Our second year with Fukushima farmers fighting for their land

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Organic farmer Akihiro Asami's wife and daughters evacuated in March 2011 from Aizu, 130 km west of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. The girls only saw their father a few times last year. In the winter, the family reunited in Aizu.

The organic farmers of Fukushima have spent the past year coping not only with the contamination of their ancestral land with radioactive fallout from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, but also bureaucratic barriers to compensation, inconsistent guidelines from a government scurrying to project an illusion of normality, scarcity of accurate information and equipment to understand the contamination, hostility from a frightened public, and a steep drop in sales that threatens to undermine the regional economy and shatter their way of life.

23-year-old Mizuho Sugeno spends the growing season working on her family's Playing-With-Clouds-Land organic farm in Nihonmatsu, Fukushima. But in the winter she competes internationally in the Southeast Asian sport Sepak Takraw.

The farmers have steadily educated themselves about the threat of radiation and how to cope with it, adapting traditional methods, acquiring testing equipment and incorporating experimental techniques to prevent their crops from absorbing cesium and try to decontaminate the land with minimum loss of its fertility. But will their efforts be enough to keep organic farming alive in northeast Japan?

After spending five months in 2011 following the farmers through the growing season, filmmakers Junko Kajino and Ed M. Koziarski are back in Japan to capture the second year of the nuclear crisis for our documentary Uncanny Terrain. We thank you for joining us on this journey. And we hope that you will continue to support us by spreading the word about this project, and making a tax-deductible contribution to our IndieGoGo campaign, which runs through May 1.

In March we held a series of preview screenings in New Jersey and Massachusetts, with lively and thoughtful audience discussions after each screening.  We can provide preview footage for your school, organization, or venue, and either travel there or join you via teleconference.  Please write us to inquire.

Michigan screening, save the date: we will screen preview footage at an exhibition of photography from the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami, April 20 at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  Details TBA.

Harvest Time in Fukushima

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Just as the U.S. State Department announces that it’s safe to be here, it’s time for us to leave. We conclude our 20 weeks living and working among the organic farmers and food producers of Fukushima, a week after the State Department narrowed its travel advisory against visiting the area around the power plant from 80 kilometers to the Japanese government’s 20-kilometer evacuation zone.

Seven months since the beginning of the crisis, Japan stumbles toward recovery. Evacuated communities are being reopened near the nuclear plant, even as many efforts to decontaminate land are proving ineffective. With a number of notable exceptions, testing of rice and vegetables is showing much less contamination than was expected based on results in Chernobyl. Researchers investigate the reasons for these levels, considering the differing composition of Japanese soil, particularly certain minerals and bacteria that may remove radioactive cesium or prevent plants from absorbing it—bacteria that may thrive in organically cultivated land.

But the food testing regime is still sporadic, and no amount of lower test results will be sufficient to convince much of the public that Fukushima food is safe to eat. The organic farmers here toil to repair their land using natural methods (land that many of their families have tilled since before the U.S. was a country), to grow their food as free as possible of radionuclides, and to accurately communicate the condition of their produce to consumers. Constantly exposed to background radiation and inhaled particles in their fields, as well as from food and water, the farmers rank with cleanup workers in the groups at greatest risk of suffering health damage.

We will edit the film in Chicago through the fall and winter, and return to Japan next March to cover how the farmers weathered the seasons and how they fare as they prepare to plant again, a year after the disaster. In the meantime, we still need your support to cover the costs of postproduction. Please spread the word and if you can please make a tax-deductible donation to the project.

The Harvest Approaches

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Grandma Yoshida instructs the young men’s farm work

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