Friday, January 25, 2013

Tokyo Farmer's Markets: January 26th and 27th

Our friends at One Life Japan and their yummy rice.
Shameless marketing on my part, but it's really good.
Jeepers, where did January go? A surprise snow, a trip to Nagano, farming, writing, and markets made the month fly by. (Oh, and Japanese study, too.) It's shocking, really. And soon we're off to America to visit, eat, roam the countryside, eat, visit markets, eat, and eat. (I usually gain about 3 kilos.)

However, on the to the relevant stuff here: Tokyo farmers markets! OK, the selection is small but excellent this weekend. The Earth Day Market is also hosting a ceramics show, so plan to find something to go with those awesome vegetables and fruits. The UNU Market will rock it as always, so just plan to have fun. A visit last weekend to the Yurakucho Market found it still going strong and brimming with awesome items. It's seriously worth the journey. And, lest I leave them out, the Saturday Roppongi Market is on and awesome as ever, too. An extended interview with the manager in  preparation for an article only deepened my affection for that little spot. I have found something in Roppongi to love, and it's a farmers market. See you at the market!


Sunday, January 27th
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!

Every Saturday and Sunday starting January 12th
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 January starting January 12th
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

May be suspended.**
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 starting January 12th
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, January 23, 2013

BioRe and their Organic Cotton in India Article up at Ecotwaza

A Hokkaido vista near the home of good friends.
Not India, but it seemed to fit. Read on!
Farming isn't just for vegetables. Most likely, anyone reading this is wearing some form of cotton. That means you are enjoying the comfort and coziness offered up by a plant. How that plant was grown impacts a farmer and a farming community. That community includes people of all ages as well as the wildlife, other flora and fauna, water there as well as up and downstream, and air that travels distances beyond our imagination. Ultimately, those cute socks, fashionable jeans or sultry unmentionables connect you, the wearer, with another place and world. It's an amazing thing when you think about it.

Most of that cotton, though, isn't raised organically and it's not manufactured responsibly. From GMO seeds to heavy chemical use to unfair labor practices, cotton often weaves a dark tale as it journeys to a store near you.

But not always.

Enter BioRe, Patrick Hohmann, and the farmers he works with in India and Africa to change that story, to weave some light and dignity into cotton's story. I had the pleasure of interviewing Patrick recently and learn how it is possible to make change in this world. It was a life-changing experience for me and I'm grateful for that. I hope, too, to someday journey to India and visit the farmers for myself. (Fingers crossed for that one!) Read the article linked above and see for yourself what things are possible.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Winter Thoughts on a Tokyo Farm

Bundled haksai awaiting the nabe pot!

I shove the snow off the top of the haksai (Chinese cabbage) and push away the mound formed on the side. I don't need to do the latter as it's only top the farmers have asked me to clear. But I do it because it's fun and feels tidy. If the meltwater seeps inside the cabbage it will cause damage. At this moment, it would freeze and thaw in a spiral of rot. It's too cold just now for rain, but precautions must be taken. It is for that reason that we bundled the tops of each plant together with string and tied them up with bows. Two weeks ago the farmers and I spent two whole mornings working along together bundling and tying our way down the rows.

Haksai is strong enough to withstand the cold weather of a Tokyo winter. The outer leaves fading and withering, turning pale green and yellow as the days wear on, while the inside stays fresh and green and crisp, alive and safe, waiting for harvest. Well, truth be told, we the farmers and eaters are waiting for harvest. The haksai, more likely than not, is waiting for the sun's warm touch to signal it's time to grow again, to flower and seed, to produce a next generation.

I say good morning to a small white and black bird out hunting for bugs. I imagine he's surprised to be walking on snow. The kaki (persimmon) that hung in the trees at the edge of the field only last week it seems, are already gone. Other, larger birds call in the adjacent broccoli and cabbage fields. They fly up and back down again in little waves, chattering and resettling on the plants where small round broccoli heads are just beginning to form. The deep green leaves, as delicious as the head humans prefer, make an obvious breakfast now that the groundcover is hidden.

Meanwhile, the haksai and I sit in this snowy field on this sunny day after an unusual snowfall in Tokyo. I'm crawling between the rows, batting snow out of the way, pausing now and again to soak in the landscape of greenhouses, netted rows, and high-rises just beyond. Soon, I will start my last year here on the farm, and I want to soak in every moment. I want to carve the scents, sights, sounds, and feelings into every drop of blood, every breath of air I have. I want to carry this place and these people with me wherever I go next. There may be no farm, no garden, no dirt under my nails or in the lines of the skin of my fingers at lunch time in the future. 

Friday, January 18, 2013

Tokyo Farmer's Markets January 19th and 20th

Keiko Isomura of Yokohama Honmoku
at the Roppongi Farmers Market. with her
awesome organic jams!
A surprise snow early this week left behind crunchy roads and sidewalks along with a personal craving for hot soups and stews. Luckily, the farmers markets are fully kicking it this weekend, so there's plenty of opportunity to head on out and find loads of yummy ingredients. During a recent visit to the Roppongi Market I noticed a fish vendor, too, and word has it he was only one of two. I'm rather excited!


Sunday, January 20th
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,  January 19th and Sunday, January 20th
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, January 19th and Sunday, January 20th
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, January 19th
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, January 19th
A unique event in the heart of the city that a vegetable loving geek like me wouldn't miss for the world. This month they'll be taking a look at sake. What better way to get the healthy vitamins and minerals you need to sustain an evening of karaoke and izakaya hopping?
5pm - 8pm

Every Saturday and Sunday
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 January
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

May be suspended.**
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
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, January 16, 2013

A Fukushima Farmer Finds Comfort at a Tokyo Farmers Market

Takako Kimura at the Nippori Farmers Market.
One of the things I love best about farmers markets is the chance to talk with the farmers. I've met some extraordinary people over the years, including this one from Fukushima Prefecture. I've also learned some great recipes, and shared ideas on how to grow this or that. Farmers, it seems, the world over, are really the same: show the slightest bit of interest, and next thing you know you're invited in for tea and sweets, to spend the night, to come back again and help out.

The language may be different, but just under a different culture and maybe a different skin tone beats the same heart. Again and again I find people as generous and kind as any farmer in my home state, as hard-working, as weathered, as cautiously optimistic about the future of their livelihoods. It is, perhaps, how I stay connected with my own culture and history while living so far away.

One such farmer is Takako Kimura from Aizu Wakamatsu in Fukushima Prefecture. Takako comes to the Nippori Farmers Market each month with her vegetables, some yummy homemade pickles, and rice. She's charming, knowledgeable, and fun to talk with. (Yes, she's invited me to visit and help out on her farm.)  She's a young farmer determined, like all young farmers, to make a go of it.

Takako has held up remarkably well given the fear the name of her prefecture now engenders. After the March 11th disasters, she struggled to find a way to make sure her farm and the food she brought to market was safe. With the help of the Nippori Farmers Market and their support of Tohoku growers and producers, she's been able to regain some ground, farm safely, and keep bringing some of the cutest miniature daikon I've ever seen to her customers. Read her full story here at ecotwaza.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Snow on the Farm in Tokyo

Snowy Monday afternoon at the farm in Tokyo.
Snow in Tokyo is an extraordinary thing, and yesterday we got a good 7cm of it. It started in the morning as rain, but by 8:30am it turned to snow. Big, fat flakes fell at a slant past our windows quickly framing the outside world in white. The frame soon filled in with more and more, and the view out our window became something more reminiscent of home, Hokkaido, and Nagano.

Needless to say, I was thrilled. Once I filed a new story with my editor, I dashed out the door to...shovel. Then I dashed about in the snow in a manner similar to when I was ten. (I'm considerably beyond those two numbers now.) I made a snow angel in the pocket park behind our building. I was happy as a lark.

The hubby and I walked over to the farm, helping push a stuck motorist to a safe parking place along the way, and laughing as two little girls threw snowballs at each other. They felt as much glee as I did with my snow angel, although I had a proper hat on. They wore sento towels on their heads. I'm sure it seemed a logical choice when they ran out the door.

Everything was coated in snow and it kept coming. The hubby suggested going in the farm gate and knocking some snow off the row covers. I said it would just melt. We shouldn't worry.

Famous last words.

My garden under snow.
This morning, after the snow had stopped and every surface had turned to ice in the night, I walked to the farm. (Biking was out of the question.) Groups of people were out chipping at the ice and shoveling away as the sun rose and gradually warmed things up. The fields sparkled beautifully when I arrived, but upon closer examination it was clear not all was well.

The plastic tunnels bowed under the weight of the snow, but the net tunnels over the norabo had broken. Nearly without exception they lay flat in place, hoops cracked and split. Somewhere under all that were the plants. Norabo is hardy, but I still worried. Unearthing them proved to be a rather delicate process as the sun had quickly warmed the snow enough over the netting to make it difficult to move in one piece. As I excavated I tried to remember exactly where the plants were located. A little squashing did occur.

Turns out all is well. The little norabo survived with flying colors as did the rest of the plants in the netted row. (The sun reflecting off the snow made photos out of the question.) Now, we'll have to see how they fare with the coming freezing nights.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Tokyo Farmers Markets: January 12th and 13th

Loving the sweet potato at Hamamatsu's Organic Market
New Year's celebrations are winding down and things are getting back to normal. This weekend the markets start kicking it in nearly full force again, and I'm planning on heading out to see what's happening. We're plotting our usual trip home to America in February, so I need to get my fill of Japanese produce and treats while I can. I'll also be doing a bit of gift shopping, although it will be hard to choose. And unfortunately, it's impossible to sneak back some fresh yuzu for friends at home. They only get to taste the assorted concoctions I brew up here at home. More on that later. For now, see you at the market!


Every Saturday and Sunday starting January 12th
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 January starting January 12th
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

May be suspended.**
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 starting January 12th
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, January 9, 2013

Jerry Apps' Gardening Wisdom: A Little Something for Everyone

Garden Wisdom: Lessons Learned from 60 years of Gardening (Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2012)  by Jerry Apps charmingly combines his areas of expertise: Wisconsin farm history, farming and gardening. One of three books published in 2012 by this prolific author, Apps takes readers through the seasons on a gently rolling ride of memory and taste all through the prism of his garden. Starting with good basic gardening tips – how to site a garden, prepare the soil, and how to choose what to plant – the book moves into descriptions of Apps' favorite crops. And it is here that the text really begins to shine.

We meet Apps' parents as they worked their land and a kitchen garden larger than some of today's backyards.  We join them for planting, hoeing (the weed is, for Apps' family, the grower's arch enemy), harvesting, and preserving their crops. We glimpse his mother in her chair on a February evening with her stack of “promise books” a.k.a. seed catalogs and pencil dreaming of spring. We watch his father lead a team of horses to plow and find him later, in his nineties, with his trusty hoe still in hand. We learn a method for testing germination rates of seeds using an old wool sock and how to properly process horseradish for homemade sauce - pique the readers interest. We share meals (and thankfully learn recipes) featuring the vegetable in question as it would have been eaten then as well as tasty modern versions, courtesy of Apps' wife, Ruth. Everything from grape jelly to green bean casserole to a very scrumptious sounding navy bean soup is offered up to make the gardener's mouth water. 

Apps' years spent as an agricultural extension agent in Wisconsin and writing a weekly column for the local paper are evident in his easy tone. For my part I would have liked a bit more information on the nuts and bolts of how the farm worked. Apps touches on how the fields were prepared and how, for example sorghum was processed, but this garden-farming geek was left wanting. Such stories and details  would have nicely rounded out his reminisces and the recipes here, and would also be quite timely given the increasing urgency of climate change. A companion volume on these processes would be a welcome (and surely well-used) addition to any gardeners bookshelf.

It's also worth noting that Apps brought his garden to the front yard well before any one else gave such an idea a thought. His account of that – simply placing his garden in the best and most logical spot for it – in 1970's America was not a rebellious statement but rather good common sense put into practice. Apps' perspective on his whole yard as potential growing space should be inspiration for those feeling a lack of viable space for growing.

Garden Wisdom is a touching memoir of a childhood full of practical advice that gardeners today can put to good use. For my part, receiving a review copy from the publisher and reading it connected me once again to my own rural heritage. It reminded me that whether my garden is a series of pots or a patch of land it connects me to my ancestors with every seed planted, every jar canned. Apps provides a perfect nudge for the person interested in growing their own food and learning to process it. Apps' genial tone and knowledgeable yet everyday voice are just the reassuring companions a novice needs. Tucking it into the shopping bag when heading out the door to the local farmers market wouldn't be such a bad idea, either. Paired with a solid reference book like Rodale's Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening or Teeming with Microbes, the new gardener's library will be off to a fabulous beginning.

Garden Wisdom: Lessons Learned from 60 Years of Gardening
by Jerry Apps with photos by Steve Apps, and recipes by Ruth Apps
Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2012.
$26.95
Available from the Wisconsin Historical Society Press.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Visiting One Life Japan

Persimmon caps and snow
It seems like nearly a hundred years ago now that we arrived in Japan. Before we came I did some research to try and learn about growing things in Tokyo. My fumblings brought me, thankfully, to One Life Japan. Kevin and Tomoe proved incredibly helpful in filling me in on things like a rainy season, food in general, and what the adjustment might be like. It made our new adventure seem a little less scary.

Once we arrived, of course, we looked them up. One of our first trips out of Tokyo was to join them on a trip. We ventured up north to Nagano Prefecture and soon found ourselves on top of a thatched roof trying to be helpful while also trying not to fall off. We stayed in our first ryokan and I visited their tambo (rice field), my first, and helped do a very little bit of field preparation. I also met my first sansai (mountain vegetables) and began learning that Japan is full of more good things than I could ever have imagined.

So, we're off to see them again and get in a little snow time. We're looking forward to a good visit and some nice chilly weather. Surely, more adventure awaits!

Friday, January 4, 2013

January Farmers Markets

Scrumptious mushrooms at Nippori Market in a warmer time
The New Year is underway and farmers markets around town will slowly come to life again around the second weekend. There should be plenty of leafy greens on hand to make up for all the hefty treats downed over the holidays. And they'll keep assorted colds and other nasty things at bay, too. Flop them all about in salad or roughly cut in the bottom of a bowl of noodles for a brilliant swirl of green with a nice crunch. It's all good. See you at the market!


Sunday, January 6th
Sunday, January 20th
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,  January 19th and Sunday, January 20th
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, January 19th and Sunday, January 20th
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, January 19th
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, January 19th
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, January 19th and Sunday, January 20th
A terrific two days of seasonal vegetables, fruits, homemade treats, and even some fun activities for those whipper-snappers!
10am to 5pm
Map

Sunday, January 27th
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!

Every Saturday and Sunday starting January 12th
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 January starting January 12th
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

May be suspended.**
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 starting January 12th
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, January 2, 2013

Happy New Year

Early bloom spotted on a recent hike.
The New Year has arrived, and we rang it in with a visit to a local temple, some tasty treats with friends, a good walk, lots of phone calls, and a round of candied yuzu peel from a recent batch of yuzu shu just before bed. Oh, and a little writing, too. (My advice? Always add in the water from the blanching for better flavor. These aren't bad, but they're not as yuzu-y as the first ones.) Hope 2013 brings much joy and peace and civil conversation. (As an American, that last one feels like the most important...)