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Our Voices - International CSA Symposium 7

Lost in Translation

February 27, 2010 | By Jim Sluyter

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The presentations at the symposium in Kobe, Japan were as hard to read as they were to hear.

My grasp of Japanese isn’t what it should be for a conference that is in Japanese. In fact, it’s effectively zero. And, near as I can tell, the translations are less than stellar.

Most of the participants in the URGENCI symposium in Kobe, Japan that my wife, Jo, are at are from Japan, so it makes sense that the primary language is Japanese.  We are grateful for the simultaneous translation, but even though there is a lot of talking going, there are long gaps. Comparatively few phrases, and not always coherent ones, are coming through our headphones in English.

My impression is that most of the speakers repeat a sort of mantra about how great teikei (community supported agriculture in Japanese) is, how important the connection between farmer and eater is, how important organic agriculture is, and the like.

All of this is true, and I came to the conference knowing it. I hope that the same can be said of the approximately 500 delegates.

Still, there are some interesting impressions.

Teikei started here 39 years ago, many years before it spread to any other country. Yet, these growers, and the farmers in the many other countries represented here, face similar issues: People here worry that farmers are approaching retirement faster than young growers can take their place. Sound familiar?

There are particular challenges that a CSA grower faces no matter where the farm is located. The complexity of managing so many different crops weighs heavily on all CSA farmers, no matter where they are. So do handling delivery, organic certification, competition from convenience foods.

Even if we don’t really learn much about how others are handling these problems, there is some comfort in knowing that so many growers from so many places are in the same boat.

A couple of sessions are in English, so I promise that, next time, I won’t get lost in translation.

Jim Sluyter coordinates the Michigan Land Use Institute’s Get Farming! program. Reach him at jimsluyter@mlui.org.

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