Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

Yesterday, we started planning our veggie garden and started a compost bin. I'm trying to figure out what percentage of my total food intake I can grow at home. We have a relatively large yard by Japanese standards so most of this will be a matter of personal energy. I'm going to start small this year but try to increase my nutritional independence from commercial networks every year.

My goal is to be able to cover nearly all of our fertilizer needs through the composting of all of our biodegradable garbage this year.

Thinking through the various scenarios, I realized that I could significantly reduce inputs and outputs from our house by going this route. When I imagine walking over to the garden every morning, picking my veggies, then chucking the waste into the compost bin, I get a happy feeling inside. I realize this is pretty simple and not so significant, but "just add water and sunlight" is very appealing.

I think that I can also make a significant impact on my energy inputs through photovoltaics and maybe some day get off of the power grid. This requires a larger financial investment but is an area that I've already done a bit of work in this area from my time at ECD.

In my lab/office/Tokyo pad we just finished setting up (thanks to the folks at WIDE) a dark fiber connection to the WIDE box at the Japanese Internet exchange. It is currently a 1G connection. WIDE is a research project and I'm only paying for the dark fiber. WIDE is routing for me. I am not going through a single licensed telecom provider for my Internet connectivity. Consequently, going from 1G to 10G is just a matter of buying more hardware and has no impact on the running cost. More bandwidth is just about more hardware. The way it SHOULD be.

It's exciting to think about making my footprint smaller and smaller in nutrition and energy and thinking about nutrition, energy and bandwidth more and more as assets that I operate rather than services from big companies.

I was going to Twitter this as I was sitting here drinking my morning tea, but it turned into a blog post. Thanks Twitter. ;-)


My wife's parents in Toyama prefecture both retired a few years back and have been using some of the time they gained to take care of a new garden. (really a field of vegetables) that they were offered by someone in the neighborhood. (As with a lot of semi-urban areas in Japan, there aren't a lot of young people there so most of the older folk are just happy to have someone keep the land clear of weeds, I think...)

When we were back visiting for a few weeks in the fall I got to re-aquaint myself with really fresh vegetables. I think I ate half a head of the lettuce per day it was so good.

I kept a garden for a season myself when I first moved to Japan... I grew up with a garden-keeping family but I was truly amazed by how productive a garden is in the Japanese climate compared to the miniscule growing season in the part of Canada I came from. The herb part of the garden was particularly amazing, as the parsley and basil grew into almost small trees.

It was cool for me to see the local fauna as well... if you plant hakusai, you can probably expect it to turn into a temporary housing project for a community of frogs that flock to the insects there... it's really cool, and a nice natural way to keep the insects down.

This is quite a noble, ambitious project, but I've gotta ask:

At what point do these measures cross the threshold and begin to break into the long appreciated (if not taken for granted) benefits of division of labor?

While I think veganism is ultimiately the best solution for producing the most amount of food with the least amount of energy, why should you make it all yourself? While I understand the joy of having your own veggie garden, surely the world would be a much less interesting place if we all had to grow all of our own food everyday. Would we even have time to twitter?

Or maybe not? Hmm. It's a real brain teaser. I'm interested in reading about the progress. Good luck!

Its an interesting paradox that one must either be dirt poor or reasonably rich to engage in something like sustenance farming. One either scrapes a living out of the land or can afford enough land to have a productive garden.

I doubt I will actually be able to achieve complete independence. In particular, I don't think I can grow all of the fruit that I want/need. It's just interesting to try.

As Chris says, it's not that I want to put farmers out of work or that I think everyone should be doing it. It's really a luxury. For me, it's a mental thing and a challenge. To see how "off grid" I can be.

Having said that, I do think it is interesting to consider how much of what we do really needs to be done in mass production and whether a bit more self-sufficiency might not be a bad thing. For instance, composting, while it might put a few garbage collectors out of work, is probably an overall good thing for the environment and the economy.

Aloha Joi! Interesting coincidence: I was just writing up my notes after a meeting with a client who is installing PV systems here on Mau and remembered your involvement 17 years ago--so I googled "Joi Ito and Stan Ovshinsky" and up popped your post. My client tells me that they (ECD not my client) are installing 7.5 million watts of PV generating capacity for military housing on Oahu (your old territory).

We have quite a few people off the grid in my neighborhood both energy and foodwise. Am looking at it myself.

Maui 1/30/07 - a day behind

if you intend to go down the off-the-grid line (in the electricity/energy sense), be sure to check out jim mason's shipyard project (assuming you haven't heard of it before). they've been running a metal machine shop (no less) in oakland on "home-made power" (photovoltaics and gasification) for a few years now, and definitely have some very interesting perspectives to share:

Go for it, I would if I had land. Personally I'd grow tomatos, zuchinni, bell peppers, basil and parsley so at least I could do a decent gravy for my pasta.

You know you get some tax credits if you install photovoltaics at home and work. Worth looking into how much that would offset the costs.

Also dont worry about putting farmers or garbagemen out of work. Japanese farmers are dumping food for want of higher prices, this in a nation that isnt even close to self sufficiency in food production. Also garbagemen are government employees and so have plenty of job protection, especially considering that Japan produces a surpluss of garbage. How much of that new land around Shinagawa is made of garbage?

If you really want to reduce evil trash output, keep all your computers and company computers in service longer and dont buy those damn tripple bagged okashi where 20% of the product wieght is the plastic wrappers and inner trays. (I'm tempted to start saving and returning all the extra plastic envelopes that CDs come in to Tower Records) Also I assume you bring your bento from home when you are at work right? Not to mention making tea instead of buying stuff in PET bottles, etc. etc.etc.

Its hard work reducing your trash in Japan!

I heard this saying once:
"One piece of land may feed 100 gardeners, 10 farmers or 1 rancher."
Good luck. :-)

Start not only small, but start with resistant plants as well. Water and sunlight are easy (with a drip system), but pests can take down a garden if one doesn't have experience dealing with them. Starting with resistant plants can teach ecological pest control at a reasonable rate. As noted in the Eat to Live book, some fruits and vegetables require more pesticide than others--thats also a good guide to what plants are hardier than others.

Thanks for your blog (I'm week 3 into the diet myself)

There is a French source, a farmer, I think, that writes about how 1/6 of an acre can produce sufficient food for one person.

Joi, if you haven't heard of 'permaculture', you might want to investigate it as a technology for your food self-sufficiency. Depending on the amount of land you have, you should be able to produce enough for your household based on these principles.

Best of luck!

As an extra bonus, if you recycle heavily along with composting all your organic waste -- you can keep the rest of your trash minimal. In my area we can go on "at will" garbage collection -- which means you call for garbage pick-up instead of having a bi-weekly pick-up. Since there is no organic waste in the regular trash, it doesn't stink. It becomes a game to see how long you can go without filling up your bin!

Hi David!

Thanks for the power engineering and permaculture links. Looks interesting.

Court, good luck on your diet! ;-)

The packaging thing is really a pain. I've started to stuff things into my bags instead of taking store bags and sometimes leave the packaging at the store. Of course they have to throw it away so it is still garbage, but maybe someone will get the idea.

This reminds me of the shift in my perceptions when I started this vegan diet. I think we need to change what we feel is "luxurious". I crave fruits now instead of steaks. Maybe we need to start craving simplicity instead of excess.

Wow! I can only echo my twittering: I like your sustainability-digital combo!


I have no idea is you are a pioneer of the ways of the future or just a guy who likes to take matters into his own hands, but does it make a difference?

I bet it will.

Hi Joi,

Cool project! Some fresh veggies and herbs are really great to have at hand at home, and some varieties are hard to find in the store because they don't ship well.

Buying seeds and trying out different varieties can be a lot of fun and let you have stuff that you can't find in any market. There are lots of great seed companies, including Franchi Seeds who carry a lot of old european varietals. Our friends at Daylight Farms here in Half Moon Bay (CA), are the local distributors for Franchi Seeds.

Also worth checking out is "How to Grow More Vegetables", by John Jeavons. It's chock full of good info about composting, caring for the soil and growing a lot of food in a small space. If you wanted to have just one good reference, tht would be the one I'd recommend.

Good luck with all this, and keep us posted on your progress!

Just ordered "How to Grow More Vegetables" and looking for a Franchi distributor in Japan. Anyone know if there is one?

Thanks Chris.

All very good intentions but where is the rain water coming from to feed the food you're growing? It's coming from the polluted and highly toxic rain clouds above. Something to consider....perhaps a greenhouse is the way to go...hyrdoponics and a filtering system?

Joi, I would highly recommend the writings of Masanobu Fukuoka, especially 'The One-Straw Revolution'. 'The Natural Way of Farming: The Theory and Practice of Green Philosophy' is more detail and practice oriented and very good. His third book I don't know...

We started a compost pile in our backyard in the summer of 2005. We don't have grass in our yard, so we don't have many grass clippings. The compost pile was very smelly.

While we were gone for a long weekend our extremely nosy neighbor came into our backyard, dismantled our compost pile, wrapped it in a tarp, and left it in the middle of our walkway. I was pissed! But, the ecosystem had been dismantled and we never started up again.

Make sure you have lots of grass clippings: rotting fruits and vegetables need them to make the compost porous.

I can't say enough good things about Square Foot Gardening. My 8'x4' box keeps me and my wife in greens, tomatoes, and herbs for more than half of the year with about a quarter of the work of a comparable row garden.

Joi, this is brilliant, I have been losing my mind every time I pull out a full bag of trash here, and followed your example by composting. I am pretty happy with what I picked up from Solarcone.

It is a little different in Chicago's freezing temps for the time being, but the sun is quite effective at managing the breakdown process.

Found this useful as well.

Hey Jeff. I bought a VERY similar container here in Japan. Decided to start simple before I got all excited about building a compost bin. Are you going to grow veggies?

Interesting link. Thanks!