By Alec Siegel
Higashi Village, Okinawa, Japan
Despite its Biblical title, Canaan Farm is a hellish place.
Part of it, anyway.
The pigsty: A fenced enclosure accommodating 30 or so animals. Pure Okinawan pigs, wild boars, a hybrid of the two. Trees look lightning struck, dotting the barren enclosure with apocalyptic scar. The pigs ate the roots. It’s a tree graveyard. A smaller barn-like structure with ten cages, each no larger than 10×10 feet housed another 15. Their prickly coats range from apricot to coarse black. Mud and feces cover their snouts. All are eventually eaten, if not by one another, by human beings.
Every morning for five weeks, six days a week, we feed these creatures. Their breakfast, lunch and dinner: brewed barley hop residue (procured from a local Orion beer factory), dry cereal, rice powder, blocks of tofu, okara (the residual product when tofu is processed), a pinch of salt. We mix these ingredients in a large, rusty machine, divvy them into black buckets, and disperse them throughout the ten indoor cages. (Outdoor pork feast non-stop on poop and mud, and the occasional paper bag).
Chickens cluck-15 to 20, hens and roosters-stealing nibbles of pig feed as we prepare it. An inseparable group of cats call this stink home as well, slinking about each morning, watching us as we work-strange bearded men in mud stained work clothes and rain boots.
This is farm number four, our first in the southern Japanese prefectural island Okinawa. Higashi, the country’s top pineapple producer, is 30 or so miles to the south of the northern tip of the finger shaped island. We are an hour and a half plane ride from the mainland. It couldn’t feel any further away.
Gone is the chilly December air. The rough, endless mountains. The Shinto shrines. The occasional stray feline. Up here, in the hilly north of Okinawa, winds rage and pigs thunder. It is a jungle. Thick green palms and thin brown reeds spring from the bush. The clay red hills wear thick gashes from recent landslides.
Canaan Farm’s pig operations are tucked atop of one of these hills, at the end of a bumpy, dirt road that winds up past a mound of steel and aluminum cans (“Mt. Can”). The sty overlooks a small valley.
It’s three of us each day-Michael, Go and I. Go is a 27 year old man, full-time staff at Canaan. He resembles a Mongol: A round face, wide features, a wispy goatee and beard. Go is affable. Often childish, always kind and quick to chuckle. He studied for three years at a small university in Oklahoma. Hip-hop music brought him to America. He was intrigued by the rhythms and cadences.
50 pigs roar when our battered white farm truck arrives. We mix and serve the grub: butlers of beasts. For 6 days each week, 5 weeks in December and January. It gets colder as the days inch toward a new year.
My senses revolt. The acrid, devilish smell. The sight of large male pigs eating newborn piglets. The sound of bones being crushed beneath teeth. The taste of a penetrating odor. These things will fade with time.
My memories strengthen. We seek out the eggs the chickens left us (a daily scavenger hunt). We converse: our pasts, our unfortunate present, our futures. We laugh: Go is a goofball. These things will remain, forever.