Friday, February 11, 2011

Tokyo's Earth Day Market: Where Local, Fair Trade, and Organic Meet

While I'm winging my way around America for a month of snow-filled fun with friends, my mother's meatloaf and homemade blueberry pie, and a little quality cat time, I'm reposting an entry or two from another blog. This post first appeared at on September 24th, 2010, and ought to thoroughly entice folks to head down to the February Earth Day Market on Sunday, February 20th!)

A great way to literally get a taste of Japan (other than a cooking class, of course) is to visit a farmer's market. Whether in the evening or a beautiful sunny morning, there's no better way to get a feel for the seasons. And the Earth Day Market in Yoyogi Park offers a feast for the eyes as well as the mouth.

Started with six vendors in 2006, the Earth Day Market was intended as a place to use Earth Day Money and to help organic farmers find buyers. Today there are 50-60 regular sellers that include growers, producers, and tasty food purveyors with another 60 or so rotating in seasonally. Tables groan with produce, tea, jams, breads, and handicrafts mostly from the Kanto region, but with some also from Shizouka, Nagano, Yamagata, Iwata, and even Kobe.

Customers also find a greater selection of organic and fair trade produce and products here than almost anywhere else. Recently, Hiroshi Tomiyama, manager of the market and one of its original founders, conducted an informal census of products over the course of a year. In June, when the growing season is running nearly at its peak, he found 180 different kinds of fruits, vegetables, grains, and beans on offer. Even during slow times of the year, 103 different varieties can be found to satisfy even the heartiest of appetites.

True to their first objectives, Tomiyama-san and the Earth Day Market organizers maintain that the ability to offer this kind of diversity requires supporting new organic growers. Nearly all are family-run operations that workon a small scale with many farmers literally in their first year. Some are transitioning from other jobs to farming, and all are in need of customers. Most of the farmers who come to the market have been in the trade for less than ten years.

"The first years of farming can be very unstable. By coming here the farmer can begin establishing a customer base that will help them become successful," said Tomiyama-san. Supporting organic farming means supporting the diverse wildlife on and surrounding those farms as well as helping ensure a secure food future for us all.

And establish they do. Customers arrive eager to purchase organic and fair-trade products that can be difficult to find elsewhere. Talking to the farmer is a chance to learn how a favorite vegetable or fruit is grown, and often results in a visit to the farm to help for a day. The resulting relationship deepens the customer's appreciation for the work required to bring food to the table or put tea in the cup, and gives a farmer the kind of support that helps get them through long days in the field.

Currently, the Earth Day Market happens only once a month, although smaller markets also take place periodically around the city. A handful of vendors at Minato Mirai or Shinonome Canal create a more intimate market experience for residents of those areas, and offers them a fresh taste of the season, as well.

"Right now it's an event, but to make it part of daily life it needs to happen more often," said Tomiyama-san.

Looking for a great way to top off a visit to the Rockabilly Dancers? head on over to this months market under the elms, and taste September (or February!) for yourself.

Sunday, February 20th
10am to 4om (Rain or shine!)

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