Kinugasa Farm is located on Ritsumeikan University's Kinugasa Campus, southwest of the Kyoto Kinugasa Gymnasium. The farm began in May 2020 when a group of students, faculty, and staff members joined local residents to cultivate a deserted plot of land to grow seasonal vegetables and flowers. Together, they enjoy working together on the farm every day. Momoko Abe, the representative of the student group Kinugasa Farm Kreis, commented happily, “Local people who have lived in this area for decades and have watched over the university visit the farm daily. It fills me with joy every time I hear someone say, 'I'm glad Kinugasa Farm is here.'” We sat down with Abe to hear her story about the challenges the group has faced to realize a farm that connects the community and the university.
“The fallen leaves on campus are going to waste!”
The opening of Kinugasa Farm was triggered by a single act of Abe’s. In the fall of her first year, a leaf cleanup activity on campus caught her attention. She recounts, "I just casually thought that it’s such a waste to throw away all those fallen leaves as garbage. I wanted to convey my feelings to the university about this, so I went to them for advice.” The disposal of fallen leaves is a major issue for the university. The university had discussed the idea of using a simple composting machine to turn the fallen leaves into mulch, but it was difficult to materialize this idea due to problems like securing a place to set up the machine, how to use the compost, and the work involved in getting the project operational. It was Abe’s action that spurred on the project. She was able to secure a place on campus for the composing machine and find a way to use the mulch, and this was the first concrete step in launching Kinugasa Farm. In addition, she established a student group called Kinugasa Farm Kreis to handle the development and maintenance of the farm.
Realizing community exchange and the SDGs
The group learned the basics of farming from local residents who are well versed in agriculture, made mulch with nearby elementary school children, and harvested the vegetables they grew together with local residents and toddlers from Ritsumeikan Mirai Nursery. Over the past year, they have been working together, always keeping in mind their connections with the community. Every Friday, when the group goes to work on the farm, you can see them toiling together with the people from the local community. "Even when it's not Friday, there are many people who come to the farm when they see the students working there. We see each other every day and engage in casual conversations as we work on the farm. Little by little, we have been able to build a relationship of mutual trust with the locals. We hope to become a bridge between the community and the university," said Abe with a smile.
"From the day I consulted with the university, I worked to have fallen leaves collected without throwing them away. In February 2020, we started composting fallen leaves in the East Plaza, and that summer, we produced our first batch of mulch,” recalls Abe. Last year, about 13,000 liters of fallen leaves were turned into mulch and used to fertilize the soil at Kinugasa Farm. The nutritious pesticide-free vegetables grown using the mulch, such as okra, pumpkins, and small turnips, have been incorporated into limited-time menu items at the Ritsumeikan Co-op Cafeteria, and the dishes have all sold out so far. About 2,100 servings were sold, which helped shore up the Co-op's declining sales amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Abe explained the group’s vision: “‘Kreis’ means connection, bond, or circle in German. The job of our group is to create connections among the community, the university, and the students and to circulate resources on campus.” In April 2021, in the second year of the project, the group started to expand the scope of their activities by transplanting flowers and plants grown on the farm to other parts of Kinugasa Campus in order to promote greenification.
Relationships of trust fostered by Kinugasa Farm
Abe goes to the farm at least five days a week and carefully tends to the vegetables being grown there. She says, "I want to manage the farm together with the community, so we can keep growing vegetables consistently. To do this requires a serious attitude. It is our mission to continue building relationships of trust with the local community by working diligently every day and paying close attention to the people and things around us." In this way, she plans to continue nurturing a circle of willing participants whose work at the farm will serve to connect the community and the university.
Momoko Abe, College of International Relations (3rd year)
Her hobbies include baking sweets and visiting museums. She is particularly fond of Impressionist painters such as Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and she enjoyed spending entire days admiring art when she visited Europe. What she enjoys most these days is interacting with the other students and local people at Kinugasa Farm. This year, she started growing baby leaf lettuce, mint, rosemary, and oregano on her balcony from seeds and plants that were given to her by local residents.