Monday, June 9, 2014

Organic Farmers Market at Tokaidaigakumae Station: Review

Junpei Yoshihara, Nobuhiro Chiba and son at Ginger and Pickles Organic Market.
Three narrow tables set on the sidewalk usually reserved for bicycle parking held an array of vegetables: bright green cabbage, red ruffly lettuce, bright orange carrots, and white garlic with just the slightest hint of dirt still on its roots and paper thin skin. Inside the cafe more tables held gleaming bottles of mikan juice, bags of dried beans, and peanuts in the shell. Ginger and Pickles mouthwateringly good baked goods on the counter were joined by golden brown loaves of bread, rolls, and other yeastly delights from The Pottager Bakery. The normally quiet vegan cafe, Ginger and PIckles, buzzed with visitors in various stages of eating, shopping, and talking.

“Okaerinasai, Joan-san,” called Junko, the owner, from the kitchen where spicy smells spilled out the doorway where I stood. Just back from a weekend trip to Nagoya to visit another organic farmers market, I’d come straight here from the station. This was, after all the first monthly organic farmers market event, and I wanted to show support. I also wanted to restock our vegetable drawer, which I knew to be dangerously low on salad fixings for the week, and meet a local organic farmer.

The excellent vegetable selection at Ginger and Pickles Organic Market.
Nobuhiro Chiba, the grower whose produce I openly admired as I stood outside near the table, greeted me. A Tokyo salaryman turned farmer, Chiba left his Ginza office behind in search of a more satisfactory life. “The salary was good,” he said as we talked, “but it wasn’t enough. I wasn’t happy.” Farming seemed like a good answer. “I can do what I want when I want,” he said, “and my son can grow up in a natural environment.” he said gesturing to a little boy darting in and out of the crowd. 

Chiba spent some time traveling to different farms around the country trying to get a feel for his new career, practicing the various growing techniques and the philosophies behind them as well as the business end of farming before setting out his own seeds. He and his wife spent two years studying in Kochi. One year focused on classes and another year on fieldwork on the farm of Kazuho Yamashita, one of their teachers, and a shining light in Japan’s organic farming movement. (Yamashita, author and farmer, represents organic growers often at the political level, speaking up for their interests and that of the soil.) It was there that Chiba and his wife grounded themselves in the knowledge they needed to move forward to fully organic farming: no chemical fertilizers or pesticides at all. They are also not JAS (Japan Agricultural Standard) certified. “Many farmers find that it’s too expensive and too much paperwork,” said Junpei Yoshihara, a representative of Yamayuri Coop where Chiba sells some of his produce, who carried on our conversation when Chiba darted off after his son.

Junko pausing in the Ginger and Pickles kitchen.
Yamayuri Coop is, according to Yoshihara, the smallest in Japan with just 2,000 members and roughly 100 growers and producers to supply them. Around for roughly 60 years, the coop is moving toward completely chemical free growers, something they feel is as important for their growers as it is for their members. “We tend to support small farmers,” said Yoshihara. “It’s important to have both, but most young farmers tend to start out small and chemical free. We want to help connect them with customers and create a viable business for themselves. We want them to succeed.”

Events like this one at Ginger and Pickles do just that. The local community learns about area organic growers, meets them, and of course, gets some information on becoming a member of the coop. Junko is a long-time member of the co-op and believes organic is the best way forward. The majority of her ingredients as well as the items she sells in the shop are organic or eco in some way. Starting the market seemed to her only logical, and Yoshihara agreed. “These young farmers need a community,”said Yoshihara. “This market is a new challenge,” he said with a smile.

Ginger and Pickles Organic Farmers Market
Schedule undecided, so watch here!
11am to 5pm
Tokaidaigakumae Station - Turn right out of the turnstile at the station. Turn left and go down the stairs (or the ramp) and go straight until you see Ginger and Pickles and the vegetables on your left.

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