Three, full-time members of staff work with Paul, our CEO, on the Community Project. Together with other locals employed on a part-time basis they manage the extensive tracts of agricultural and forest lands we own or otherwise care for.
Besides just wanting to grow our own food produce, our activities are allowing farmers to retire in the knowledge that their land will continue to be cared for and remain productive. Our principle agricultural activities are the growing of rice and shiitake mushrooms. We also grow a variety of fruit which include blueberries, ume plums, and yuzu and kabosu citrus. We have an organic vegetable patch to supply our staff with fresh produce, and we are creating a forest garden (See Forestry below). We also rehabilitate long disused arable land bringing it back into productive use and help other farmers with their work, particularly in the summer months. In the future we hope to establish a small vineyard and an honey bee apiary.
The first of our two offices in Japan is an old farmhouse in Kunisaki, which we have converted for business use. The building had been empty for over 17 years before we took it over and has since become the symbolic core of the Community Project. The office has been reconstructed with the aid of local craftsmen using timber sourced from the area. An excellent natural air flow through the office means that in the summer months we have no need for air conditioning, just using fans on particularly hot days. We have a wood-burning stove for warmth in the winter months, which uses logs sourced from our own coppiced woodlands. We have also installed a simple but effective composting toilet and all lighting is low-energy LED. Retaining walls on the surrounding plot of land have been constructed using local rocks. Two of our properties have solar panels for generating electricity. As soon as we can, we plan to increase the number of panels, add storage batteries and introduce electric vehicles to our company fleet.
Our work is centred on the care of cedar plantation forests; the re-establishment of mixed forests and natural environments; and the creation of an experimental forest garden, which is a self-sustaining, multi-storey vegetable and fruit copse composed of fruit trees, bushes and vines. The garden is now in its fifth year and beginning to become productive with citrus, peaches, figs, chestnuts, cherries, mulberries, plums, blueberries and blackberries. The woodlands we are caring for or re-establishing include a variety of native trees to provide habitats for the greatest range of wildlife as possible. A major element of this are kunugi sawtooth oak forests.
Kunisaki has a unique, man-made symbiotic system of ponds, kunugi forests and shiitake mushroom cultivation. This has created a diverse ecological habitat both on land and at sea that supports many varieties of vegetation, animals, birds, reptiles, fish and insects, including endangered Red List species. The latter include Iwagiriso (Opithandra primuloides), Akasa (Liobagrus reini) Oitasanshouuo Japanese Giant Salamander, and Little Curlew. So rich is this ecology that it was recognised as a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System (GIAHS) by the United Nations in 2013.
We are reviving an uncared for, extensive area of kunugi forests surrounding a large irrigation pond. The work mainly involves the clearing of dense undergrowth, which impedes the growth of the trees. Gradually we are re-establishing delightful, leafy kunugi woodlands, which generate a rich forest floor and subsoil, composed of leaf litter and decayed undergrowth. The trees here, in due course, will be cut in rotation to provide the logs used for shiitake cultivation. Nevertheless, regrowth is relatively fast and the trees are ready for cutting again after 15 years or so.
The kunugi logs used in the cultivation of shiitake are worked out by the mushroom’s spores after about five years, at which time they are discarded. Left to nature the logs fully decompose over the following years also releasing nutrients into the soil. These together with those from the floor of the kunugi forests leech into Kunisaki’s ponds and rivers, and eventually into the sea, where they support the growth of seaweed, crustaceans and fish.
We have taken over the maintenance of a number of park and public areas that had received little care over many years. These once overgrown areas are now a resource for everyone to enjoy again and the wild boar, which sheltered here, have since moved on to the relief of the local farmers.
We currently employ over 30 members of staff in our two offices in Kunisaki and on our Community Project. Our staff hail from around Japan, overseas as well the local region. Some are also raising families bringing much needed children to the school population. Our renovation program employs on a regular basis a team of builders and our Guest House and Share House employ a housekeeper. Besides helping to reverse the drift from the countryside to the big cities the people who work with us help sustain the local community at large.
Education in English
We have recently renovated one building to house classrooms for English education. Here we intend to provide tuition to local primary school students, our Japanese staff and other locals who may be interested in learning with us.
We also search out long-disused and lost paths, which we then reopen as nature trails for locals and visitors to explore. We provide funding for and also hold events for the community; and work with local groups who supply our tours to Kunisaki with delicious home-made meals.