Skip to main content

Off to Okayama!

C-chan, Mita-san, and Takashi-san this past December.

As this post comes up I'm off to Okaiyama to help at a friend's farm. We'll spend a couple days bike touring, as is our habit, and then off to help Mita-san get his spring fields off to a good start. I'm not sure what our tasks will be, but I have no doubt it's going to be fun, dirty, and that I'll be well sore by days end. And very happy. We will be part of a group of friends heading down to do his bidding, and we're quite excited.

Mita-san worked in an office not so far from our apartment and the farm where I spend my days and have my garden. About two years ago now he and some co-workers came to help us plant corn. My farmers, Takashi-san and C-chan, reach out to the community in a variety of ways large and small. A local kindergarten comes each year to harvest sweet potatoes, junior high age kids spend a week working on the farm for career day, and we participate in a hot pepper project called 'The Hot-O-Hot-O Project' aimed at promoting local businesses. (More on that one later.) I think they understand that by making the community a part of the farm then people are more likely to support them whether that's buying their vegetables at the local Ito-Yokado (Yup, we really sell to the local branch of that big ol' chain.) or helping in a time of crisis. (We've not had the latter, but I believe the farmers would have no shortage of volunteers if they needed them.)

A few weeks later Mita-san came back to ask the farmers if he could help out. He was planning to return to his family farm to grow rice and maybe a few other things. He wanted to gain some experience growing organically and get a feel for the farm life.

My farmers were delighted to say yes, and each day Mita-san joined us in the fields doing whatever task was at hand for the day. We planted daikon, thinned the seedlings, covered rows of kabu, and cleaned up the zucchini field. (He illustrated how the round variety make excellent bowling balls and we had a good laugh that fall morning.) He peppered the farmers with questions and they shared all they could about soil, plants, weather, materials, equipment, and seeds. They were as eager to teach as he was to learn, and under their tutelage he became a confident farmer. On his last night in Tokyo we gathered for a small feast at the farmer's house where we wished him well and expressed our sadness at his departure. We all liked him, and were eager to see him succeed.

Mita-san's box of New Year joy
Since then we've heard tell of Mita-san's use of ducks to eat weeds in the fields, challenges with equipment, pesky monkeys, and enjoyed the taste of his homemade miso. He looked, for all intents and purposes, as though the farming life agreed with him when he returned for a visit this past December. The four of us gathered in the greenhouse to talk and laugh and catch-up on all our adventures. It was a wonderful way to end the year.

It really is our pleasure to be able to help, and I feel like it's the best thing I can do to help Japan's farmers gain some strength. I know that's slightly absurd, but farmer's like Mita-san are desperately needed to rejuvenate a dying profession here, to grow organically, to revive rural economies and communities, and to warm the hearts of older farmers everywhere. It's the least I can do to lend a hand.


Lisa Carter said…
Your trip is surely going to be wonderful and I look forward to reading more about it! What a great farm you are part of for so many reasons: the camaraderie, the learning, the sharing, the community. It sounds just fabulous.
Anjuli said…
I just saw a person who used goats to 'cut the grass' and now I'm hearing about ducks eating wonderful to use those natural things around us to keep things in balance!!
Many thanks, Anuli and Lisa! We've just returned a little tired and more than a little happy. It was extraordinary. I learned so much I can't believe it! I promise to tell all as soon as I finish the laundry...

Popular posts from this blog

Finding Heirloom Seeds in Japan

Drying pods of heirloom Hutterite Soup Beans. Since moving to Japan eight years ago, one of my greatest challenges as a farmer-gardener has been to find heirloom or open-pollinated seeds. The majority of seeds available are not GMO (genetically modified organisms) as Japan, at this point, doesn't accept this material. Most seeds, though, are nearly all F1 varieties. Heirloom and F1 Varieties In plant breeding, F1 is the name given to the first generation of a cross between two true breeding parents. For example, if I decide to cross an Amish Paste Tomato with another heirloom variety tomato such as Emmy, in hopes of getting a gold paste tomato, the resulting generation of fruit is F1. In order to get that tomato of my culinary dreams, I'll need to choose members of that first generation that are headed in a direction I like - early ripening, medium-sized fruit, good taste - and save their seeds. I'll plant them and repeat the process again and again over time unti

Satoimo: One of Japan's Favorite Slimy Things

Satoimo in all their hairy glory. This post first appeared in slightly different form on Garden to Table as part of the 2012  Blogathon . The website has since moved on to the ether, but the post is still a good one. After all, people here are still eating satoimo on a daily basis, and many others are just seeing these little potato-like objects for the first time. Enjoy! Satoimo is one of Japan's odder vegetables. Under it's rough, slightly furry skin is white flesh that is a little bit slimy even raw, and with a gentle nutty flavor.* Baked, grilled, steamed with dashi, or deep-fried satoimo stands well on its own or paired up with other vegetables and meats in a wide variety of soups and stews . (The leaves are also edible.) Satoimo stores well, and like any root crop worth the effort, stocks are just running low on this household favorite as the farmers in my area of Tokyo get ready to put a new crop in the ground in May. I cannot say I was a fan of this l

Goma Ai Shingiku - Sesame and Chrysanthemum Greens

Last week I had the pleasure of helping some friends work in their parents garden not too far away. Tucked behind the house, the garden sits on a former house lot. When it came up for sale about five years ago, my friend's father jumped at the chance. Open land in Tokyo can be hard to find and expensive, but for a retired professional looking for a little spot to till in the city it was an opportunity to good to pass up. Now, it is a garden to envy. As we came through the gate rose, lily, and peony blooms greeted us with great shouts of color while rows of vegetables stood tidily at attention on the sunny center stage. Small fruit trees along with one of the biggest sansho trees I've seen yet stood quietly here and there. Near waist-high sweet corn, bushy young potato plants, cherry tomatoes, eggplants, and beans were preparing their summer fruits, while a handful of still quite luscious looking winter vegetables like komatsuna, mizuna, and kabu held one last ro