Friday, August 31, 2012

Tokyo Farmers Markets: September


Tasty and beautiful Yamanashi jams at the UNU Market.
Like August, September promises a fair bit of heat to Tokyo. The days are slowly shortening, and that means cooler temperatures are on the way. It also means the occasional typhoon will roll through, too, just to keep things interesting. An umbrella for sun or shade might be a good accessory choice this month. Keep in mind, also, that schedules remain a bit wonky due to summer holidays. Read carefully, please!

Meanwhile, I'm on vacation again for a couple weeks. Last year it was England, and this year it's China! We'll be exploring Beijing, spending time with friends, and eating ourselves silly. And, of course, I'll be looking for farmers markets.  How can I not?

SUN Grocery in Shinjuku
Saturday, September 1st
11am to 3pm
A once-a-month outreach effort by the students running a neighborhood grocery featuring fruits and vegetables from independent farmers.
Map

Sunday, September 23rd
*Alert: I'm planning an outing to this market at the end of the month. It promises to be particularly good with a concurrent ceramics market. Send along a comment here with your email (I'll keep it top-secret!) to let me know if you wish to join. More details soon!
I could go wax on forever about how great this market is and how important it is for the future of Japanese farming. Instead, I'll just insist that folks go and see for themselves what great things the market and these innovative growers are doing.
10am to 4pm, Rain or shine!

Sunday, September 2nd
11am to 5pm
A nice sized market held on the terrace just in front of Ebisu Garden Place that will always be special to me for introducing me to dried natto and tea seedpods.
Update: Usually a twice monthly affair, it has recently switched to once a month. Maybe October I'll organize an outing here to help drum up some action!
Saturday,  September 22nd and Sunday, September 23rd
Update: Note this market, like Ebisu, is only one weekend this month!
A gem of a market hidden away in one of Tokyo's high-end shopping districts offering seasonal favorites in a way that feels homey yet rather boutique-y.
11am to 5pm

Nippori Farmer's Market
Saturday, September 15th and Sunday, September 16th
10am to 5pm
Another great market in the city found with a little help from friends, this one is sure to not disappoint. My first visit was wonderful despite cold temperatures and a smattering of rain. Plus, Tohoku growers are on hand sharing their best-of-the-best, so come on out to be part of the recovery and get something good to eat. (There's also a groovy festival celebrating Tagawa in Fukuoka-ken on September 2nd!)
No map, but just head out the east exit and look for the green awnings!

Koenji Farmer's Market
Saturday, September 15th
A new market I spotted while riding the train on a Saturday morning into the city center. That circle of red awnings in front of the Za-Koenji Public Theatre could only mean one thing! Sure enough, I found a small group of area growers and producers, and the bounty surely continues!
11am - 5pm
Map

Saturday, September 15th
A unique event in the heart of the city that a vegetable loving geek like me wouldn't miss for the world. What better way to get the healthy vitamins and minerals you need to sustain an evening of karaoke and izakaya hopping?
5pm - 8pm

Kichijoji Market
Saturday, September 15th and Sunday, September 16th
A terrific two days of seasonal vegetables, fruits, homemade treats, and even some fun activities for those whipper-snappers!
10am to 5pm
Map

Every Saturday and Sunday in September
A massive weekend affair that is great fun and features a variety of fruits and vegetables and prepared products from all over Japan. Plus, the curry I had during my last visit from one of the vendors was plate-licking good. (I refrained, but only just.)
10am to 4pm

Every Saturday in September
A first visit to this market was well worth the trek for the number of organic growers and getting to meet a Tokyo farmer from just down the tracks in Kokobunji!
10am to 2pm

Every Saturday and Sunday in September
Another nice market not far from the sumo stadium in Ryogoku it's worth casing out for the neighborhood as well as the vendors.
11am to 5pm
Map

Yurakucho Farmer's Market
Every Saturday and Sunday in September
Another great market somewhere in size between Kichijoji and the United Nation's University Farmer's Market, it often features from a particular growing region as well as heaps of farmers and producers from nearby Chiba and Saitama, too.
11am to 5pm
Directions: Turn left out of the station and cross the courtyard toward Tokyo Kouku Keitan. Look for the fun under the overhang!

Know of a market? Give me a shout and we'll add it to the list!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Redefining Sustainability: An Interview with the Ekberg's at Eco+Waza

Inspiration to bloom
It was my pleasure to interview Peo and Satoko Ekberg about their home remodeling project, and discover how they brought their philosophy to life. It's something we all talk about and think about all the time, so it's always interesting to hear and see how others decide to put it into action. Sharing ideas and information is a good place to start to begin making a difference.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Tokyo Farmers Market Outing!

A sampling of the farmers you'll meet at the Earth Day Market!
It's been a long time coming, but I'm finally planning a little outing to the September 23rd Earth Day Market in Yoyogi Park. September's Earth Day Market promises to be as good as usual with its fantastic selection of organic and fair trade items with the addition of a ceramic art fair. Nothing wrong with a pretty bowl to serve up those fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables, I always say!

Earth Day Market Outing Details
Sunday, September 23rd
10am - 2pm

Where: Meet on the bridge to Meiji Shrine and Yoyogi Park at 10am. (I'll have something distinct, like a red umbrella, with me so you can find me.) We'll walk over to the market where I'll offer a brief overview of vendors and produce, and then let you loose. I'll be on hand to help answer questions about various items, too. Surely, though, the vendors friendly faces and great products will speak for themselves.
Lunch: Plan to buy it there. You'll find some of the best onigiri, breads, curries, and more from vendors and food trucks alike.
RSVP : Comment below and leave me your email (I'll keep it top secret, of course.) so I can confirm, let you know about any updates or changes as the date approaches.
RSVP Deadline: Saturday, September 22nd.

Questions? Don't hesitate to give a shout in the comment section below. I'll get back to you as quick as I can, although I will be away and have limited internet access.

Looking forward to seeing you there!


Friday, August 24, 2012

Tokyo Farmers Markets: August 25th and 26th


Hirota brothers of GNS at UNU Market with tons of cool, organic grains!
This weekend there are markets, but the pickings may be a wee bit slim given the Obon Holidays. Many people will be gathering with family or traveling to gather with family during this time, so be prepared for a smaller number of vendors at some markets. For our part, we'll be at my farm's annual barbecue whooping it up with friends and enjoying a local round of fireworks!

UN University Market
Every Saturday and Sunday in August
A massive weekend affair that is great fun and features a variety of fruits and vegetables and prepared products from all over Japan. Plus, the curry I had during my last visit from one of the vendors was plate-licking good. (I refrained, but only just.)
10am to 4pm

Every Saturday in August
A first visit to this market was well worth the trek for the number of organic growers and getting to meet a Tokyo farmer from just down the tracks in Kokobunji!
10am to 2pm

Every Saturday and Sunday in August
Another nice market not far from the sumo stadium in Ryogoku it's worth casing out for the neighborhood as well as the vendors.
11am to 5pm
Map

Yurakucho Farmer's Market
Every Saturday and Sunday in August
Another great market somewhere in size between Kichijoji and the United Nation's University Farmer's Market, it often features from a particular growing region as well as heaps of farmers and producers from nearby Chiba and Saitama, too.
11am to 5pm
Directions: Turn left out of the station and cross the courtyard toward Tokyo Kouku Keitan. Look for the fun under the overhang!

Know of a market? Give me a shout and we'll add it to the list!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Tasty Treats: Ivan Ramen Review at Japan Tourist

Ivan Ramen - the sign says it all, really.
I can honestly say that before coming to Japan I had no idea that ramen was anything other than freeze dried noodles that came with a spice packet. I ate it occasionally in college, and that was about it. It left no lasting impression, except I did manage to ruin a hot pot making it in my dorm room. At least the fire alarm didn't go off. We did that once. Don't ask.

Since arriving here a little less than four years ago now, I've become something of a regular ramen eater. I'm no expert, but I've learned a thing or two as my husband has become a fairly major fan of the stuff. Mostly, I know what I like and what I don't like, and I'm getting a feel for what works and what doesn't.

Ivan Orkin of Ivan Ramen has most likely forgotten more than most of us will ever know about this particular Japanese dish. My husband and I made a first journey to his shop during our early days here via a New York Times article on the best ramen in Tokyo. We liked the novelty of a foreigner making this dish, but Orkin's flavors and perfect noodles kept us coming back again and again. I can't even begin to express how awesome his soy milk tsukemen is...except perhaps in another review I write for JapanTourist! Meanwhile, you can read a review I wrote about a recent visit, and then wander over to try a bowl for yourself. Be warned: you might just get addicted.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Guest Post: Pop-Up Cardboard Garden

Amber Dohrenwend is a teacher, mother, and author of the Tokyo-based blog, The Cardboard Collective. She designs modern cardboard toys, furniture, tools, and playthings that can be recycled at the end of their life/use. Recently she used a cardboard box outfitted with castor wheels  to transport her children through the Detroit Metro airport in lieu of a stroller.  Cardboard is a material we keep re-imagining she says, using cardboard for gardening just goes to show that cardboard has no limits.

Amber also kindly agreed to allow me to repost this lovely little homemade gardening ditty here while I'm toodling about in Hokkaido.  It's a brilliant idea that I thought well worth sharing. Read on, check out her blog, and you'll never see your recycling in the same way again. Mottainai, indeed!

 


Electra has had her cardboard garden for a month and a half now, and seeing that the cardboard is still in great shape after 6 weeks of rain, watering and sunshine, I thought it was OK to officially let it be known that our pop-up cardboard garden is a keeper.




When I was on a cardboard finding expedition at my local grocery store, the produce manager asked me if I was interested in any of the watermelon boxes they had out behind the store. 
Watermelon boxes, I thought, why didn't I think of that before?

Watermelon boxes are made of triple-walled cardboard with a slight waxy finish, and they are super sturdy, even when exposed to rain. This garden isn't intended to last for more than a summer season, but the cardboard should easily last that long. After we finish picking our tomatoes the plan is to distribute the soil onto the other needy beds in our front yard,  and pack up our watermelon box for curbside recycling.



I used a serrated bread knife that I got from a nearby thrift shop to cut the box down to 12.5" high. Then I just positioned the box in a bright and sunny area of our front yard.

My husband kindly screened several wheelbarrow loads of compost from our backyard and added it to the garden. The last step was cutting off the little triangles of cardboard on the sides that center the watermelon box onto pallets for shipping.

 


We decided this would be the perfect first garden for Electra so I let her pick out all of her own plants at the local greenhouse. I encouraged her to choose a variety of vegetables, flowers and herbs. She chose cucumbers, tomatoes, chives, basil, cilantro, rosemary, zinnias and her favorite, geraniums.



She LOVED handling and smelling her plants and breaking up their roots to get them ready for planting.





Here she is watering the new crop, and facing a few skeptic neighbors who were sure we were preparing for
 failure.



We watered the garden as needed trying to let it dry out as much as possible to encourage deep root growth and preserve the box. I notice after one month of watering the box is starting to break down a little where the bottom  seam is touching the soil. It looks like it's not to much of a problem at this point, so I'm leaving well enough alone. After a big rain the cardboard gets a little damp and softens. It will harden up as it dries out, so try not to disturb the cardboard too much when it's wet. I'm not promising invincibility here folks, but this IS a means of getting a few more cherry tomatoes into your little ones hands, and a great way to kindle a budding love of gardening.



Isn't this tiny cucumber the cutest thing you've ever seen? Seeing it all nestled up next to the side of the triple wall cardboard just about breaks my heart.

**Amber Dohrenwend is a mother and blogger who designs modern toys, furniture, tools and playthings for kids, made from 100% recycled cardboard that can be 100% recycled. Go check out her other great ideas at The Cardboard Collective!



Friday, August 17, 2012

Tokyo Farmers Markets: August 18th and 19th

Ishimori-san and her amazing pickles at the UNU Market!
The challenge for this weekend is deciding which great market to go to. Ebisu to Nippori to the UN University Night Market to Koenji's little set of stalls shoppers will find unique offerings in a great atmosphere. Maybe flip a coin? Or go a little crazy and try one on Saturday and another on Sunday? Really, the possibilities are endless!
Sunday, August 19
11am to 5pm
A nice sized market held on the terrace just in front of Ebisu Garden Place that will always be special to me for introducing me to dried natto and tea seedpods.

Nippori Farmer's Market
Saturday, August 18 and Sunday, August 19
10am to 5pm
Another great market in the city found with a little help from friends, this one is sure to not disappoint. My first visit was wonderful despite cold temperatures and a smattering of rain. Plus, Tohoku growers are on hand sharing their best-of-the-best, so come on out to be part of the recovery and get something good to eat.
No map, but just head out the east exit and look for the green awnings!

Koenji Farmer's Market
Saturday, August 18
A new market I spotted while riding the train on a Saturday morning into the city center. That circle of red awnings in front of the Za-Koenji Public Theatre could only mean one thing! Sure enough, I found a small group of area growers and producers, and the bounty surely continues!
11am - 5pm
Map

Saturday, August 18
A unique event in the heart of the city that a vegetable loving geek like me wouldn't miss for the world. What better way to get the healthy vitamins and minerals you need to sustain an evening of karaoke and izakaya hopping?
5pm - 8pm

Kichijoji Market
Saturday, August 18 and Sunday, August 19
A terrific two days of seasonal vegetables, fruits, homemade treats, and even some fun activities for those whipper-snappers!
10am to 5pm
Map

Every Saturday and Sunday in August
A massive weekend affair that is great fun and features a variety of fruits and vegetables and prepared products from all over Japan. Plus, the curry I had during my last visit from one of the vendors was plate-licking good. (I refrained, but only just.)
10am to 4pm

Every Saturday in August
A first visit to this market was well worth the trek for the number of organic growers and getting to meet a Tokyo farmer from just down the tracks in Kokobunji!
10am to 2pm

Every Saturday and Sunday in August
Another nice market not far from the sumo stadium in Ryogoku it's worth casing out for the neighborhood as well as the vendors.
11am to 5pm
Map

Yurakucho Farmer's Market
Every Saturday and Sunday in August
Another great market somewhere in size between Kichijoji and the United Nation's University Farmer's Market, it often features from a particular growing region as well as heaps of farmers and producers from nearby Chiba and Saitama, too.
11am to 5pm
Directions: Turn left out of the station and cross the courtyard toward Tokyo Kouku Keitan. Look for the fun under the overhang!

Know of a market? Give me a shout and we'll add it to the list!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Cucumber Delight: Reprise

I'm pedaling and hiking about in Hokkaido while this old favorite of mine, courtesy of Kitchen Garden Japan, goes live. The cucumbers at our farm are well done, but I know there are still plenty to be had at farmers markets across the city and beyond. And surely it's still hot enough to warrant a chilled dish served up with a cold glass of something like...beer!

A cold beer and cold cukes: a masterpiece from Kitchen Garden Japan.
It's been way too hot to cook and salads suffer from a lack of garden greens. Our new favorite dish of green beans is fast and easy, and thankfully the tomatoes are at last making it to the table to add a fancy dash of color and taste.

Cucumbers are in full swing as well, and seem to be nearly taking over just about every vegetable stand in the area. I usually serve them straight up or with miso for dipping. Well, thanks to Kitchen Garden Japan (KGJ) and this nifty little recipe we've just added another dish to our standard summer fare. (Tom recommends serving them with beer, so we followed suit.) Tweaked a bit to match what was on hand plus some creativeness - paprika, sesame seeds, and a dash of soy sauce - we finished a big bowl in no time. I feel cooler already.

And this time, here's the recipe!

Kitchen Garden Japan Cucumber Crunch
Cucumbers
Sesame oil
Salt and pepper mix (shiokoshiyo)
Sesame-chili oil (raiyu) (KGJ says it's optional, I might force your hand on this one...)
Sesame seeds
Soy sauce

Chill cucumbers thoroughly. After chilled, place cucumber on cutting board or other surface. Place left hand on right hand (or other way around as you're comfortable), and using the ball of your hand push down to crush open the cucumber. As KGJ says, this creates more surface area for those lovely additions listed above to adhere to when the time comes. Then, tear the cucumber into bite size pieces. Plop these into a bowl, drizzle over the assorted ingredients above, stir, taste, and repeat until there's a flavor you love. (Try not to eat the entire bowl in the process, please.) Open the cold beer, and settle in to eat from the bottom of the bowl.

Caveats:
For those secretly thinking slicing will be just fine, let me just say that I've tried it. It might look tidier, but KGJ is right on the money when he says the flavors adhere better. Just be messy for once and enjoy yourself.

Small zucchini also work here, although they are denser.

Other flavors are also rather nice - oregano, basil, olive oil, etc. - so don't hesitate to create a version based on what's available from your garden or farmers market. (And do let me know what you come up with. I'd love to hear more ideas on this summer favorite!)

_____________________________________
Do visit Tom over at Kitchen Garden Japan, too, for good writing, great recipes, and insight into life lived much further south of here with a family of four and a little farming thrown in for good measure. You won't regret it.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Guest Post: Foraging for Summer Fruit


While I'm biking around Hokkaido this month, Van Waffle, a Canadian writer, blogger, and food-foraging-fun-guy, agreed to share some of his favorite seasonal fruit hunting. If you like this, check out his earlier post on the natural beauty of Guelph's two rivers. Better yet, cruise on over to his blog, Speed River Journal, for more recipes, reflections, and all around good writing! Enjoy!

Rose hip jam ready for toast!
My favorite seasonal foods are summer fruits. During hot weather, the opportunity for foraging pulls me out of air-conditioned shelter. The dog days of summer may be the best time for foraging in the city. Some property owners cannot be bothered to pick their own cherries, plums, pears, apples and other stone fruit. (Be sure to ask permission to collect anything from private property.) My partner and I went looking for mulberries, but returned with something unexpected: rose hips.

Foragers cannot rely too heavily on a grocery list. I doubt we will find any delectable oyster mushrooms during the great North American drought of 2012. Still there is plenty to find around the city. Be observant and prepare to experiment—with a good field guide in hand, of course. This week I discovered peppermint in some marshy ground in the park; also a population of stinging nettles to satisfy my hankering for pesto d’urtica next spring.
A wee red mulberry.
Red mulberries
Keep an eye open for mulberries in late July and early August. They are sweet, flavorful and worthy of a pie. Various species are scattered in temperate and tropical regions of the world.

I grew up with two venerable red mulberry trees beside our house: sprawling beasts with massive trunks, perfect for tree forts. The fruit attracted orioles, cedar waxwings and other birds. For several weeks every summer the berries turned our patio and bare feet blue. I grazed but my mother, lacking any recipe, never cooked with them. Sadly, both trees attracted lightning.

Red mulberry is endangered in Canada. Guelph lies at the northern extreme of its range. I do not mind climate change making Ontario a better environment for this and other native Carolinian species.

I know of two mulberry trees in the city, so we went looking. Parking the car on the right street, I noticed a long hedge of rugosa roses covered with red hips. Unfortunately, we found the mulberry’s branches practically bare. I do not know whether to blame drought, birds or sharper foragers.

A quart of fresh rose hips ready for jammin'!

Rose hips
We turned instead to the prolific rose hedge. Most of our native species produce small hips hardly worth the trouble. Rugosas are a hardy, salt-tolerant, disease-resistant Asian species favored for landscaping. The shrubs look coarse and the petals are boring pink, but the flowers are intensely fragrant and good for potpourri.

Rugosa rose blooms
I had also heard their plump hips are great for cooking. Last frost is supposed to be the best time to harvest, but these bushes were visibly drought-stressed so there would be little advantage in waiting. I tested one. The flavor was bright and zingy as the color, slightly spicy. We easily picked two quarts.

Rose hips contain more vitamin C than oranges, and lots of natural pectin. The hairy seeds can irritate both skin and gut, but are high in vitamin E. When dried, rubbed to remove the hairs, and ground they can be used as a natural supplement.

We had never cooked with rose hips before, so opted for simple jelly. Once they had simmered, my mother’s old-fashioned cone sieve with masher did a great job on them, but a potato masher will also work. The fruit has lots of flavor but sweetener is required.

Rose hip jelly
2 quarts large rose hips
⅓ cup lemon juice
1 package no sugar added pectin
2 cups organic cane sugar (or substitute any sweetener of your choice)
¼ teaspoon butter
1. Wash and sterilize 6 half-pint canning jars and lids.

2. Remove rose hip stems and tops and rinse. Cover with 1½ quarts of water, bring to a boil and simmer for 90 minutes (less for smaller-hipped rose varieties) or until they are soft.

3. Strain through cheesecloth and reserve the juice. Mash the hips. Drain the pulp for at least an hour, collecting any liquid. Strain the juice through cheesecloth and measure. If necessary, pour more boiling water through the pulp and strain the runoff to obtain a total of 3½ cups of juice.

4. Add lemon juice and pectin and stir to dissolve. Bring juice to a boil. Add sugar. As soon as it dissolves add butter to reduce foam. Bring to a full boil that cannot be stirred down. Boil exactly one minute.

5. Pour jelly into sterilized jars. Apply lids and rings.

6. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Let cool overnight. Check the seals. If a lid does not seal, refrigerate the jar and use within three weeks. Otherwise they can be stored in a cool, dark place for a year.
Makes about 5 pints.

With so much natural pectin, the jelly started to form as soon as we took it off the heat. The flavor is delightful, something like apricot marmalade. With a little more trouble (seeds carefully removed), rose hips would make great jam. They would also combine nicely with other fruit or herbs, and lemon balm or verbena would enhance this jelly nicely.

Van Waffle is a Canadian writer. He blogs about urban nature at Speed River Journal: www.vanwaffle.com

Friday, August 10, 2012

Tokyo Farmers Markets: August 11th and 12th

Yamanashi's Southern Alps Farm Field Trip NPO at UNU Market!
I'm up in Hokkaido at the moment chasing down some good vegetables and farmers markets there, but there is certainly a nice handful of markets in Tokyo this weekend to chase away those summer blues. Cool your heels at one of these lovely markets with some good food, good conversation, and more than a little fun! Know of a market not listed here? Give me a shout and I'll get it on the list. Surely, there's more than enough veg to go around.

Saturday,  August 11 and Sunday, August 12
A gem of a market hidden away in one of Tokyo's high-end shopping districts offering seasonal favorites in a way that feels homey yet rather boutique-y.
11am to 5pm

Every Saturday and Sunday in August
A massive weekend affair that is great fun and features a variety of fruits and vegetables and prepared products from all over Japan. Plus, the curry I had during my last visit from one of the vendors was plate-licking good. (I refrained, but only just.)
10am to 4pm

Every Saturday in August
A first visit to this market was well worth the trek for the number of organic growers and getting to meet a Tokyo farmer from just down the tracks in Kokobunji!
10am to 2pm

Every Saturday and Sunday in August
Another nice market not far from the sumo stadium in Ryogoku it's worth casing out for the neighborhood as well as the vendors.
11am to 5pm
Map

Yurakucho Farmer's Market
Every Saturday and Sunday in August
Another great market somewhere in size between Kichijoji and the United Nation's University Farmer's Market, it often features from a particular growing region as well as heaps of farmers and producers from nearby Chiba and Saitama, too.
11am to 5pm
Directions: Turn left out of the station and cross the courtyard toward Tokyo Kouku Keitan. Look for the fun under the overhang!

Know of a market? Give me a shout and we'll add it to the list!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Vegetable Bike Touring in Higashikawa, Hokkaido: Reprise


As this goes live, I'll hopefully be doing exactly this but in Sapporo and along the coast to Wakkanai. We'll be bike touring again, and so it seemed only appropriate to bring this first adventure back to the front again as a pleasant reminder of how it all began. I hope to be revisiting some of these spots once again in the weeks to come to see how things are going and to make some updates. My Japanese has improved exponentially, so it should be easier and a lot less scary than it was the first time, too! See you at the farm stand!


A farm stand between Higashikawa and Asahikawa. Oh, yes.
After hiking in Daistetsuzan National Park we spent some time with the Weymiller's at Square OneTheir beautiful straw bale home is located in Green Village, an eco-suburb of Higashikawa, with sweeping views over rice fields heavy with grain to the mountains of Daisetsuzan.

Part of our daily routine was to hop on the mamachari's (bicycles) and hit the highways and by-ways. Before it meets the mountains the land is quite flat, and the roads follow a fairly basic grid pattern between farms and tiny clustered communities. Meandering about on these took us past onion - tamanegi as well as negi (round, flat onions and the long green onions)- farms as well as fields of soy beans, squash, potatoes, rice, and hay.

As I suspected (and fervently hoped) some farms sold their wares directly to the public. The stalls ranged from a simple roadside tent to a sturdy little hut. Sometimes the farmer was there to chat about the vegetables, and sometimes (again, just like Tokyo) a moneybox with a friendly thank-you note was all there was.

Me at my favorite Higashikawa stand. Rumor has it their closed this year. 

One of our first discoveries that turned into a daily stop was Farm Sugiyama. About three kilometers from Square One the stall offered an array of vegetables and herbs tidily arranged in baskets. Labels in Japanese and English named the vegetables, and additional information about each crop was also given in Japanese. Some things appeared each day - eggplant and tomatoes large and small - while others were a bit more rare - watermelon, muskmelon, and sweet corn. All were incredibly delicious and ridiculously reasonable in price. I know how much work and effort goes into growing, and so it often feels absurd to me to only pay 100 yen for a bag of luscious tomatoes or 300 yen for a perfectly ripe melon. I will confess that I've been known to slip in a few extra coins now and again as thanks for the shared bounty. (I know. The adjoining photograph is a bit of shameless marketing, but I was just so darn happy.)

Higashikawa's Michinoeki stand. Yummy veg with ice cream around the corner!
Another daily stop was the little farm stand in Higashikawa itself. Set up at Michikusakan, a.k.a. Michinoeki, the farmers did a brisk trade with folks stopping in for ice cream (made with milk from nearby Biei) and to peruse the sweet little shop proffering local wares. Here I bought a ginormous bag of shitake mushrooms, a lovely bundle of broccoli shoots, gave serious thought to muskmelon, and admired a tomato remarkably similar to my Black Zebras. Their sweet corn (tokibi in Hokkaido) looked good, but a group of older women snapped up the last of it the day I was there. Disappointing, but a sure sign that it must be good stuff.

Food Studio Staff at the ready!
Right on the main road that runs from Asahikawa to Higashikawa (and subsequently on to Asahidake and Daisetsuzan National Park) is Food Studio. A family-run operation Food Studio offers a nice and quite reasonably priced little lunch set in addition to selling fresh vegetables grown in a greenhouse across the driveway. Self-described as "not exactly organic" I still recommend a stop for a snack and a look around. Keeping that land in production and farming a viable option for the family is pivotal for our food future. (I know that's somewhat controversial, but I'd be happy to talk about it.)

A back road stand plum full.

Just around the corner from Food Studio (Head back toward Higashikawa on the main road and turn to the left at the first street sign that says Kita 11 chome.) is another little gem in the world of local vegetables. All that indicates its existence is a little sign at the next right, but what a pleasure. One look down the road though, and the tent with the steady stream of customers is a vegetable lovers delight. Super long beans, regular green beans, cherry tomatoes and their larger counterparts, squash of all sizes, gourds, goya, sweet and hot peppers, and the usual tokibi (sweet corn) filled the table with their tasty goodness. Grown just around the corner (in Hokkaido that means about half a kilometer or so away) these vegetables are also not organic. Disappointing, but I'd say it's good for her that I showed an interest and good to help keep the family farming.



A funky little stand with some good looking veg!
The final spot I visited for vegetables was a funky little farm where you could pick your own tomatoes. (The photo of the sunflower growing in the sink comes from there.) An eclectic mix of antiques, antiquated junk, and rummage sale materials joined an assortment of vegetables on the table. I could never find anyone around to talk to about picking some tomatoes, so I can't say too much about this one. It's worth a ride-by even if your bike basket is already full!

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.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Tokyo Farmers Markets: August


Hidamari at the Earth Day Market and most yummy homemade vegan food!
August in Tokyo is a month to watch out for, not least because of the infamously high temperatures and levels of humidity, but also because of Obon. One of the holidays I like best here, Obon sends people flocking back to their hometowns to celebrate and remember their ancestors while gathered with family. It's a lovely thing and a holiday I wish we had the equivalent of in America, but it is a schedule disruptor. I've checked market calendars as well as I can and will continue to do so, but peruse the links below carefully before heading out. I'll update as I can.

That said, the hubby and I are off on to what has become our second hometown, Hokkaido, during this month for biking and eating and vegetable hunting. I'll be in and out, but doing what I can to ensure your fun at the markets works out for the best!

SUN Grocery in Shinjuku
Saturday, August 4th
11am to 3pm
A once-a-month outreach effort by the students running a neighborhood grocery featuring fruits and vegetables from independent farmers.
Map


Sunday, August 5
I could go wax on forever about how great this market is and how important it is for the future of Japanese farming. Instead, I'll just insist that folks go and see for themselves what great things the market and these innovative growers are doing.
10am to 4pm, Rain or shine!


Sunday, August 5 and Sunday, August 19
11am to 5pm
A nice sized market held on the terrace just in front of Ebisu Garden Place that will always be special to me for introducing me to dried natto and tea seedpods.
Saturday,  August 11 and Sunday, August 12
A gem of a market hidden away in one of Tokyo's high-end shopping districts offering seasonal favorites in a way that feels homey yet rather boutique-y.
11am to 5pm

Nippori Farmer's Market
Saturday, August 18 and Sunday, August 19
10am to 5pm
Another great market in the city found with a little help from friends, this one is sure to not disappoint. My first visit was wonderful despite cold temperatures and a smattering of rain. Plus, Tohoku growers are on hand sharing their best-of-the-best, so come on out to be part of the recovery and get something good to eat.
No map, but just head out the east exit and look for the green awnings!

Koenji Farmer's Market
Saturday, August 18
A new market I spotted while riding the train on a Saturday morning into the city center. That circle of red awnings in front of the Za-Koenji Public Theatre could only mean one thing! Sure enough, I found a small group of area growers and producers, and the bounty surely continues!
11am - 5pm
Map

Saturday, August 18
A unique event in the heart of the city that a vegetable loving geek like me wouldn't miss for the world. What better way to get the healthy vitamins and minerals you need to sustain an evening of karaoke and izakaya hopping?
5pm - 8pm

Kichijoji Market
Saturday, August 18 and Sunday, August 19
A terrific two days of seasonal vegetables, fruits, homemade treats, and even some fun activities for those whipper-snappers!
10am to 5pm
Map

Every Saturday and Sunday in August
A massive weekend affair that is great fun and features a variety of fruits and vegetables and prepared products from all over Japan. Plus, the curry I had during my last visit from one of the vendors was plate-licking good. (I refrained, but only just.)
10am to 4pm

Every Saturday in August
A first visit to this market was well worth the trek for the number of organic growers and getting to meet a Tokyo farmer from just down the tracks in Kokobunji!
10am to 2pm

Every Saturday and Sunday in August
Another nice market not far from the sumo stadium in Ryogoku it's worth casing out for the neighborhood as well as the vendors.
11am to 5pm
Map

Yurakucho Farmer's Market
Every Saturday and Sunday in August
Another great market somewhere in size between Kichijoji and the United Nation's University Farmer's Market, it often features from a particular growing region as well as heaps of farmers and producers from nearby Chiba and Saitama, too.
11am to 5pm
Directions: Turn left out of the station and cross the courtyard toward Tokyo Kouku Keitan. Look for the fun under the overhang!

Know of a market? Give me a shout and we'll add it to the list!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Kawaguchiko's Fresh Vegetable Stand

Kawaguchiko's Nifty Vegetable Stand by the lake!
This past weekend took us on what has become something of an annual adventure. We pack up our tent and camping gear, fold up the bikes, and board the train for the Fuji Five Lakes. It helps us remember all the things we'll need for a similar trip to Hokkaido, and it reminds our legs and bodies of the work that's in store. It's also an incredibly pleasant break from the heat that fills Tokyo to over-flowing at the moment.

Our practice is to catch an early evening train to Kawaguchiko, guerrilla camp somewhere in the city, wake up early on Saturday, and start biking. This year was the same, although I was so groggy Saturday morning that I left my glasses in the tent. Normally, this would not be a problem, except by the time I remembered the tent was back in its stuff sack and strapped to the trailer. Miraculously, my glasses emerged undamaged.

After a short stop at the Sengen Shrine to be awestruck as always by those most magnificent trees, we pedaled on to our ultimate destination: Lake Motosuko. The deepest of the five lakes it also happens to be the farthest away and full of campgrounds. Good swimming, always a good breeze, and views of Fuji-san when he so chooses make a perfect get-away.

Blueberries, tomatoes, pumpkins and more!
But I digress.

It's our return trip and the vegetable stand we discovered next to the Natural Living Center that's got me all excited this time around. More on the biking later and the rock we found for jumping into the lake.

The vegetable stand is a bike tourist's best friend. In a world where the desire is to travel light and lean toward ramen cups, such places are a bit of heaven. Fresh carrots, blueberries from the patch visible over the farmer's shoulder as you chat, corn picked that morning and sweet enough to eat raw then and there are fuel for the biking body and as inexpensive, bite for bite, as that silly cup ramen in the bottom of the bag. Plus, it's a chance to talk to a local person, contribute to the local economy, and savor the countryside going by. How perfect is that?


Homegrown daizu!
We gathered up red and yellow tomatoes, a cob of corn each, cucumbers, and a carrot. Car campers could carry away fresh eggs, a selection of daizu to soak and toss in whatever is on the menu for evening, jams, honey, cabbage, and shockingly beautiful eggplant. Lavender and blueberry ice cream can also be had for a more ephemeral taste of summer. Once again I ask, how perfect is that?