Thoughts of Food: Listening to (In)consistent Narratives on (Un)sustainable Practices

Event: 7th International Symposium on Environmental Sociology in East Asia (ISESEA)
Date: 26-28 October 2019
Conference Paper

Local-level actions toward sustainable societies have gained momentum following recent global agreements on sustainable development. These include, but not limited to the reconfiguration of production, consumption, resource management, etc. by the residents' groups and civil society organisations. It is important to note that local initiatives do not usually go straight to the preset-goal of "the sustainable society" but often elaborate on their objectives, actions, participants, etc. through the iterative process of learning through doing and sometimes through the conflicting relationships among the people engaged. Therefore,
it worth paying attention to the process in which people (re)contextualise their needs and opportunities to continuously shift their actions, in addition to the tangible impacts made.
The study pays attention to a few urban farmers and people supporting them in Yokohama city, Japan. Yokohama, being the forerunner of promoting urban farming in Japan, is a major producer of some of the vegetables. However, many people give up agriculture every year in the context of the ageing of people engaged in the agriculture sector and the declining trend of agricultural income. The city government has introduced various measures to keep the number of farmers through the training of potential new farmers and to enhance the opportunities where people can engage with and support the farmers, such as fostering of farm volunteers and certifying local food concierge. The study analysed a series of interviews with farmers and supporters. These farmers have taken advantage of these policies and secured support from the volunteers. Additionally, they also cultivate their channels to collaborate with their neighbouring schools
and companies. The analysis of their narratives reveals that they share a few key points for "contextualising" their efforts of urban farming. Firstly, farming in the city (and arguably in Japan as well) is not an economically viable activity. They understand the decisions of the other farmers who gave up and recommend the young generation not to decide to become a farmer. Secondly, they emphasise they continue to meet their responsibility to the local society, through their contribution to preparedness to disasters (referring to the earthquake in 2011), environment protection, and education. Thirdly, they are critical against the overall direction of past development. However, they welcome some policies in Yokohama, in particular,
which increased "supporters" of farmers. While talking about such ideas, farmers and their supporters use specific skills of contrasting: chronological scale (e.g. rapid economic growth, globalization, the earthquake in 2011); commonality and difference with the others (e.g. their friends who have given up farming, neighbours who support them); and their active and passive roles to the situation changes. These contrasts help them create their unique contexts of urban farming which they continue with their supporters.
We should bear in mind here that such contexts are tentative ones subject to further changes. However, the analysis indicates that the farms in the mega-city serve as a hub of enabling the meeting of people with different backgrounds, and fostering (re-)contextualising the "(non-)sustainable" conditions of their neighbourhood and actions to address them.

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