Friday, August 30, 2013

Tokyo Farmers Markets: August 31st and September 1st

Fun with vegetables at the Earth Day Market!
August wraps up with the usual round of markets and small signs of the change in seasons. Typhoons may be upon us, but so are squash and the final rounds of tomatoes. Don't be shy to rake in those bright lovelies, although eggplant will carry on well into November. Chestnuts, too, will soon arrive, and I've been pondering a second try at a brandy recipe friends adore. Head on out and see what could be cooking!

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, there's a most excellent selection of food trucks offering everything from salad to zingy curry to roast chicken to falafel!
10am to 4pm

Every Saturday
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

Yurakucho Farmer's Market
Every Saturday and Sunday
Smaller than the UNU Market, Yurakacho features a particular region of Japan each week along with an excellent selection of seasonal fruit and vegetables. Growers from nearby Chiba, Kamakura, and Saitama are also on hand to help fill the larder.
11am to 5pm
Directions: Turn left out of Yurakacho 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!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Thursday Snapshot: Tiny Orchids at Fushimi Inari Shrine

Little orchids on the trail at Fushimi Inari in Nara.
It was while hiking at the Fushimi Inari Shrine in Nara that I spotted these little lovelies last October. Set in a pot outside a quiet little tea shop alongside the trail their leopard spots proved irresistible. A maze of trails runs up the hillside through the cemetery behind the shrine, and when we are there we always give them a wander. It is a beautiful and peaceful place that I can't recommend enough. Plus, there's a fantastic eel restaurant just near the bottom. Perfect.

Monday, August 26, 2013

A Duck of My Own

Minowa Farms at the Earth Day Market.
Way too much fun to not stop and say hello!
Each month I pick up a bag of brown rice from Minowa Rice Field at the Earth Day Market. The rice is good, and it's organic, of course, but what charmed me from the start were the ducks. The Minowa's use ducks to help weed their rice fields. The ducks eat weeds but not the rice seedlings, add a bit of fertilizer as they go, and at the end of the season, when the rice is harvested, we eat the ducks. Utterly brilliant, if you ask me.

Duck has been on our family table ever since I can remember. I come from a family of hunters, so each Thanksgiving our turkey and stuffing was served up with a smaller plate of dark, rich duck meat. My oldest brother remains an avid hunter with a deep admiration for water fowl, so when we're home in winter, I often get to sample this favorite dish.

So this year when Nagisa Minowa mentioned their duck owner program, I was intrigued. In previous years they've partnered with a chef at a nearby French restaurant to make pate (scrumptious!), but this year they decided to try something different. Essentially, for 10,000 yen customers can sponsor a duck. Not only do I get a processed duck for eating at the end of the season, but I also get 10 kilograms of the Minowa's most excellent rice. How awesome is that?

*While I'm not sure if ducks are still available, I do recommend perusing Minowa Farms blog (English follows Japanese) and stopping to see them at the Earth Day Farmers Market in Yoyogi. Look for the duck on the bag.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Tokyo Farmers Markets: Saturday, August 24th and Sunday, August 25th

Honey at the Earth Day Market.
So sweet, so delightful.
Hot weather is tomato, okra, and eggplants beloved friend, but I can't say it's mine. I'm more like cabbage and kale, cool weather fans that relish the low angle of fall sun and that do better after the first frost. However, I adore all the things that can be made with those summer crops and the things I haven't heard about or dreamed up yet. Even on vacation I can't resist the draw of a fresh-picked tomato. So, head on out to one of these great markets and see what adventures can be head in hot weather!

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, there's a most excellent selection of food trucks offering everything from salad to zingy curry to roast chicken to falafel!
10am to 4pm

Every Saturday
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

Yurakucho Farmer's Market
Every Saturday and Sunday
Smaller than the UNU Market, Yurakacho features a particular region of Japan each week along with an excellent selection of seasonal fruit and vegetables. Growers from nearby Chiba, Kamakura, and Saitama are also on hand to help fill the larder.
11am to 5pm
Directions: Turn left out of Yurakacho 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!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Thursday Snapshot: My First Garden

A snapshot of my first garden in Michigan.
Spring, 2002.
We moved to rural Michigan in the spring of 2002 after I finished graduate school. An old farmhouse on family property stood in need of inhabitants, and we wanted to give country life a go. Family and friends supported my new-found interest in growing and preserving food, lending books and spending steamy afternoons preparing tomatoes for canning. I killed some seedlings and managed to see others through to the first hard frost. I learned to make pesto and dreamed about making jam. The next year the garden, literally, jumped the fence. I grew my first popcorn and squash and made forays into the world of canning. It was spectacular fun that I obviously haven't been able to give up.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Natural Farming Article in Permaculture Magazine

Cover of Permaculture Magazine, Issue 77.
Our visit this past spring to Hamma Farm in Nara Prefecture is one of the most amazing trips I've taken yet. While there were no great peaks to scale, rushing rivers to cross, or kilometers to bike, it was an adventure in food and farming that I adored. Kazuto and Erina Hamma, the brother and sister duo that run the farm, opened their natural farm to my husband and I for four days of good work, great food, and lovely companionship. I left feeling like I'd been reunited with long lost friends and with a renewed sense of sustainable farming.

Permaculture Magazine (a UK publication worth every penny a subscription costs) felt my story was worth sharing with their readers. The most recent issue includes an account of my visit there and the Hamma's story. It's a great bit of reading, if I do say so myself, and will hopefully inspire others to look at natural farming more seriously. (You'll have to buy the issue if you want to read it.)

Monday, August 19, 2013

Takayama's Morning Markets: Reprise

This post first appeared here on January 10, 2011 after a fantastic visit to this terrific old city. I dream of returning in summer or fall when I imagine those mountainsides are green and the markets overflowing with regional bounty and flavor. Instead, I'm showcasing it a second time to encourage others while I'm toodling around on my bicycle in Tohoku. Do tell if you go and what you find. I'd love to know! - JB

While there are plenty of opportunities to sample local fare throughout Takayama's charming Edo-era streets, it still tastes best at a local farmer's market stall. A bitterly cold morning found us crunching our way along snow-dusted roads in this mountain village northwest of Tokyo to check out the area's two morning markets. Despite temperatures well below freezing, vendors set up early to greet us with a great assortment of pickled vegetables, homemade misos, dried beans, apples sweet and sour and somewhere in between, as well as a few things I'd never imagined I could ever want to eat or cook with.

Jinya Mae Morning Market
Only a small handful of vendors braved the cold in front of Takayama Jinya, an Edo-period government building now a museum. Perfectly positioned to attract tourists moving between the museum and Takayama's famous old town area, the market must be just electric in warmer weather.


While the number of vendors was few, the selection of what they brought with them was quite good. One stall showed off a beautiful assortment of pickled daikonkabu, mushrooms, and even some sansaiKakabu and Funasuka, a local variety of kabu and radish, respectively, were wonderfully delicious, and I'm still not sure why I didn't bring some home with me. (I did manage to get my hands on some seed at Kosaka Seeds, though, along with two pickle recipes!)

Kunnocho's table offered a nice selection of their apples along with small jars of homemade applesauce. The two varieties on hand - Senofuji and Kountouku - had samples available, and subsequently one of each landed in my bag. Senofuji's dusty red skin covered a pleasantly crunchy inside with apple flavor that wasn't too tart or too dull. Kountouku's bright red skin matched the tart burst of flavor that made me wish I could take enough home for pie (if I had an oven) or for jam.


The table just next door offered zenmai (a dried mountain vegetable), yogoma (perilla seed), and about fifteen different varieties of dried beans: green (two kinds), murasaki hanamame (a big purple and black broad bean) sat next to its white counterpart, two kinds of green beans, two varieties of adzukikuromame (black soy beans) as well as the white variety, and three or four other kinds that reminded of pinto beans in their appearance. Each neatly measured and tied bag came with a card bearing the farms name and contact information as well as a recipe. Falling for it's pretty red and white appearance, I chose a bag of toramame for a souvenir.

Bundled against the cold, Furusei-san offered an assortment of misos. Crafted from beans they grow themselves, her misos were a rich red-brown color and slightly sweet on the tongue. The real show-stopper, though were her ginger, togarashi (hot pepper), and garlic flavored misos. Rich and intense in flavor, I came away with a full set since I simply could not decide which I liked best.


Miyagawa Morning Market
This market runs a narrow lane just next to the river. Stalls on one side and shops on the other gave shoppers ample opportunity to sample and talk while perusing wares on a bright cold morning. A similar selection of pickles and miso were available, but in addition there were yew wood-carvings and textiles along with food carts serving hot grilled mochi, steamed buns, and hot cups of tasty coffee. We also got to sample lots of Hoshigaki (dried kaki) that are a dream for a sweet tooth like me. Sugary and chewy, I could chomp my way through an entire box of these without batting an eyelash. Luckily, we didn't buy a box and my companions didn't allow me to loiter too long at any one stall.




The most surprising item at this market though, were the dried, flat leaves of magnolia. We spotted them for sale at stalls and even pre-packaged in some of the shops, but couldn't quite figure out how they might be used until we spotted a sample at a nearby shop. There on a small grill rested a leaf with miso smeared over the center. Thin, tender strips of Hida beef (another item Takayama is famous for) would normally be piled on top to slowly absorb the flavor of the leaf and the miso to make for what must be a mouth-watering dish. Similar in shape and size to the chestnut, the Japanese magnolia leaves look like they would cook up a nice sized portion, too. Another item I wish I would have snagged for a winter evening meal!


Planning to Go
The markets open at about 7am in winter, and we arrived close to 8:30am at the first one. It was plenty early for these cold days, although as the weather gradually warms I'd recommend coming closer to the start time to beat out the heaviest traffic and get the best selection. They also close up at 12pm sharp, so don't loiter anywhere else in town if you're hoping to visit. Takayama's tourist offices provide excellent maps of the city with markets, landmarks, and suggested walking courses clearly marked.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Tokyo Farmers Markets: Saturday, August 17th and Sunday, August 18th

Earth Day Market in June.
Welcome to the most farmers-market-y weekend in Tokyo! Markets abound making choices of which one to attend a bit tricky. I'm a fan of the Nippori Market for its petite size, excellent food options (try the manju!), and lovely vegetables, and Koenji is no slouch, either. The UN University Night Market, though, is the hands-down winner for summer evening grocery shopping fun - music, good food, and a festive atmosphere - for the whole family or a fascinating first date. The possibilities are endless!

Taking a vacation for the month of August! They'll be back on Sunday, September 4th.
Map
Saturday,  August 17th and Sunday, August 18th (Probably.*)
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
Map
*The Gyre Market schedule has been a bit wonky of late, so I'll update this as I get confirmation.

Nippori Farmer's Market
Saturday, August 17th and Sunday, August 18th
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 17th
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 17th
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

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, there's a most excellent selection of food trucks offering everything from salad to zingy curry to roast chicken to falafel!
10am to 4pm

Every Saturday
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

Yurakucho Farmer's Market
Every Saturday and Sunday
Smaller than the UNU Market, Yurakacho features a particular region of Japan each week along with an excellent selection of seasonal fruit and vegetables. Growers from nearby Chiba, Kamakura, and Saitama are also on hand to help fill the larder.
11am to 5pm
Directions: Turn left out of Yurakacho 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!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Thursday Snapshot: My Dad and Gooby

Dad and Gooby.
February, 2011
I don't often share pictures of a personal nature here, but my Dad has a birthday this month. We haven't been able to be home with him to celebrate in a long time. If we were there, there'd be brats on the grill, euchre around the table, a fair bit of trash-talking, and best of all, my Dad's laugh. It's not a belly laugh, but there is a rather 'Ho-ho-ho' quality to it, and to see his face wide with delight is a lovely thing. He's quiet but full of stories, and if you get him at the right time he'll start telling them and not stop. I love that, too. I'm not going to wax on and on about memories of summer afternoons fishing (mostly trout and bluegills) or meals out (Friday Night Fish Fry) or anything of that nature. I'll just say he's a good guy and I'm glad he's my dad.

Here he's pictured with Gooby, our Kazakhstan cat who passed away this February. She was quiet too, but full of her own stories and fun. This picture captures both of their characters rather well, I think, and never fails to make me smile.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Japan Farmers Markets in Outdoor Japan Summer Traveler

Summer 2013 Issue
I'm a firm believer that traveler's should work a visit to a local farmers market into their itineraries. It the best way to take a 'real' dip into Japanese culture and tradition while meeting locals. The language may be different and the vegetable perhaps odd looking, but two human beings coming together, especially over food, is a lovely thing. A sincere interest in what's on the table paired with an openness to a new experience all mixed with a hearty pinches of smiles and laughter makes a wonderful experience no standard guidebook offers.

As luck would have it, Gardner Robinson of Outdoor Japan feels the same way and in the most recent edition of their Summer Traveler can be found a little blurb about farmers markets. (See page 9 for the scoop!) There's heaps of other awesome stories in there, too, so after folks have had their fill at a nearby market (or before!) they can see what other adventures await. The magazine won't disappoint!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Akigawa Farmers Market: A Review

Akigawa Farmers Market
I met Lionel Dersot earlier this year while researching a story about Tokyo fruit. His website said he offered tours and I was curious to see what I might find. Tokyo is, after all, much greener and more edible than most of us give it credit for, so the little hidden orchards I imagined Lionel would show me didn't seem an impossibility.

While we didn't find orchards we did find plenty of fruit as we walked for three hours that sunny afternoon near Ginza, and we had a great time. Lionel, a Frenchman who has called Tokyo home for more than two decades, is fascinating. If my feet hadn't been so tired and my bag so heavy from all the foodly loot he encouraged me to buy, I would have walked another few hours.

Akigawa market interior with flowers.
During the tour Lionel mentioned a farmers market near his in-laws home that he thought I should see. It was Tokyo's biggest, he said. "And there's a great soba restaurant there," he added. "I'm in," I replied.

Located in far western Tokyo, the Akigawa Market is a JA market that features produce and products from the surrounding fields and farms. And when I say surrounding, I literally mean 'surrounding.' About a ten minute walk from the Higashi-Akiru Station, the path took us past small houses with little gardens up a hill to find big gardens and farms with houses scattered between. Sweet corn, squash, tomatoes, eggplant along with a cheerful selection of flowers grew as far as the eye could see. A few direct sale stands could be seen, too, along with their farmers working away in an already hot morning sun. The mountains that are normally just a hazy ruffle in the west from our western suburb are clear. Lionel tells me that the plateau we now walk on is lined on one side by the Tama River and on the other by the Tamagawajousui, an Edo Period engineering feat that brought fresh water to Tokyo and turned the Musashino Plain where I live into farms.

The best chicken grown in Tokyo.
According to one staffer, this market has been around for nearly twenty years. It looks and feels like a supermarket, but one that features fresh and locally prepared vegetables, baked goods, dried beans, assorted flours, pickles, meats, grains, and preserves. Here I found Tokyo chicken, one of the last remaining poultry farms in Tokyo, that Lionel highly recommended. As we stood eyeing the package of rather pricey meat he said,  "The taste is..." trailing off with a shake of his head and wave of his hands in culinary surrender, "...beyond belief, another realm." I bought it, of course.

To be fair, Lionel is French which I believe wraps his DNA with a heightened sense of culinary awareness, but I could be biased. But he also lives in Japan, a country with an extraordinary food culture, and so I think his delicious food sensors are particularly sensitive. This also means that as his companion that morning I could take advantage of all of that to find the most scrumptious of the scrumptious and get the story to boot. It was a bit of heaven.

"The corn from here is famous. I will buy some," said Lionel, but when we saw the price - 980 yen for a bag - we both stopped short. Luckily, nearby we spotted smaller bags containing just three ears, still in their husks. Maybe the other bag is value-added since the corn came pre-shucked, but three is about the right serving size for our household. And I think having the husks on means it will stay fresher longer.

Caramels from the Tokyo dairy. Yummy.
As we peruse the vegetables, Lionel mentions the Tokyo dairy located not far from here. "How often do you get to drink milk really produced in Tokyo?" he asks. It is, apparently, one of the last if not the last remaining dairy in the city. (It may feel like countryside out here, but Tokyo's greater metropolitan area is one of the largest in the world covering ??? square kilometers.)

Photos of farmers  who sell at the market. 
Photos of farmers selling their produce here line the wall near the entrance. Many of them are old and nearly all of them are men except for one. There's also plenty of empty space in the racks. It's a stark reminder of the fragility of Japanese agriculture with its declining population of farmers and low food security rate.

Awesome locally made baked goods.
Lionel proves a dangerously encouraging companion for me. "Oh, you should buy that," he says of a package of ground walnuts and I can't resist. I don't need walnuts, but when he suggests sprinkling them over a small dish of cold soft tofu with a dash of soy sauce there is no turning back. (It was amazing!)

Food vendors out front sell bento, grilled fish, and omelets to eat while shoppers get their corn boxed up to send as a traditional summer gift to friends and family. Even though my backpack is heavy with loot we opt for a slightly longer route back to the station so I can take a closer look at those farm fields. I add to my list of local crops blueberries, wheat, potatoes, and satoimo.

"I should get a commission," laughs Lionel as I shift the packs weight and I agree. His pleasure in this place is infectious, but it's also his knowledge that makes it so wonderful.

Akigawa Farmers Market
Nearest station: Higashi-Akiru
9am to 5pm
Directions: Turn right out of the station and head up the street that heads up a hill. Turn left on the busy street. Walk another 5 minutes. The market will be on your left.


Friday, August 9, 2013

Tokyo Farmers Markets: Saturday, August 10th and Sunday, August 11th

Yoshio Kosaka, a Tokyo farmer, at Roppongi Ark Hills.
He's got berries, eggs, watermelon and more!
Temperatures are high, but adventure beckons at one of these great Tokyo farmers markets! Don't be shy about getting your chilled soup on or finding a beet or two to make one of my all-time favorite recipes: beet caviar. (I guarantee that it's the best looking purple salad you'll ever taste.) Who knows? You might even meet a samurai-farmer or find a recipe for new potatoes? Go on and get out there!

Taking a vacation for the month of August! They'll be back on Sunday, September 4th.
Map
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, there's a most excellent selection of food trucks offering everything from salad to zingy curry to roast chicken to falafel!
10am to 4pm

Every Saturday
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

Yurakucho Farmer's Market
Every Saturday and Sunday
Smaller than the UNU Market, Yurakacho features a particular region of Japan each week along with an excellent selection of seasonal fruit and vegetables. Growers from nearby Chiba, Kamakura, and Saitama are also on hand to help fill the larder.
11am to 5pm
Directions: Turn left out of Yurakacho 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!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Thursday Snapshot: Sake Cups in Matshushima

Otafuku and Hyottoko sake cups in Matsushima sake shop.
As this goes live we'll be starting our trip to Tohoku. If all goes according to plan, we'll visit a farmer near Aizu Wakamatsu, munch our way through Sendai's morning market, and volunteer a bit in Minamisanriku. After that it's on to further adventures north of Tokyo.

As we map and email and pack and prepare posts ahead of time, I took some time to peruse photos from two earlier trips we made in 2011. They were when I first fell in love with Aizu Wakamatsu and Sendai. After the triple disaster, Tohoku became part of my consciousness. Those two trips showed me a place steeped in history, rich in natural beauty, full of good food, and populated with some of the best people I've met yet in Japan. When we left part of my heart stayed there.

Pictured here are sake cups in one of Matsushima's local shops. Located near the bay dotted with islands large and small, a natural configuration that experts believe may have lessened the tsunami's effect, we spent an hour sipping and sampling, laughing and talking. Pictured here are Otafuku and Hyottoko, who represent household happiness, and are often seen on traditional masks.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Shiomomi Nasu: A No-Cook Eggplant Recipe

Eggplant and our new pickle-making jar at the ready!
My Japanese teacher is a great cook. We discuss many things in our sessions, and the topic often centers around food. We share recipes for favorite dishes, and quite regularly she'll whip out a small plate and serve up some creation from her kitchen. It is invariably delicious. (She's also a really great teacher.)

The most recent of these is shiomomi nasu (salt-massaged eggplant). She knows, of course, of my interest in food, farmers markets, and that I work on an organic farm in Tokyo. One day as I shared with her some nasu (eggplant) from the farm, she mentioned a no-cook recipe. My ears perked up immediately as I'm always on the watch for dishes that don't require turning on the stove in this heat.

Shiomomi Nasu
1 eggplant (small to medium size)
1 tablespoon salt*

Thinly slice the eggplant and place in a bowl.
Sprinkle the salt evenly over the slices and massage.
Let sit for ten minutes or so before serving. The salt, just as it does when making umeboshi, draws out fluid from the eggplant and softens it.
Keeps in the refrigerator for a few days. (We eat it pretty quickly, so I've no real idea of how long it will last there.)

*I used a pre-seasoned salt mix we picked up at Kawaguchiko's most excellent vegetable stand. It contains salt, togarashi (hot peppers), and a little shiso. It is perfection.

Caveats
Since discovering this most excellent recipe I continued to experiment with other vegetables. Takashi-san recommended cucumbers, and then I tried a salad squash (like the one I discovered at the Kamakura Farmers Market). It stayed pleasantly crunchy with a terrific flavor. In another batch I mixed in thinly sliced garlic, recently harvested from the garden. It was wonderful, but I would recommend slicing it into small sticks. The big pieces can prove shockingly strong even for a fan like me.

Monday, August 5, 2013

A Review of David Buchanan's Taste, Memory: Forgotten Foods, Lost Flavors, and Why They Matter

These days I spend a fair amount of time reading books for review with a few thrown in for pleasure. One of the latter is Taste, Memory: Forgotten Foods, Lost Flavors, and Why They Matter by David Buchanan (Chelsea Green, 2012). After reading an excerpt on Chelsea Green's website, I was so entranced by Buchanan's writing that I bought myself a copy. (Full disclosure: I regularly receive Chelsea Green books for review.)

I read much of it on our flight from Chicago to Tokyo this past March, which speaks volumes about Buchanan's ability to tell a story. The only other author to hold my attention on that interminable flight was Philip Pullman, and Buchanan manged it with nary a fantastical being in sight. Taste, Memory explores what place heirlooms and the raising of them have in this modern world of farming and food. Of particular interest for farmer types like me is his exploration of whether or not it's practical.

Most people, especially anyone reading this, is thinking "Of course it matters." with a few including a why-do-you-even-need-to-ask snort or, at the very least, raised eyebrows. But I think Buchanan's question is extremely relevant. Even as people begin pushing for non-GMO foods and farmers markets expand, those who do the growing face the same outrageous odds they always have.

Farming is hard work that pays little. It's a job done not because one imagines finding fame and fortune, but out of a love for land and food. It's a 24-7 job with an impatient product, only a smattering of days off, and has Mother Nature as an unpredictable business partner. It's easy to see why few people choose the field (pun intended) and why many farmers opt for seeds and crops that grow reliably and with relative ease. 

Heirlooms are old, often traditional varieties grown for flavor and regional suitability. This tomato or peach grows well in this valley. This cucumber is a favorite in this county. Buchanan mentions the Marshall, a nineteenth century strawberry that barely makes it from field to market, but with an incredible flavor. Some heirlooms are disease resistant and others are not. Some may not be pretty but they make a mean pickle or a good pie. More often than not heirlooms are open-pollinated varieties cross-bred by generations of farmers who thought this or that breed mixed with another might prove interesting. Seeds were saved and passed down and over fence lines. The stories are countless and fascinating, and as an avid grower and collector Buchanan sweeps us along with many a tale.

Buchanan also takes readers on various adventures as he explores avenues for turning his passion for heirlooms into a viable business venture. He searches for a legendary cider tree and taste tests experimental homemade ciders. He visits potential farm sites and joins meetings convened for the purpose of selecting fruits or vegetables for inclusion in Slow Food's Ark of Taste. Admittedly, there are times when Taste, Memory feels like a farmer version of Eat, Pray, Love, where we move with the writer through various levels of enlightenment, blah, blah, blah. Despite these foodlier-than-thou moments I still liked it.

Buchanan presents as frank, friendly, enthusiastic, slightly bumbling, passionate, and thoughtful. He admits his mistakes (building a house and garden in the wrong spot) and shares what he's learned (growing for market can be lucrative but reduces the number of varieties he's inclined to plant). He tries to be realistic about making his dream come true, always stepping back to assess what he's doing and why. A tale of a visit with a realtor to a beautiful old farmstead as he searches for land is heart-breaking as he reads and researches and calculates the lingering effects of chemicals on the land. In the end, he makes a very different choice. 

What I liked best, though, about Taste, Memory is that Buchanan's final answer as to whether or not heirlooms are worth the effort is cautiously affirmative. He's a good example of gut instinct mixed with careful reflection and practical thinking. He is a passionate but cautious farmer, a fine example for all of us overly-enthusiastic growers who plant two rows too many or bring home twelve too many seedlings.

We leave Buchanan still finding his way, continuing to set out the stones of the path even as he's walking it, still contemplating the best way to bring these old varieties to life for his customers. His theory is that by sharing these plants with others (by selling them in one form or another) he increases the variety's chance of survival and plants a seed (pun intended) of heirloom passion. He's also increasing the diversity of locally grown edible crops, which can only be a positive thing. His continuing experiment takes a surprising number of forms: nursery stock, smoothies, cider, seedlings.

Buchanan also makes the case that doing things on a large scale isn't the right answer. Old models of large scale monoculture don't work in so many ways for the soil, the farmer, the eater, and the local economy. Monoculture means an eventual need for sprays and fertilizers to fend off disease and pests that can run rampant in such environments. Sprays and fertilizers damage soil, water, and air used by everyone above and below the soil including wildlife, pollinators, microbes, the farmer, and the neighboring community. The very soil the farmer relies on, the gift bestowed by previous generations and Mother Nature, dies. The consumer loses another source of local food and flavor.

Buchanan, thankfully, shows a viable alternative. Small diverse farms are more resilient economically and biologically. If one variety of strawberry or peach fails, another is there to fill the space. Buchanan grows enough to turn a profit, but not so much that he stretches himself too thin. Make no mistake: Buchanan is busy researching, weeding, sorting, brewing, planting, writing, photographing, harvesting, preserving, but not perversely so. He's not getting rich, but he's making a living. He's also happy and enjoying himself. Sweet strawberries, fun at the farmers market, and cider sampling – what's not to like?

Friday, August 2, 2013

August Farmers Markets in Tokyo

A lovely harvest of peaches at the Roppongi Farmers Market.
August is a long, hot month in Tokyo, but luckily for the rest of us it is also one of bounty. Summer's heat produces bumper crops of summer favorites - tomato and eggplant - along with a range of other lovelies - cucumber, okra, green beans, and salad squash to name only a few - that add their color and variety to the pageant. Find all the ingredients needed for a cold summer soup and paired with a refreshing glass of umehachimitsu and sparkling water. Summer perfection starts at the farmers market!

Taking a vacation for the month of August! They'll be back on Sunday, September 4th.
Map
Saturday,  August 17th and Sunday, August 18th (Probably.*)
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
Map
*The Gyre Market schedule has been a bit wonky of late, so I'll update this as I get confirmation.

Sunday, August 4th
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!

Nippori Farmer's Market
Saturday, August 17th and Sunday, August 18th
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 17th
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 17th
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

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, there's a most excellent selection of food trucks offering everything from salad to zingy curry to roast chicken to falafel!
10am to 4pm

Every Saturday
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

Yurakucho Farmer's Market
Every Saturday and Sunday
Smaller than the UNU Market, Yurakacho features a particular region of Japan each week along with an excellent selection of seasonal fruit and vegetables. Growers from nearby Chiba, Kamakura, and Saitama are also on hand to help fill the larder.
11am to 5pm
Directions: Turn left out of Yurakacho 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!