Alex Breeden: Volunteering with Agricultural Groups

I did my CIP through a volunteer agricultural organization called Mori No Megumi, or “Blessing of the Forest”, where I worked both on small vegetable plots in northern Kyoto and larger, more remote rice fields in the mountains east of Kyoto. What kind of activity we did varied every time we went there. The first time we did rice harvesting which was a really great first experience since I hadn’t ever worked with rice before. Moreover, the work required conversations about exactly how the rice should be cut, bundled together, and then put through the machine. On other occasions, we fertilized cabbages, cut weeds, and sorted rice. Even activities which sound like they would be boring, like hand sorting rice, turned out to offer their own unique rewards such as creating more opportunities for conversation. In fact, rice sorting gave me the chance to practice keigo as one of the volunteers spoke to me using honorifics. Thanks to recent class discussions I was able to understand her pretty easily and then follow her shift to less formal speech. It also provided a chance to reflect on what sorts of situations polite speech should be used in since I would have never expected someone to use keigo when speaking to me since the volunteer group was pretty laid back.

 I also went to the Kyoto University agricultural circle twice, though we didn’t do much and for whatever reason my friend and I didn’t really connect as well with the people there as we did with the people at Mori No Megumi.
 There weren’t any real language problems, or really any major problems for that matter. I was a bit worried about having to get boots and not being able to find them, but I was able to borrow boots from the group representative every time.
 One of the parts I enjoyed about my CIP which I don’t think you necessarily get in other groups was the wide range of ages of the people participating. This allowed me to see how age groups interacted with each other and myself get interaction not only with people my own age but also with older people. Also, I got to see some of the cultural differences in more rural settings, like the burning of pretty much anything that’s considered trash which occurs on a much larger scale than in the US. 
 My advice to future students is to try and do your CIP with someone else because if a group has two people asking about participating it’s much more likely that at least one of you is going to get a reply. That and when you suddenly blank on vocabulary you know but have momentarily forgotten the other person has your back.

4 thoughts on “Alex Breeden: Volunteering with Agricultural Groups

  1. Sounds like you guys had a blast! I think you really got to have a unique experience here… Did you get to interact with the people you met outside of the group meetings?

    • Sadly, I didn’t. Most of the people who participated regularly were older so it didn’t work out that way.

  2. Hey Alex. I really like your choice of CIP. I’d like to know more about the greater purpose of Mori no Megumi. From what you have discerned, is it more instructional for people who have little knowledge of farming, or is it more about networking to group folks together through a common love of agriculture? Is there a mission statement? Also, did you get the chance to eat anything you harvested?

    • I think it’s more about getting people together who are interested in agriculture but aren’t necessarily planning on becoming farmers. They have classes you take which are just about how people should live and interact which nature where I think you could probably pick up more on the purpose of the group but that was a little too high level for me since you had to do a substantial amount of reading for each meeting. And there was once where we had rice and vegetables that I had helped grow but it wasn’t as regular a thing as it is at my school gardening club.