August 2007. Kimura was in his orchards on the lower slopes of Mount Iwaki. The faint smell of vinegar lingered in the air in the orchards. It seems he’d been spraying vinegar during the morning. Kimura was sitting on his ladder, on the other side of a thick canopy of apple leaves, intent on his work. It was the ladder he’d been perched on when he looked down and saw a chasm open up under him. For some reason I’d imagined a rickety metal ladder, but the one Kimura was sitting on was a wooden one, worn and softened by time. His wife Michiko was at the base of the ladder, engaged in light-hearted chat. I didn’t want to disturb them, but Kimura had told me there was something he wanted to show me.

‘Take a look at this leaf. There’s a round hole in it. What do you think it is?’

He had a leaf in his hand. There was a hole right in the middle of it. It looked as though it may have been eaten by an insect. When I said so, Kimura smiled, leaning d his head to the side.

‘Nope. This hole was formed by the leaf itself. I thought it was done by an insect at first. But there’re no insects which would make this kind of hole. For years it struck me as strange. Then I came across a leaf with a hole like this, and beside it a typical, brownish, alternaria blotch diseased leaf. Interesting, I thought. So I decided to watch and see what would happen to the alternaria blotch. The diseased area became parched and brittle. The leaf cut off the supply of moisture to those parts, those parts only, as though it was trying to starve them. The diseased leaf then fell, and it had holes. Not only that. Since the time these holes started appearing, the small leaves next to it gradually got bigger. The tree was making up for those leaves that were lost. I used scales to measure them, and found that the size of the holes that developed, and the amount the other leaf increased in size, were about the same. When many more holes appear, and the tree cannot make up for them, new leaves come out at the tips of the branches. When I fertilized the orchards in the past, these holes never developed, even when they were affected by disease. There are only just enough nutrients in the orchards, so I think that the trees relied on their innate, natural vitality. The more you learn about nature, the more amazing it is.

Helping nature, and sharing its bounty. That’s the essence of farming. How farming should be. Unfortunately, agriculture today has lost its way. The point is, we cannot simply carry on like we have been. In the old days, I was attracted by industrial farming methods, but areas where industrial farming methods are practised are rapidly turning into deserts. All you’ve got to do is look at what’s happening in the Corn Belt in the America and to the collective farms in the former Soviet Union. However sophisticated science becomes, human beings cannot live separately from nature.

We’re products of nature too. Being able to ‘help’ nature depends on whether we can feel it from the heart. I believe this is where the future of humanity rests. This is no exaggeration. I simply help apple trees. There’s only so much I can do. But as far as our future is concerned, it can only help. I may be overstating it a little bit, but I’ve come to believe that from the bottom of my heart.’

It is no exaggeration whatsoever. Kimura has achieved something more important than taking off in aeroplanes, or landing on the moon. The apple trees were laden with green fruit. The harvest season lay ahead. Gazing on that peaceful scene, I was reminded that this was where it all happened. These orchards were the stage where, when he was a boy, he planted apple trees with his elder brother, where the four orchards first went pesticide-free, where he saw the shining silver man, where he tied the rope after deciding to try and end it all on the mountain, where only seven blossoms grew, and where he saw the apples in full bloom after nine long years.

It was in these orchards that he and the apple trees had continued to face each other. It was where people had joked about him, made a fool of him, yet whilst suffering in poverty, he had persevered along the long and winding road.

It suddenly occurred to me I’d heard a story like this before. In a place far, far away from the sea, a man built a boat. A flood was not imminent. This is certainly what everyone said, and then didn’t they mock him?

But the man continued building the boat, firm in his belief. Every animal on earth then went in, two by two.

Without pesticides or fertilizers, why are those apple trees not devastated by insects and disease? The riddle is, in part at least, now slowly being unravelled. According to research being done by Professor Shūichi Sugiyama at the Faculty of Life Science at Hirosaki University, it seems that many more microorganisms exist in the soil and on the surface of the leaves in Kimura’s orchards than in other orchards. Conditions in the old growth forests of the Shirakami Mountains and Kimura’s apple orchards seem to be similar. Whilst the types and numbers of insects and weeds have not yet been studied, they are more than likely to prove to be the same. The tugs of war being waged amongst life in all its forms are almost certainly helping to prevent abnormal outbreaks of disease or increases in insects.

This can be looked at from another perspective: Kimura has taken aboard creatures that cannot survive in the other orchards in a boat called The Apple Orchard. In preparation for the day that will surely come …

The lands where ancient civilizations once flourished, such as Egypt, Mesopotamia, and the Indus Valley, are now deserts. This is a result of the forests being cut down and the land laid waste. Modern man may laugh at the short-sightedness of the ancients. The only reason we can have a giggle, however, is simply that we have the technologies to exploit fossil fuels. We get by without giving the matter a second thought, even though the forests have disappeared: but this is possibly only because we can transport timber from distant forests that have not yet been devastated. We turn a blind eye to what is happening since, even if one area becomes a desert, we can plough up land elsewhere. Even though people today say they couldn’t survive without pesticides and fertilizers, there are few people thinking seriously about what this really means. It’s the same as thinking you can’t grow fruit without the use of pesticides and fertilizers.

We cannot go on like this. Whichever comes first, the depletion of fossil fuels, or the destruction of the environment to the point of no return, the collapse of modern agriculture – with its total dependence on pesticides and fertilizers – is foreseeable. It may be one hundred years from now, it may only be thirty. But the flood will come.

‘So, these orchards are an ark?’

This came out rather abruptly, but Kimura seemed to understand immediately.

‘You could put it like that’, murmured Kimura, hands palms up, head inclined to one side, like a holy man. A gleeful laugh followed.

For many years now, Kimura has been travelling around the country, offering guidance about farming. Not only to apple farmers; he is also talking to rice, vegetable, and tea growers, as well as farmers growing olives and mangoes who come to him for advice about moving to farming methods which do not use pesticides or fertilizers. They are looking for ways to farm that are closer to nature. Farmland where Kimura’s advice has been accepted, whether it is rice fields or orchards, is discernibly more vibrant. As his reputation has grown, he has more recently received invitations to lecture and give his advice about farming abroad as well as at home.

Kimura is now devoting his energy to advising those who are getting a stable crop from pesticide and fertilizer-free farming – whether from rice or vegetables – to reduce their prices as far as they can. Even though he could sell for five times the current price, given how delicious they are and their rarity value, Kimura himself is absolutely against this. If people throughout Japan could, if at all possible, simply eat his apples, this would be enough. He believes they must at least be priced so that everyone can afford them. There are customers of course those who, however expensive they are, will buy them.

It takes a lot of work growing crops without pesticides or fertilizers, and yields are smaller than those obtained by farming with them. It’s only natural for producers to want to sell their produce at the highest price possible. If that happens, says Kimura, such produce will always be a luxury. In so far as pesticide-free produce remains a luxury for the affluent, pesticide and fertilizer-free farming will never be more than a speciality.

Even though the current situation is difficult, sooner or later it will become possible to provide produce we’ve grown using our own methods at the sort of reasonable prices that would make them competitive with produce grown using pesticides and fertilizers. This is Kimura’s dream.

Most people would almost certainly choose to buy pesticide and fertilizer-free farm produce if prices were similar. If pesticide-free apples and apples that weren’t were the same price, most people would surely buy the former.

Only when this happens will farmers in general seriously consider growing pesticide and fertilizer-free produce. This is the most important thing, and it is to this end that Kimura is going everywhere he is invited to talk. When asked, he’s prepared to give his time unstintingly to teach anyone, even though these are methods of apple growing arrived at only after immense effort. He hasn’t given a moment’s thought to the notion of trying to monopolize what he’s done. It’s quite likely that within a few years, there will be orchards like Kimura’s around the country that can produce stable apple crops which are pesticide and fertilizer-free. Whilst it is not in the least unreasonable to expect to profit in some way, having worked so hard, Kimura has no interest in doing so at all. His mouth is, as it’s always been, toothless. The paper on the sliding doors in his house has still not been renewed. This is because he knows there are other, more important things.

Civilization has advanced so quickly, and people have lost touch with their roots. However convenient the Internet, and however easy it is call anywhere in the world on our mobile phones, we must eat to live. An ecologist might say that human beings are plant parasites. Agriculture supports human life. It is where our roots are. If those roots die, we cannot survive.

We all understand this, and yet the phony faces people wear today declare that having such withered roots is normal. Kimura doesn’t say too much about this: he believes the day is coming when we will understand and, with no thought for personal gain, he quietly continues to go about what he has to do.

I was in no doubt I’d met a truly remarkable man.

The apple leaves rustled as they were lifted by the wind. For no reason at all, the words I’d heard earlier came back to me. I got goose bumps when I first heard them. Whispered quietly, with a smile, but Kimura meant it.

‘Join me on my boat.’

It was a hot summer’s day, with temperatures in Hirosaki going over thirty degrees, but there was a cool breeze in Kimura’s orchards. I complained about it being hot back in town, whereupon Kimura laughed.

‘Well,’ he suggested, ‘Better write your book here then?’

For that reason, a large part of this book was written in Kimura’s orchards.

Sitting on the grass, laptop open, the apple trees provided blissful shade. The sea of grass was alive with grasshoppers and moths, and from somewhere there was the sound of a frog. The scene was more wild countryside than orchard. I wonder what von Siebold would have made of these orchards?


{ 6 comments }

Akinori Kimura’s MIRACLE APPLES – Chapter 24/24

December 24, 2010

‘Well, that’s how it happened, bit by bit, more and more people started buying my apples. For some reason the apples at that time were very sweet. Much sweeter than now. Although it wasn’t really their sweetness. When you cut them with a knife, the apple actually stuck to the blade. I wonder why? Perhaps [...]

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Akinori Kimura’s MIRACLE APPLES – Chapter 23/24

December 17, 2010

In the autumn of that year, Kimura harvested a great mountain of apples the size of ping pong balls. Thinning out the blossom to produce a smaller number of fruit is essential for growing larger apples. The blossom thinning, though, had been half-hearted. Five individual flowers form each blossom cluster. Four of these must be [...]

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Akinori Kimura’s MIRACLE APPLES – Chapter 22/24

December 10, 2010

The first person to set eyes on the spectacle was the owner of the neighbouring orchard, Takeya Ginzō. It was nothing to do with him, but the sight made him gasp. How had Kimura done it? He went to congratulate him, but there was no-one to be seen in the orchards. He searched everywhere but [...]

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Akinori Kimura’s MIRACLE APPLES – Chapter 21/24

December 3, 2010

There are hints of spring, even in the depths of winter. Change in nature happens little by little, and in places we cannot see. Like the tide coming in and lapping against things all around you. Something was clearly changing now. People may sense these things subconsciously. Changes he was not aware of were changing [...]

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Akinori Kimura’s MIRACLE APPLES – Chapter 20/24

November 26, 2010

Kimura started doing part-time work from about this time. He felt the orchards were showing signs of improvement, but the family finances remained in dire straits. Their circumstance worsened by the day. Unless he found work and earned some cash, they would find themselves on the breadline. The main reason he finally started casual work, [...]

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Akinori Kimura’s MIRACLE APPLES – Chapter 19/24

November 19, 2010

‘That was it. That was the answer. I felt like dancing right there and then on the mountain. I’d been so stupid, I even forgot why I’d climbed the mountain, not to mention forgetting entirely about the rope. I ran back down the mountain as I wanted to check the condition of the soil in [...]

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Akinori Kimura’s MIRACLE APPLES – Chapter 18/24

November 12, 2010

The apple tree was glowing as though it were magic. What was an apple tree doing so far up the mountain? He wondered if he was dreaming or this was a vision. However hard he looked, though, the vision didn’t disappear. He could distinctly see each leaf shimmering in the light of the full moon. [...]

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Akinori Kimura’s MIRACLE APPLES – Chapter 17/24

November 5, 2010

It’s the 31st July, the height of summer, 1985. Evening has come to the apple orchards spread around the foot of Mount Iwaki. The orchards are deserted. There’s not a soul in sight. Work that has to be done at this time of year in the orchards is basically picking any fruit that has been [...]

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Akinori Kimura’s MIRACLE APPLES – Chapter 16/24

October 29, 2010

Kimura still talks to the apple trees when he’s in the orchards. Even when I was doing my research, he would often say things like ‘No. It wasn’t me. It was the trees that struggled.’ This was said more to encourage the apple trees that were within earshot, rather than out of modesty. ‘You’ve done [...]

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Akinori Kimura’s MIRACLE APPLES – Chapter 15/24

October 22, 2010

It was 1985, six years since he stopped using pesticides in all the apple orchards, and spring was turning to summer. Kimura, as usual, was in the fields from before dawn to dusk. He acted as he always did when he was in the orchards with his wife and other family members. He’d either be [...]

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Akinori Kimura’s MIRACLE APPLES – Chapter 14/24

October 15, 2010

Kimura wondered whether he’d lost the plot. It was like his brain was splitting in two. Someone inside his head was screaming ‘Give up!’ The voice woke him at night. The next thing he knew he’d have slipped out of bed and be slumped on an apple box in the shed, staring into his conflict-torn [...]

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Akinori Kimura’s MIRACLE APPLES – Chapter 13/24

October 8, 2010

His wife Michiko noticed Kimura leaving his bed in the middle of the night. He went out through the front door, as if sleepwalking, and went into the barn at the end of the garden. The only thing in the big barn was carefully arranged stacks of wooden boxes waiting for the apple harvest. The [...]

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Akinori Kimura’s MIRACLE APPLES – Chapter 12/24

October 1, 2010

Four years passed, and as the fifth year dawned the state of the apple orchards continued to deteriorate. From dawn ‘til dusk, every day for five years, the four of them – the Kimuras and their parents – continued to care for their barren orchards. Neighbours could only conclude that this was sheer folly. Being [...]

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Akinori Kimura’s MIRACLE APPLES – Chapter 11/24

September 24, 2010

The faintest of hopes remained the faintest of hopes. Three years had passed since all the orchards had become pesticide-free, and there was no hint of any apple blossom at all in the fourth year either. Their savings ran out, and they had used up all the retirement money his father-in-law had from the post [...]

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Akinori Kimura’s MIRACLE APPLES – Chapter 10/24

September 17, 2010

‘The first pests to appear in spring are leafrollers. Then the caterpillars and spring cankerworm appear. There were many types of caterpillar, the larvae of moths. My orchard had many larvae of the Japanese buff-tip moth. There were also larvae of the white-spotted tussock moth and others. Red, green, and other bright colours pretty to [...]

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Akinori Kimura’s MIRACLE APPLES – Chapter 9/24

September 10, 2010

The first fungicide used at this time was Bordeaux mixture, a compound invented in Europe. Kimura had used it once. The name Bordeaux mixture comes from Bordeaux, the famous wine-producing region in France. A fungicide originally used in vineyards, it was recognized that a mixture of copper sulphate and quick lime could protect vines against [...]

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Akinori Kimura’s MIRACLE APPLES – Chapter 8/24

September 3, 2010

Until varieties began to be improved in England in the eighteenth century, apples were a fruit which grew at most to the size of satsuma oranges. As noted earlier, they were used solely as an ingredient in cooking, or to make alcoholic drinks. They were sometimes eaten as they were, but that was probably because [...]

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Akinori Kimura’s MIRACLE APPLES – Chapter 7/24

August 27, 2010

The apple trees in Aomori bloom in May. There was no problem with the flowering. He didn’t spray so the air in the orchards was clean and fresh. Mount Iwaki rose peerlessly in the clear blue sky. The apple trees Kimura had raised by hand were blossoming pure white against the beautiful scene. Apple and [...]

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Akinori Kimura’s MIRACLE APPLES – Chapter 6/24

August 20, 2010

‘I just thought it was amazing. If you could only do that with apples! If I hadn’t read Fukuoka’s book, I wouldn’t have given it a thought. Let’s face it, there’s no-one around who’s going to do things like that is there? Using pesticides to grow apples is taken for granted; it was out of [...]

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Akinori Kimura’s MIRACLE APPLES – Chapter 5/24

August 13, 2010

Fukuoka Masanobu was a thinker rather than a farmer. Denying human knowledge, Fukuoka states that all artifice is useless. His writing may suggest that he was a very cynical thinker, but Fukuoka’s ideas pose a single, deep-rooted question; one that humanity has faced ever since the dawn of civilization. The words of Jesus about “Taking [...]

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Akinori Kimura’s MIRACLE APPLES – Chapter 4/24

August 6, 2010

‘When I got to the rice fields, I found that the river had overflowed, and only the tips were poking out of the water. This was exactly why I didn’t fancy the life of a famer. Remember, I was Mr Efficiency! I immediately pulled out my abacus and calculated the cost of the damage. Even [...]

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Akinori Kimura’s MIRACLE APPLES – Chapter 3/24

July 30, 2010

Kimura was born in Iwaki-chō, Nakatsugaru District, in Aomori Prefecture, in August 1949. His family name was not Kimura. He was the second son of a family called Mikami, who had been farmers for generations. Not particularly wealthy, they nevertheless owned a considerable area of farmland and, as they had a reasonable cash income from [...]

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Akinori Kimura’s MIRACLE APPLES – Chapter 2/24

July 23, 2010

The thing that had driven Kimura crazy was, of course, pesticide-free farming. Even today, there are many specialists who claim that it’s impossible. They believe you cannot harvest apples without using pesticides. For those familiar with the realities of apple growing, this is a foregone conclusion. This point may be difficult to understand for anyone [...]

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Akinori Kimura’s MIRACLE APPLES – Chapter 1/24

July 16, 2010

The man’s name is Akinori Kimura. The first time I met him was at the end of 2006, some twenty years after the time he’d spent days staring at inchworms under his fruitless apple trees. ‘Miracle apples’ was what people called them. Miraculous or not, getting hold of them was certainly difficult. With a third [...]

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Read the exclusive English translation of the book here from 16 July 2010 (24 chapters/weeks)

June 30, 2010

In Aomori, Japan, Mr. Akinori Kimura (after years of determination and trial and error) now miraculously grows delicious MIRACLE APPLES completely organically, in harmony with nature, without the use of pesticides or fertilizers. Yoko Ono says: “Miracle Apples do not deteriorate, since there is nothing bad in them. I think that’s how our bodies could [...]

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