Interview with vegetable farmer Yoko Takemura

YOKO TAKEMURA (SUMA alumni ’13) has leveraged her network and studies to land her dream job – working on a vegetable farm. She seeks to create sustainability through farming and has ambitious goals of starting her own efficient, small-scale farm. Yoko is the real deal and a true a leader in sustainability. She reminds us that you don’t need a corner office to achieve success.

Discover how Yoko is transitioning from city life to farm life, and her mission to find happiness by getting her hands dirty.

By Katie Macdonald

It’s so hard to explain to people why I’m going into farming. It took a long, winding route to reach this stage of my life. It’s not easy to move out of the city, pick up your things and move to the middle of nowhere. I like to tell people, when you’re living in the city and striving to live sustainably, you’re bound by these restrictions and rules. It get’s suffocating. You kick yourself when you break the rule, and it was getting to a point when I was saying, ‘no’ to this, ‘no’ to that. But switching to the farm becomes, ‘yes’ to this, ‘yes’ to that. I’m actually growing things, sucking carbon out of the atmosphere. I’m nourishing people, revitalizing the soil and providing a sanctuary for wildlife!

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Yoko Takemura Tokyo, Japan

After college, I started working in Tokyo, then moved to Singapore and then the Philippines. I moved to New York in 2012 to start full-time at Columbia’s Sustainability Management (SUMA) program as an international student. I wanted to do something to protect the environment, eventually hoping to go into teaching. The SUMA program was heavily energy focused, and nothing really struck me – except for water. I pursued water hardcore, but it wasn’t until the end of the program that I discovered food as an outlet to contribute to sustainability. I built my own hydroponic garden in my bedroom and became a co-op member of a NYC community garden after I graduated.

After graduation I started working with big data for a consulting firm. Meanwhile, I started exploring all types of food opportunities. I was volunteering at the garden, cooking and going to food events.

I’ve always wanted to work on a farm and at that time I had a very naïve thought that I could just email a farm and expect to work there. The more research I did and the more I talked to people, I realized that I wanted a skill set that I’m passionate about and can speak intellectually about. That’s why I started seriously looking to farms for job opportunities.

At first, I was applying blindly to farms nearby and not getting many replies because I didn’t have any farm experience. But, if you want it, you really just have to get out there and meet the farmers. And that’s exactly what I did.

I got a job at Riverbank Farm in Connecticut. It’s a small organic vegetable farm that sells its produce at farmer’s markets. It’s located in the most picturesque location, and has a beautiful Hudson Valley landscape. It’s so serene.

My boyfriend and I have a long-term vision of purchasing land and having our own vegetable production. We go to lots of workshops on small-scale farming. My dream is to have a boutique farming operation, that’s run efficiently with hand tools that generate enough food to live on. There have been many successful cases where farmers make more money than they need to just get by. However, one huge barrier that young farmers face is acquiring land. It’s always about land buying and finding land. It’s a tricky issue.

After working in consulting, I fully believe I can place myself within the corporate space and make changes. Addressing sustainability in the corporate world is absolutely needed. I could see myself working with sustainability data and making impacts. But this wasn’t the sustainability I was after and that became increasingly aware to me.

I’ve lived in big cities all my life. I never grew up in a farm family. I haven’t had any exposure to farms at all. But, you don’t need to be close to it or have had exposure to it to go into this type of work. I know how tough it is, but I want to make this my life.

With farming, if I work hard enough I can make change in the word. And that’s really exciting to me.

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