Since the disaster, 24-year-old Mizuho Sugeno has worked side-by-side with her parents on their organic farm in the tiny town of Towa in the foothills of the Abukuma Mountains.
Mizuho has founded the company Seeds of Hope, dedicated to Towa’s renewal. Seeds of Hope distributes the Sugenos’ organic produce, demonstrates successful methods to prevent crops from absorbing radiation, and hosts guests to experience the idyllic farming lifestyle.
“After 3/11, Fukushima land was contaminated,” Mizuho says. “Farms were abandoned. People were left behind. Agriculture changed. By planting seeds, the power of the soil comes back.”
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.