ARI Family Series – Claire and Rusty Orner – Volunteers from USA

Welcome to ARI Family Series in our ARI Blog! In this series, we are posting about our community members’ experiences at ARI. As a second time, we are focused on a lovely couple, Claire and Rusty, long-term volunteers!

They have spent 25 years teaching and being taught by many people, from small children to adults, about sustainable farming and living in the United States.
The article mainly mentioned about their experiences, their reasons for coming to ARI, and their life here. They also describe some of the interesting projects they have started, such as a kitchen garden and making recycled paper!

Claire and Rusty Orner – Volunteers from USA

A third of our time has already passed at ARI (Asian Rural Institute).  We are here serving through the Brethren Volunteer Service (BVS) and the United Church of Christ of Japan (UCCJ).  We arrived at ARI on February 10, 2023 and will complete a full year of sharing life together.  

We both grew up on farms; Claire’s parents were organic homesteaders and Rusty’s family had a 100-cow dairy herd. We have stewarded Quiet Creek Herb Farm & School of Country Living for 25 years.  It is still going strong with two young adults, Sarah and Sylvia, as they teach and maintain the 12-hectare organic herb, flower, fruit and vegetable farm school.  Plenty of toddlers to adults continue to learn how to live gently on the Earth in Pennsylvania, while we learn regenerative concepts here in Tochigi Prefecture, Japan.  

Since 1996, hundreds of volunteers, day long to year long, have helped us grow and share Quiet Creek with thousands of passionate students yearning to live sustainably.  As we aged with the farm school, we were committed to “pass the farm school forward” so the next generation could make a difference in the world.  We also wanted to continue the “kindness circle” of volunteering in other communities and share the gifts so many have shared with us at Quiet Creek.  

In December of 2020, we were ready with airline tickets to come serve at ARI, but Japan needed time to work through the pandemic, so we patiently waited. In the meantime, we accepted an opportunity to volunteer at Gould Farm.  It was great training for us to step out of our administrative responsibilities at Quiet Creek and contribute to this new adventure, a therapeutic community of adults seeking mental health healing while participating in farm life.  During the experience, we were blessed to build relationships with many folks at Gould in western Massachusetts by building a worm composting system, making bagels, cooking for 100, inoculating mushroom logs, and making cheese.  

Now that we have settled in Japan, we are so at home here with our ARI family; this unique opportunity builds community with people from over 20 different countries – Australia to Zambia and thousands of indigenous microorganisms (IMOs).  Daily we learn new things from our friends and often conversations are deep and meaningful over FEAST (Food Education and Sustainable Table) cooking and meals.  What a blessing that over 90% of our ARI diet comes from the farm; we enjoy mulberries, biwa, mizuna, miso, goat milk, eggs, and pork, to name just a few.

Beyond our standard volunteer duties, we have been invited at ARI to share our combined skills and knowledge of over 100 years of farming experience.  With the influence of the ARI Kitchen staff, Ikumi and Ramon, and the assistance of participants and farm staff, we installed a kitchen garden using the permaculture technique of Hügelkultur.  The garden is thriving beautifully, and it is so convenient to snip culinary herbs and edible flowers for our ARI community meals.  We also sing, pray, teach and bake weekly with the Mingos Gospel Choir, ARI Prayer & Dance Meeting, English class, and sprouted sourdough bread baking, respectively. Other projects involve worm composting, herbal paper making, food processing, and more (maybe an earthen bread oven is on the schedule). 

Yes, we are having fun sharing with our ARI family now, and in the near future, our two young adults, Walker and Blue, will come to experience ARI to feed the chickens, tend the gardens, and celebrate ARI’s mission – that we may live together.  Thank you all for your support encouraging us to fulfill this life-changing opportunity!


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