Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Growing Solutions for Tohoku over at Eco+waza

A home aquaponics system in Tokyo just starting to show off  it's potential.
Photo courtesy of Japan Aquaponics.
The March 11th earthquake is well over, but for those living in Japan's north the recovery effort isn't. Work in Tohoku continues steadily despite peaks and valleys. Rebuilding is often a chance to try new ideas or head in a new direction.

My most recent article over at Eco+waza talks about aquaponics - an innovative system not unlike satoyama in some ways - that could be an exciting alternative for growing food sustainably in Tohoku. It's not infallible, but it is hopeful. Give it a read and see what you think.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Hamamtsu's Lovely Little Organic Farmers Market


Two of the four varieties of squash at the Hamamatsu Organic Market.
Two weeks ago I found myself in Hamamatsu, a city south of Shizouka but still a bit north of Osaka, and along the coast. My spousely one was presenting at a conference and I thought I'd tag along. Exploring Japan is one of the thing's I love to do, especially if I can sniff out a farmers market.

A coastal town in Shizouka Prefecture, Hamamatsu sits roughly between Shizouka City and Kyoto. Those who have traveled that way via shinkansen will have zipped by catching glimpses of the city's castle rising above the city sky-line on one side and seaweed fields in shallow ocean waters on the other. It also happens to be famous for eel, gyoza, and musical instruments.

Junko Suzuki, Hamamatsu's market manager
And, if Junko Suzuki has her way, the organic farmers market she manages will soon get added to that list.

"I want this market to become famous," she said during a phone conversation the night before the market. I smiled at her earnestness. Such passion in a market manager is a good thing for the growers and producers, the customers, and the community the market is a part of. I instantly liked her for it.

Another group Suzuki belongs to, Imozuru, meets regularly at the Shizouka Prefecture offices to talk about organic foods, a healthy lifestyle, and alternative health care.  As one of the group's leaders, Suzuki caught the attention of prefectural officials looking for ways to support their declining population of farmers. They asked if she might like to organize a farmers market. She said yes without hesitation.

A little more than a year later, the Hamamatsu Farmers Market, the only all organic farmers market in the prefecture, looks to be doing well. As Suzuki and I chatted the next morning before it officially opened, and before the farmers finished putting the final touches on their displays, cars began arriving. Soon the space under and around the tents was filled with customers jostling to get their hands on a squash of choice or battle for the last clutch of fresh eggs.

The calm before the storm.
The eight farmers and producers I met that Sunday morning were a mix of young and old, quiet and boisterous, but all brought along some of the nicest looking vegetables and foodly items I'd seen yet in my travels. Tables groaned with a bounty that bespoke September. The last of the summer sweet corn (gone in a flash before I even made it once around), four kinds of squash (none of which I'd ever seen before), sweet as well as spicy peppers,  potatoes, edamame, okra, freshly harvested ginger with it's long green woody stems still attached, carrots, satoimo, gobo (burdock) and red as well as white sweet potatoes.

Ishizaki-san's adorable squash.
Ishizaki-san's table featured an adorable squash known simply as Nihon Kaboucha. Its orange-brown skin and moist texture put me in mind of butternut squash, but with a sweeter flavor. I immediately decided to tuck this rogue member of the Shishigatani family into my backpack for the trip home. As we discussed his bags of dried beans, I learned he'd arrived here about ten years ago to work at a nearby agricultural university. Three years ago he began growing for himself. "Now I'm here," he said shyly before he commenced giving me a recipe for the beans.

Inoue Farm's stall just next door overflowed with a variety of vegetables and a nice selection of homemade pickles. Their spicy pepper mix remains my one regret as it was tangy and zippy with the right amount of kick. Why I didn't purchase it I'll never know, but I was lucky enough to snag one of their jars of sweet cucumbers before the crowd swept them all away.  I was sorely tempted, too, by the tsurukubi, a winter squash the likes of which I've never seen before. Long and sinuous with a smooth skin again the same color as butternut, it is another native to the region with a similar texture and taste.

I drifted toward the back, away from the thickest of the crowd, to Hikari Nouen's table where I found white eggplant, white squash, and a variety of other season vegetables. Senjin-san estimated he and his wife have been growing organic vegetables for more than twenty years. However, Hikari Nouen raises not only tasty food items, but farmers as well. Supported by Shizouka Prefecture, Senjin-san's farms teaches new farmers the ins and outs of daily farm work and the business of organic growing. Direct sales, farmers markets, and a weekly box scheme are part of his diverse sales that supports his business, not to mention a variety of community education and outreach activities.

Makiko, a young farmer in training at Hikari Nouen, said she decided to participate because she wanted to eat delicious things every day. Originally from Kanagawa Prefecture, she came to Hamamatsu to learn the trade. Her previous job at an organic supermarket taught her about the vegetables, but she didn't like the stress.

"I have become very healthy," she said as she draped one of the tsurubiki squash about her neck like other people might a favorite cat .

Satayo Takashima
Another new farmer fostered at Hikari Noen was Satayo Takashima, a self-described new face on the farming scene here in Hamamatsu. At twenty-three she was easily the youngest vendor present, but already with the hands of someone who spends much of her time working the soil. (One saving grace of going to farmers markets is that not a single vendor bats an eyelash at my permanently dirt-edged nails and finger tips.) She works nearly two hectares of land at Hikari Nouen on her own. A little bit shy, her ginger and potatoes, all that was left by the time I found my way to her table, spoke for themselves. Brightly colored and robust ginger sprigs landed in my bag before I could even think twice. She recommended eating it raw with miso to really savor the flavor, a technique I've come to favor.

Ishida-san of Koboriyanonu to Tetsu, though, offered another form of ginger, too, that proved irresistible: ginger jam. As I listened to him discuss possible uses of it with another customer (drizzled over tofu, swirled into tea, stirred into yogurt, served over hot rice, etc.) I decided it had to come home with me. Farming for more than ten years, Ishida-san began his farming career at his grandfather's farm in the hills near Hamamatsu. There he does everything by hand - from sprouting rice seeds he saved from the previous harvest to ensure their organic integrity - to weeding his vegetable fields to harvesting to drying the rice and kaki in the fall.

Inoue Farms measuring out the goods.
My last stop for the afternoon was Mabuchi-san's table. By the time I arrived there all that was left were his sweet potatoes. The usual reddish-purple variety were on  hand, but I also found a white variety called koganesengan, a gold variety I'd never met before. Like his story, it was too intriguing to pass up.

Mabuchi-san began farming when he was thirty-three-years old, after a vagabond life where he searched for a more harmonious lifestyle than conventional life offered. His hunt led him down many a path, including a year-long stint on a kibbutz in Israel and some time working as a shinkansen repairman. But it was farming at last that spoke to him, particularly a form of natural agriculture called tansojyunkan from Brazil that focuses on effective carbon cycling.

"I don't use fertilizer. If I learn from the plants what I need, then I don't need much at all," he said. "We have to live using our hearts and minds," he said clasping my hand before saying farewell.

By 11:15am the tables stood mostly empty and cars stopped pulling into the lot. As I bid Junko a fond farewell, she and the farmers gathered on the front step of the community center for a quick meeting. I'd not made it to the seminar on the second floor, this time on the benefits of acupuncture, but thought I should leave something for next time. I adjusted my backpack of squash, beans, pickles, and assorted forms of ginger and made my way to the bus stop. It was heavy, but I knew the next week was going to be particularly delicious.

Hamamatsu Organic Farmers Market
Second and Fourth Sunday of each month
9:30am to 11:30am*
Bus #30 from Hamamatsu Station to Isami Bashi (about 25 minutes; 340 yen one way)
Map
*Go early for the best selection!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Tokyo Farmers Markets: October 27th and 28th

The charming women of Ibaraki at the Nippori Farmers Market.
Oh, the angle of the light these days is just heavenly for me, as are the cooler temperatures. Autumn, too, brings some of the loveliest color contrasts to be found in Japan: kaki's (persimmon's) blaze orange against the brilliant blue sky; dark brown chestnuts against the gold of their porcupine-like pods; zekura's (pomegranate's) bright red against the deep green of their leaves, and the bright green of the seedlings of my winter vegetables as they emerge from the soil. And that's even before they get displayed on market tables to tempt and tantalize. I'm hungry already.
Saturday, October 27th and Sunday, October 28th
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 October
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 October
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 October
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 October
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, October 24, 2012

Why Go to a Farmers Market in Tokyo?

Cutest squash ever at Nippori Market - don't they make you want to go?
An excellent question and one I get asked all the time. Japan is full of good food and it's available just about everywhere, so why bother trekking hither and yon to buy it? Well, I set out a few of my favorite reasons over at eco+waza, although my list is longer and surely there are more reasons than even I can think of at the moment. Go take a look, add your two cents worth here or there, and perhaps I'll see you at the market?

Monday, October 22, 2012

October Tokyo Farmers Market Outing Full of Sun and Vegetables


The Nippori Farmers Market Gang with their loot!
I like to think of it as a day full of sunshine and vegetables and fun. A handful of folks joined me at the Nippori Farmers Market on Sunday for some good food and conversation. Not a one of us walked away empty-handed, and at least two of us carted home spaghetti squash. (I like to think my trips to the assorted farmers markets around town help prepare me for our various hiking expeditions.)

Some of the yummy delights on hand!
The only disappointment of the day was the absence of Onaya-san and her scrumptious manju, but that was more than made up for by the presence of a group of farmers from Ibaraki. My word, but their produce was beautiful - mizuna, shungiku (edible chrysanthemum greens), negi (long onions), daikon, kuri (chestnuts), and some very cute squash - and they were good fun. Thankfully, I snagged their last bag of kaki (persimmons) and a very nice bunch of red radishes. Our salad doth overflow. I hope to visit them some time in the next year to enjoy their company and help out a bit as I can. I suspect it will be a blast.

Thanks to those who made it out with me to the market and for a stroll about Yanaka afterwards. It was a perfect day!

And, there is a market visit in the works for November. More on that soon!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Tokyo Farmers Markets: October 20th and 21st


Best dashi in town at the Earth Day Market!
A lovely fall weekend in store for us if ever there was one. Head on out to one of the many delightful markets listed below or bettery yet, join me on Sunday at the Nippori Farmers Market. Greens, squashes, sweet potatoes, rice, and more await. Come feast on some of the best Autumn in Japan has to offer!

Ebisu Market
Sunday, October 21st
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. Turns out it has also gone organic and eco-friendly! A field trip may be in the works, folks...
Saturday, October 20th and Sunday, October 21st
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, October 20th
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, October 20th
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, October 20th and Sunday, October 21st
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 October
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 October
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 October
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 October
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!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Tokyo Farmers Market October Outing: Reminder!

Takako Kimura and her awesome veg!
It probably won't be this cold, though, when we go.
Just in case you forgot to mark it in your calendar, I'm here to remind you about another little outing I'm doing this month. We're off to the Nippori Farmers Market, which despite being new on the scene is one of my favorites in the city.Give a shout and join us for a few hours of fun exploring seasonal foods in one of Tokyo's loveliest spots. If it's clear, perhaps we'll even get to see Mount Fuji!


This month I'm inviting people to join me on a visit to the Nippori Farmers Market. This delightful market is tucked away in one of Tokyo's most historic areas and is, in my opinion, one of the hidden gems of marketdom in the city. A two-day monthly affair, the market offers a very nice selection of foodly items to eat there as well as take home. Atsuko Fujita, the market manager, carefully curates the vendors to make sure shoppers have excellent choices as well as ensuring various regions are well-represented. Growers from Aizu Wakamatsu and other parts of Tohoku have been on hand for each of my previous visits giving visitors a chance to support the region's recovery in one of the best possible ways: economically. Throw in some music and dancing, and it's easy to see why this new market is steadily growing.

Questions? Give me a shout. Wondering why you should go? Read this. Then, mark your calendar and come on out!

October Tokyo Farmers Market Outing
Sunday, October 21st
10am - 1pm
Nippori Station - East exit
Meet at the bottom of the stairs of Nippori Station's East exit and we'll walk over to the market. Meet the market manager, the vendors, have a little snack (I recommend the manju.), and do a bit of shopping. We'll head off afterwards to historic Yanaka (same station, just up the hill) for a walk-about, perhaps some lunch, a visit to the Fuji Viewing Street, and general exploring. I may stay longer than the finish time, and folks will be welcome to join me if I do. I love this part of Tokyo!
Deadline to register: Saturday, October 20th. Space is limited to 10. If I get an overwhelming response, I'll set up a second outing.

Register: Drop a comment here with your email so I can be in touch in case of cancellation. Comments are moderated, so I won't publish the one with your address.




Friday, October 12, 2012

Tokyo Farmers Markets: October 13th and 14th


Seasonal goodies at the Earth Day Market.
Autumn's signature is slowly being writ across the cityscape in cooler temperatures and slowly changing colors. As things shift from green to soft yellows to warm oranges and reds the winter vegetables get planted and the garlic is already in at the farm. Farmers markets around town reflect the seasonal changes, too, with kaki (persimmon) soon to arrive, sweet potatoes, the first of this year's rice harvest, chestnuts, and more. My mouth is watering just thinking about all of this. Head on out and see what glorious things you can find!

Also, keep in mind that next week is an outing to the Nippori Farmers Market! Don't miss this opportunity to meet other market goers and explore a great little market in an historic part of Tokyo.

Earth Day Market
Sunday, October 14th
Site of my first farmers market outing last month, 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!

Saturday,  October 13th and Sunday, October 14th
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 October
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 October
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 October
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 October
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, October 10, 2012

Pumpkin Thoughts and Recipes at Kansai Scene

Mix of summer and winter squash at Tokyo's Kinshicho Farmers Market. 
Fall is when my thoughts turn to pumpkin or, as they are more commonly known in Japan, to kabocha. That doesn't mean my brain turns to mush (although there are moments...), but rather I start to think of all the wonderful things that can be done with this favorite vegetable. Thankfully, other folks are as interested as I am in this lovely vegetable, and I got the chance to publish this little overview of Japanese pumpkin varieties in the October issue of Kansai Scene. I should also mention the two recipes listed there appear regularly these days on our household menu. Give them a go and let me know what you think!

Monday, October 8, 2012

October Tokyo Farmers Market Outing

Hello, manju!
Just some of the yumminess available at the Nippori Farmers Market.
Last month's outing found me and a handful of other market die-hards braving torrential rains to do a bit of shopping and exploring at the Earth Day Market in Yoyogi Park. We ate, learned about some new vegetables, said hello to growers and producers, and everyone went home with a little something to eat for the next week. It was quite a lot of fun, if I do say so myself.

This month I'm inviting people to join me on a visit to the Nippori Farmers Market. This delightful market is tucked away in one of Tokyo's most historic areas and is, in my opinion, one of the hidden gems of marketdom in the city. A two-day monthly affair, the market offers a very nice selection of foodly items to eat there as well as take home. Atsuko Fujita, the market manager, carefully curates the vendors to make sure shoppers have excellent shopping choices as well as ensuring various regions are well-represented. Growers from Aizu Wakamatsu and other parts of Tohoku have been on hand for each of my previous visits giving shoppers a chance to support that regions recovery in one of the best possible ways: economically. Throw in some music and dancing, and it's easy to see why this new market is steadily growing.

Questions? Give me a shout. Wondering why you should go? Read this. Then, mark your calendar and come on out!

October Tokyo Farmers Market Outing
Sunday, October 21st
10am - 1pm
Nippori Station - East exit
Meet at the bottom of the stairs of Nippori Station's East exit and we'll walk over to the market. Meet the market manager, the vendors, have a little snack (I recommend the manju.), and do a bit of shopping. We'll head off afterwards to historic Yanaka (same station, just up the hill) for a walk-about, some lunch, a visit to the Fuji Viewing Street, and general exploring. I may stay longer than the finish time, and folks will be welcome to join me if I do. I love this part of Tokyo!
Deadline to register: Saturday, October 20th. Space is limited to 10. If I get an overwhelming response, I'll set up a second outing.

Register: Drop a comment here with your email so I can be in touch in case of cancellation. Comments are moderated, so I won't publish the one with your address.

Friday, October 5, 2012

October Farmers Markets

Sapporo farmers market growers
October in Tokyo is for me the beginning of bounty. The squash are rolling in closely followed by nashi (pears), kaki, grapes, and apples galore. Tables groan with bags of this year's rice, freshly harvested and just waiting to be cooked up. Sweet potatoes lurk just around the corner, and winter greens aren't far behind. I think I'm gaining weight just writing about all of this. But, if this list of scrumptious items can't convince you, then maybe this list of reasons will convince you to head out the door. See you at the market!


Saturday, October 6th
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, October 14th
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, October 21st
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. Turns out it has also gone organic and eco-friendly! A field trip may be in the works, folks...
Saturday,  October 13th and Sunday, October 14th
Saturday, October 27th and Sunday, October 28th
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, October 20th and Sunday, October 21st
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, October 20th
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, October 20th
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, October 20th and Sunday, October 21st
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 October
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 October
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 October
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 October
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!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Sapporo Farmers Market Review

Sapporo Farmers Market Entrance
Even when I'm on vacation, I gravitate to vegetables. If we stumble across a stand while hiking (urban or mountain) or bike touring there is no question that a pause will be made. And there is no question that the local produce, jam, honey or crafty item will make it into the backpack. We like to eat and luckily for us, we travel in Hokkaido when gardens and farms are hitting peak harvest.

The Sapporo Farmers Market scene, however, has remained elusive. I've vegetable toured in Higashikawa and spotted a handful of stands here and there, but Sapporo gets understandably spurned for more time with good friends near Asahikawa and subsequent hiking trips or bike touring adventures.

Yet, Hokkaido is one of Japan's agricultural powerhouses. Famous for its vast tracks of land (by Japanese standards), large farms, huge vistas, dairy farms, rice fields, as well as some of the country's best seafood, I thought farmers markets would abound. As Hokkaido's largest city and one of the main portals to the rest of the island, Sapporo should be full of markets full to overflowing. One website showed me a city dotted with markets – at least six! - that promised some good vegetable hunting plus a whole lot more. This would be my year.

Well, not exactly.

It turns out that the markets did exist for a good two years; however, interest on running them waned, and now there only one market is left: the Sapporo Farmers Market at the Hokkaido Shrine.

“One hundred years ago the Maruyama district of Sapporo had a morning market every day,” said Kanayama, the market manager. “It was called Maruyama Asaichi. But now, there's only this one.”

Set just outside the main entrance to the Hokkaido Shrine, the Sapporo Farmers Market is small but comprehensive and easy to find. Organic and conventional growers offer up the season's harvest each month while local producers of jam, honey, and assorted Japanese pickles set out a tasty spread of their own. Nearly thirty vendors come, some from as far away as Niseko and Tokachi (roughly 1800 km), each month from June to September to sell their wares to an estimated 1,000 visitors who are a mix of locals and tourists.

Niseko Green Farm's beautiful beets.
Unlike Tokyo farmers markets that begin somewhere around 10am and finish at about 4pm, the Sapporo Farmers Market begins bright and early at 7am. Aiming to catch a group of older folks who gather nearby in the cedar grove as they finish their morning exercises, the strategy seems to be working. We saw a number of people pedaling away with bicycle baskets brimming with daikon, carrots, tomatoes, and much more as we pulled up. My only concern with our 8:30am arrival was that these energetic seniors would have nabbed all the good stuff, which in one case they had.

“I wish I had some carrots to offer you, but they just sold out,” said Denis of Niseko Green Farm, an all organic operation he's been running for upwards of four years now. His journey from Holland to a Tokyo restaurant to running a farm in Fukushima Prefecture to Hokkaido where he farms and skis sounds confusing at best. But seeing him behind the table talking with customers about his produce makes the logic apparent. Explaining a new variety of pepper or tomato to a skeptical looking customer is all part of a days work at the market, as any vendor can say. It's the opportunity to connect with people directly that makes all the difference.

Hitoshi Fujita's amazing pickles.
Hitoshi Fujita makes a point of using Hokkaido ingredients for the Japanese pickle recipes he and his daughter concoct in their Sapporo kitchen. The garlic, he explained, was from Aomori, but “the rest came from farmers like this one.” He gestured to a man in the next stall selling tomatoes, eggplants, and brilliant orange salad squash that drew customers like moths to a flame. “His vegetables are in here,” Fujita said pointing to a package of colorful pickles in his display. He opened the bag on the spot to offer me a sample of the sweet-sour crunch made the decision to purchase some for our afternoon train ride to Wakkanai easy. A tomato pickle made with apple vinegar gave the salad squash a run for its money, but in the end that cheerful orange proved too endearing to refuse.

“Most people learn to make traditional pickles from their mother who learned it from her mother who learned it from her mother. But that doesn't happen any more, so my daughter and I decided to do it now. Our recipes are a mix of traditional and new things so young people eat it then,” he said with a smile.

Takuya Kobayashi and his happy crew.
Takuya Kobayashi's table nearly groaned with the harvest brought in for the occasion. Moroheya, kuushinsai (a kind of Chinese leafy green), okra, garlic braids, cucumbers, and an assortment of tomatoes were just a few of the vast number of items grown at Harukichi Farm in Ishikari. Four staff at least – all young men and women – kept the table restocked and helped customers make their purchases.

Kobayashi, another organic grower like Denis of Niseko Green Farm, started farming about nine years ago. When I asked him why he became a farmer, his face turns serious. “It's difficult to explain,” he says. I can't catch all of the vocabulary, so he simplifies the story some. At university he learned what was happening ecologically in the world, and decided he needed to do something.

“My home was a farm so I decided to do it,” he said. When I ask if they ever need help, he smiles broadly and says, “Help is good. Just email.”

Toneru Yama Honey - Hello, sweet stuff.
Toneru Yama Honey has a pretty little table of jars full of golden light, and a book of herbs open in front. A small bouquet of herbs and wild flowers sits just behind the jars of honey. Less than a year old, they only have two hives in Nishiku at the moment, but from the looks of how sales went they may need to expand.

“The honeybees need us,” said one of the staff when I ask why they started. She and two friends studied books and found a local teacher to help them. “If we want vegetables, we need bees. If I want to have a life, a living, then I need bees.”

I continued my rounds of the green tents to get a good look and, to be honest, drool a little. Early August is prime corn season here, and there's heaps of it to be had. But that means peeling and shucking, and a train isn't the best place for that. Hokkaido's cooler climate is similar to my American Midwest, so I see many of my all-time favorites looking luscious and lovely and reasonably priced. My husband firmly denies that eating beets raw on the train is a good idea. I finger the purple and green leaves sadly before opting for a carton of red, green, and orange tomatoes instead. Lovely ceramics, candles, and hand-woven scarves can only be consumed with my eyes. We're bike-touring for another eleven days. Space is at a premium already in our packs on the trailer.

Sapporo Farmers Market
Hokkaido Shrine, Maruyama Park, Sapporo
June through September
Second Sunday of the month
6:30am - 11am
Map