of ashrams and spiritual communities – the Valley is sacred to the Native Americans and is thought by many to be one of the most powerful centers of spiritual energy on earth.
If you are interested in learning more about Shumei, there’s a huge amount of information on the net. I highly recommend their quarterly magazines which can be found here. No. 296 is the most recent issue, and no. 293 includes an interview with Vandana Shiva. One of many recommendable books is called “Farming to Create Heaven on Earth” by Lisa M. Hamilton.
In Germany, Shumei has its main centre in Frankfurt and another small one in Berlin. Similarly to Navdanya, the office is located in a big city (Frankfurt) whereas the “farm” is situated in a nearby village. In this case it is “Steinfurth” near Bad Nauheim, between Frankfurt and Giessen. It is mainly known for growing roses, and as so often I was lucky enough to come to a place at the best time of the year – everything is in flower and even the famous “rose festival” is about to take place. A large part of the village is owned by the noble family “Löw von Steinfurth” and as it happens, Shumei found a place for their facilities within the main building complex of this very family – sourrounded by an enchanted garden: In fact Heinke von Löw was Germany’s first organic rose breeder! The fields where Shumei have been testing Natural Agriculture in German climate conditions are within easy cycling distance. They comprise an area of 2,6 ha and include two greenhouses. Apart from that there is an area of 1000m² where apples are being grown.
The Shumei centre in Steinfurth is the home of Mitsuo Saito, who came to Germany for the set-up of this “Shumei branch” in 2003 and is living here with his wife Keiko, his three-year-old son Shun and his six-month-old daughter Aoi. I am more than impressed by what he has achieved here since then, starting from scratch in an unknown country! Furthermore there are the two Shumei members Norikazu and Toshihito and now and then Japanese interns who keep coming and going. When I came I was introduced to 18-year-old Ken Chan and a few days ago Ayako joined us as well. Once or twice a week a German language teacher comes here and my help with homework and practise is also appreciated – even though I cannot explain the difference between the sound of “ä” and “ö” and don’t know why we say “kein Problem” instead of “nein Problem”. ;) Those who have spent time at the centres in the US or in London also know a little English. As for myself, I have also already learnt the most important words – “Itadakimasu!” (Enjoy your meal) and “oishii” (yummy). ;) I do need the latter expression whenever I am cooked a Japanese dish (I have already become totally addicted to miso soup!). And after some time I also understood that “Johanna-san” is not a diminutive but to the contrary a honorific suffix meaning “Ms Johanna”.
David is living in a nearby house and doing an amazing lot of work here. In fact it had also been him who originally made the contact between Shumei and Steinfurth as a possible location for the Germany centre. Additionally to sharing all his knowledge and life experience with me (he is a “Sensei” in the true sense of the word!) he is taking me to various events in the area, such as choir practices, Buddhistic gatherings, visits of organic growers, and much more…
Every morning the Shumei team of Steinfurth takes part in a small ceremony in a room for this purpose in order to honour Meishusama and to read his teachings. Once a month, there is a big ceremony taking place at the centre in Frankfurt in which I took part once so far and which was absolutely inspiring.
Last, but not least I even got the amazing opportunity to meet Alan Imai, Executive Director of Shumei, again here in Germany whom I had met in India! He came directly from London where he had visited the UK office and stayed for two days, giving a talk about Shumei on thursday evening which was no less amazing than the one he had given in India!
I would like to thank David and all Shumei members from all my heart for their amazing and loving reception and caring and sensitive attention to my needs! I cannot believe how I keep meeting amazing people in my life!
If you would like to donate to Shumei this is the account:
Shinji Shumeikai Deutschland e.V.
BLZ: 500 50 201
Domo arigatou gozaimasu!!! (Thanks so much!) :)