Monday, August 6, 2012

Our Own Chyokubaijo: Tokyo Farm Opens a Store

The new log house at the farm.

Well, we actually opened our doors to the public back in June, but by then we were knee-deep in tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, and the eggplant were just starting to stomp through the door, too. Blog post ideas came fast and furious while I was out harvesting, but slowed to a trickle once I got home, showered, and had lunch. Napping and other writing assignments took priority, and so it's only now that I'm writing about the new little stand or chyokubaijo.

Last fall, after the summer harvest was mostly finished, the farmers turned their attention not just to winter crops but to building the stand and adjacent garage. Extended family discussions resulting a few slight changes meant reorganizing a few things so multiple members could farm when, where, and how they wished. Relations are amiable, but as with any family there are differences of opinion and work style. It seemed to make the most sense to divide things up a bit so folks could do as they wished. Plus, a typhoon took out not just the ornamental peach but our workstation just behind it. The small greenhouse there worked well in the winter, but summer temperatures would be impossible to bear.
House blessing ceremony table at the ready!

So, the log house began. The site was cleared and leveled, and the jyoutoushiki (house blessing or ridge pole raising ceremony) was performed. The foundation was poured and eventually walls and a roof took shape. Friends came to build work tables, display boxes, paint, and move machinery and tools over from the old farmstead. Electricians and plumbers set up a kitchen and bathroom area, plus a lovely shower. Sometime this spring we began working inside to prepare the daily shipment of fresh produce for Ito Yokado, and finally the shop opened in June to an onslaught of customers curious to know what was happening.

Once those customers found our vegetables, though, there's been no looking back. We've had customers knocking on the windows and doors wondering if they could just have a few eggplant or tomatoes early. "Friends are coming over this afternoon, and your vegetables are so delicious," said one woman as we passed three bags of eggplant and six cucumbers over to her. "Me, too," said another woman who'd come up behind her, and then asked if we happened to have any daikon. A local restaurant owner stopped in to say he'd prepared our vegetables for his evening menu, and that his customers complimented him on their tastiness and freshness. Invariably, one or two people seem to just 'happen by' on their bicycles as the shutter goes up. It's more work, but the farmers love it.

Green Zebra and regular tomatoes
Recipes and a little gossip get tossed about as guests come and go, and the farmers patiently answer the same questions again and again. "Yes, the vegetables really do come from the fields just behind the building." "Yes, that round yellow object really is a zucchini." "No, the corn isn't ready yet." "No, daikon is a winter crop." "Yes, that tomato is ripe. It's called Green Zebra. Try it." "Yes, we really do sell our vegetables at Ito Yokado." And so on. New and old customers alike wander in and out, and when we're in the field folks are left to pick and choose for themselves and plonk their money in the box. By 4pm, the display boxes are usually empty, and the shutter comes down.

The work space is perfect, although sometimes it feels a bit small. Over five hundred eggplant, a full crate of cucumbers, and four kinds of tomatoes each with a crate of their own take a fair amount of space. The three of us work away at organizing them all, sometimes battling for work space as we chatter about this and that. By mornings end, the vegetables sit tidy in their bags and crates ready to go in the van or to our little shop, and it's time to sweep the floor before deciding on afternoon chores. Our stomachs remind us that its high time we thought about the next meal, too. The cucumbers and tomatoes nibbled while harvesting and sorting aren't quite enough, so off we go.


Anonymous said...

What a fantastic story, Joan! Well done!


Joan Lambert Bailey said...

Glad you enjoyed it, Tom! It's good fun meeting all the customers and seeing how many people really enjoy the fresh veg. It's a nice little bit of community building, too, via fresh veg.

Unknown said...

Joan-san, please do include the address. I'd love to stop by if it's not too far away. Or, do you mention the address and I can't find it?


Anonymous said...

Wow! How exciting to have another farm stand in the area. Can't wait to become a patron myself! It sounds like I am going to have to battle a few obachans, to get to the fresh stuff, but it's definitely worth it for zucchini and zebra tomatoes!

Joan Lambert Bailey said...

You will indeed, Amber, but it will be a friendly battle worth the effort.

Yukari-san, did you find the stand? I'm hoping to add the address/pin I sent you to the post today or tomorrow. They are closed at the moment, but should be open again perhaps next week. A little vacation from the heat!