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Our Voices - International CSA Symposium 6

The Talking Begins

February 26, 2010 | By Jim Sluyter

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The international CSA symposium, held in Kobe, Japan, attracted close to 500 people from around the world, and only a few were from English-speaking countries.

The International Symposium on Community Supported Foods & Farming in Kobe differs from any conference we have attended.

In part this is a cultural issue. We have been warned: In Japan, a conference provides you an opportunity to learn from your elders—or those more experienced. We should expect little interest in dialogue and interaction during the proceedings.

Another difference, though, involves scope. International is, well, bigger. Our past experience, even when there are participants from other countries, has been regional or, at most, national. Speakers here take a big view. Even though the topic is local food, the view is global. It is difficult, even inappropriate, to drill down to the specifics.

Finally, the symposium is mostly in Japanese. Other than a few English-speaking presenters, everything is translated from Japanese to English and French. It is clear that at best we are missing much of what is said, and at worst we are missing it all.


We are in a distinct minority in this intercontinental crowd of at least 500. A few of us each from the U.S., the British Iles, and Australia represent almost all of the English-only speakers. The French, Moroccans, and a few others may know English, but many do not, or are more comfortable in French. Their translation is probably no better, though, since the French translator is using the English translation to make the transition.

Still, it is an amazing thing to sit in a room filled, with people from all over the world to talk about this most local of agricultural models.

Jim Sluyter leads the Michigan Land Use Institute’s Get Farming! project. He is travelling in Japan to attend the URGENCI International Symposium on Community Supported Agriculture. Reach him at jimsluyter@mlui.org.

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