Back in early 2020, the idea of growing pineapples had never really occurred to me until I was offered the chance to take over approximately 200 pineapple plants my uncle had planted. I decided right away that I was going to go completely organic. First, though, I had to find the pineapple plants.
The pineapples were planted in a field that I already had been to a few times before when I helped my uncle harvest sugar cane, which was there before the pineapple. It was in an isolated part of the small mountain behind our village. (It is actually more like a large hill, but hills are referred to as mountains in Okinawa because there are no large mountains.) Since I knew the location, I drove up there to take a look. I parked my car and stood in front of the pineapple field, but I couldn’t see the pineapples!
While driving up the hill, I had imagined finely manicured rows of prickly pineapple plants like in a Dole commercial, but this was more like trying to find your socks in a messy drawer. The pineapples were covered with overgrown vines and hidden behind tall weeds. It was a bit depressing.
I took out a shovel from the back of my car and began digging out some weeds while pulling the vines off the top of the plants. In about 30 minutes, I had only cleared a few meters, which made me realize that just getting rid of the weeds was going to take a long time. I was about to give up and was headed back to my car, but I stopped to enjoy the view.
As I was staring at all that green and blue, I could see something much deeper than just a future of magnificent yellow fruits with their green crowns. This was like a scene that most people only dream of. I saw a place of health and peace, where family and friends could gather to share ideas and nurture natural lifestyles. It was like seeing nature inside of nature.
Feeling inspired, I went back with my shovel and continued for a bit more. After a few hours of digging and pulling, I managed to clear a few rows up to the halfway point of the field. When I stood back, there were pineapple plants visible! The sight was enough to give my vision a boost toward reality. I vowed to come back the next day.
Over the next two months, I formed a routine of going up to the pineapple field about three or four days a week and pulled weeds. It was off-season for our bed & breakfast business, so the weed-pulling gave me something to do, and I thought the next harvest of pineapple would be a big plus for us during the busy summer months. When I got tired, I would always take a break at the same spot where I originally had my inspirational vision and just look at the blueness of the sea and listen to the birds sing. It was always the best part of the day.
Of course, there were those times when my work seemed futile. This was especially the case when I came upon a clump of shooting bamboo and realized it had spread underground to different parts of the field. I had to carefully dig, while following each shoot to its end. The shooting root system had to be totally removed. If not, just a little bit left in the ground would become more bamboo.
My pineapple efforts took on new meaning when COVID-19 brought our bed & breakfast business to a screeching halt. Like many other people around the world who had suddenly lost their jobs, it was a shocking moment. Having the pineapple field, however, was like therapy. Digging, pulling, and clearing in the middle of such exquisite nature was a form of meditation for me. It also gave me, at least in my mind, an option for a sudden change in careers. Could I earn a living as a farmer?
On some days, my friend, Daniel, would come and help. (Daniel is a Swiss guy with Spanish roots. He has some experience with growing vegetables from when he was a child, helping his father in their vegetable garden back in Switzerland. He is also keen on permaculture.) At the pineapple field, he sometimes would bring his own music, a collection of eclectic European songs of varying genres. Listening to the beats, we would rhythmically dig, pull, and toss.
Quite a few times we would arrange with one of our wives to be dropped off and picked up, so that we could stay and enjoy the sunset after we finished working. We made a standup bar by stacking pallets for these occasions. On warm days, we drank cold beer and Tinto de Verano (a red wine cocktail popular in Spain), while discussing all things about life, including, of course, natural farming. During one deep conversation about swales and fruit trees, we started talking about a food forest. We looked at the unused field below, which also belonged to my uncle, and talked about expanding. The sunsets were our backdrop. It was as if we were able to block out the craziness of COVID-19 in our own little pineapple paradise.
We wanted to share our excitement, so we invited our friend Hide, who owns a dive shop down the street from my house, to one of our sunset sessions. We had our standup bar all set up with ice-cold beer, more Tinto de Verano, and a bit of stir-fried green papaya mixed with kimchee. Hide quickly fell in love with our little spot and listened intently to our food forest plan.
“I know!” blurted Hide in his usual excited voice. “We can do the bees right there!”
“Right under that tree. It’s the perfect spot,” I added.
“We can plant a green belt with a swale. It will keep the soil from washing away and the bees will have flowers to pollinate,” interjected Daniel.
“Yes! The wild Spanish needle It is everywhere!” yelled Hide. “It’s good for honey.”
“We can have a variety of flowers,” said Daniel.
Hide was nodding his head and moving his hands around. “And, we should get chickens!”
“I have seen this movable chicken coop,” responded Daniel. “We can move it around from spot to spot before planting, and the chickens will fertilize that area with their droppings.”
Hide was nodding even more. “A movable coop! Ok! I can make that.”
“Bees for honey and chickens for eggs,” I said. “Plus, we will get natural fertilization.”
Hide held up his beer. “Kanpai!”
Just as we were pouring more drinks, a man came unexpectedly walking down from the upper road. The place where we were standing with our DIY standup bar was at the end of a curve, so the man most likely had no idea we were there. Of course, there was this moment of surprise and silence that took over as nobody knew what to say. (Until now, I had never seen anyone pass by the pineapple field except for one other farmer, who has a field further down the road.) I managed to snap out of my amazement and forced out a friendly “konnichiwa.” The man returned the greeting in a very low voice but walked quickly by us.
He must have been wondering if he had left reality behind. He was probably enjoying this nice and quiet walk with only the sounds of the forest, and then he stumbles upon two gaijin (foreigners) and a Japanese guy drinking beers and wine up on a mountain in the middle of nowhere!
Maybe the man wanted to turn back, but since that would have been awkward, he kept going. It was definitely his first time there, otherwise he would have known that by continuing, he would have to stop and come back; the road he was taking leads to a dead-end. And so, about ten minutes later, he walked by us again. This time with his head down, in silence.
I could only imagine what he was thinking. The dueling banjo song from the film “Deliverance” was playing in my head. I wanted to hum the song aloud, but I didn’t because I knew Daniel and Hide wouldn’t get the meaning. It was one of those cultural situations where I had to just hold back.
After a few comments and some laughter, we turned our attention to the view. The sun was starting to set over the sea. The colors were too stunning to be interrupted by conversation. As we shared the same feeling, words were no longer necessary.
My wife pulled up with the car. We cleaned up and put everything away. Nothing was said about when or how we would start planting fruit trees, bringing in bees, or raising chickens, but I think we all knew that despite all the craziness from 2020, we had stumbled upon something special. And, things were just beginning.