Friday, May 30, 2014

Tokyo Farmers Markets: Saturday, May 31st and Sunday, June 1st

A lovely day for a market!

Straddling May and June, this weekend bring a nice mix of the regular weekly markets as well as one of the bi-monthly markets. Don't miss the opportunity to bustle out and see what pre-rainy season fare is on offer. As the temperatures rise, the vegetables come out! Don't miss the fun!

Ebisu Market
Sunday, June 1st
Ebisu will be in full form this month with its two usual markets. Don't miss the opportunity to head to a nifty part of the city where on these sweet Sundays you'll find farmers and producers galore. (One even comes from Okutama with a lovely array of vegetables and a vegetable-based spread that will knock your socks off.) It's worth noting, too, that Do One Good, an animal NPO will be on hand with some of the cutest dogs ever waiting to go home with you!
11am to 5pm
Map

UN University Market
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
Back up and running after a refurbishment of the market space, the Roppongi Farmers Market is as booming and bountiful as ever. Don't miss this chance to meet a grower from Tokyo's very own Kokobunji and sample seasonal bounty.
10am to 4pm (Usually. Do check their website for schedule fluctuations.)
Map

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!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Getting started in a farming business in Japan and beyond: a few thoughts


Visiting markets is a great way to see what's going on.
Oiso Market, April, 2014.
Another running theme of recent emails is setting up an organic farm or a farm-to-table business in Japan. Folks often ask me to share my observations of the situation here even though I am not necessarily an expert. I completely support such ventures, whether its in Japan or elsewhere, but I do have a few bits of advice. Here they are.

Read.
I know, I know. That sounds about as exciting as watching paint dry, but I stand by this advice. I've had the pleasure to review some excellent books this past year on getting started in farming. The two I recommend the most are Market Farming Success: The Business of Growing and Selling Local Food by Lynn Byczynski (Chelsea Green, 2013) and Farms with a Future: Creating and Growing a Sustainable Farm Business by Rebecca Thistlethwaite (Chelsea Green, 2013). Both are excellent starting points for those looking to make farming their business written by experienced farmers not shy to share. Whether you're in Japan, America, Nepal, Fiji, or Kazakhstan these two books are required reading. Frankly, if you don't read these you're wasting your time.

Diversify. 
Good farm fields should be planted with a diversity of crops to ensure pollination, protect from disease, and stave off financial ruin if a crop does fail. It's no guarantee, but it's a sensible practice that will take a grower far. The same holds true for business. Don't focus too much on just one crop, area, or customer. Drop that basket or get it knocked out of your hands, and those eggs will surely break. 

Particularly in Japan, growers and producers can't focus solely on the international community. We are a charming but fickle bunch that comes and goes. Balancing your target audience with a healthy dose of Japanese people interested in organic food, farming, yoga, crafts, etc. gives you a more stable customer base. This will result in a more stable financial base, too, while providing a unique cross-cultural experience for everyone involved. It may mean more work, i.e. bilingual materials and websites, etc., but in the long run it would be well worth it. 

Start small, grow incrementally.
I know it's hard to hold back. I go crazy every year at the nursery or in the seed store, and end up with more than my garden can hold. That's fine for my garden, but for a fledgling farm business it's not. Start small and simple. Set yourself up for success by growing a few crops, making a few things and then test them out at the market. David Buchanan in Taste, Memory: Forgotten Foods, Lost Flavors, and Why they matter (Chelsea Green, 2012) does a fascinating job of describing his journey as a market gardener. He debates the merits of buying a whole farm, renting, foraging, and finding a niche for his beloved heirlooms. There is much to be learned in his story for growers at all stages of the game. 

Getting too big too fast can mean too much to take care of and not enough hours in the day at the height of season, a frayed family life, and debt. All of that adds up to stress and a general feeling of unhappiness that can cause even the most passionate farmer to throw their hands up in despair or throw their back out mid-harvest. Don't do it. 

Talk to other growers.
One of the things I found most surprising when I read Jack Lazor's The Organic Grain Grower: Small-scale, Holistic Grain Production for the Home and Market Producer (Chelsea Green, 2013) was his emphasis on finding a mentor, establishing a network. Every chapter, whether it was about a particular grain or piece of machinery or preparing the soil, mentioned someone he'd met along the way who offered advice, taught him an invaluable lesson, or led him to another indispensable resource. There are plenty of people needing to eat and not enough of them growing. Don't be shy to network and seek friendship among those who ply the trade you dream of. Farmers, for the most part, love to talk about their work. Some might be a little crotchety, but just go with it. Underneath is a good soul who most likely cares about good soil, good food, and community. Learn from them.

I see this all the time at the markets here in Japan. Growers and producers talk to each other, share information, build a network that supports their own farms and other businesses. We all need each other, especially in the farming and food trades. They're a welcoming bunch.

Be resilient.
One of the first books I ever read from Chelsea Green Publishing was The Resilient Gardener by Carol Deppe (Chelsea Green, 2010) and it rocked my world. Deppe, a long-time grower and scientist, laid out in these pages a plan for gardening and food preservation in preparation for a natural, personal, or global disaster. (I started reading it a few days after the Tohoku Earthquake in 2011, so it struck a particularly strong chord with me.) Her advice on everything from water to tool usage to crops to plant is spot on and worth taking into consideration as climate change steps up its game. If we're to survive and perhaps even thrive, her book is another to add to the shelf.

Got other thoughts or ideas? Send them along.  

Friday, May 23, 2014

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

Most excellent goat cheese and jam at the Earth Day Market.
Rainy season approaches, which means fields are planted and the great wait for summer vegetables begin. Don't miss the great markets this weekend to still find seedlings, early summer vegetables, and perhaps the first of the ume? It's a little early, but a girl can dream, right? I'll be at the Earth Day Market on Sunday gathering up some great grains, some mochi, and seeing what else catches my eye. See you there!

Sunday, May 25th
I could go wax on forever about how great this market is and how important it is for the future of Japanese farming and global food security. Instead, I'll just insist that folks go and see for themselves what great things the market and these innovative growers are doing. This month the market will be a bit of its wonderful normalness. If something exciting comes up, though, I promise to alert folks. Planning is in the works, so who knows what Fairtrade excitement might be in the air?
10am to 4pm, Rain or shine!

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
Back up and running after a refurbishment of the market space, the Roppongi Farmers Market is as booming and bountiful as ever. Don't miss this chance to meet a grower from Tokyo's very own Kokobunji and sample seasonal bounty.
10am to 4pm (Usually. Do check their website for schedule fluctuations.)
Map

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!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Building a Cardboard Garden

Two of seven cardboard 'beds' in place.
As readers may have noticed, in March we moved house. We left Tokyo for the wilds of Kanagawa Prefecture and new jobs at a new university. My husband's five-year contract limit had been reached, so we bade farewell to wonderful friends in a beloved place to strike out again on our own. We have landed once more in university housing with plenty of farms and orchards all around. While I won't be wheedling my way onto a local farm this year (writing and a new teaching job are keeping me plenty busy!) I have started a garden and flower pots are starting to fill balconies and verandas.

Unlike my Tokyo garden, this one is not on a farm. It is, instead, in a small park-like space behind our building. Once well-used and well-tended, the space when we first saw it late last year was full of weeds, moldy furniture, and unpruned shrubs. The manager said I could do whatever I liked there, and so the thinking and planning began. 

I've decided to follow my own advice to other growers, which is to start small. I've also opted to try and be as noninvasive as possible. I've had the pleasure of reading a number of terrific books these past few years for pleasure as well as for review, and one of the things each instilled in me is an ever increasing  respect for the soil. Tilling, chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and mono-cropping are no way to take care of it and the community that resides in it. My plan, therefore is to return to a method that works well and creates good soil as well as good vegetables: lasagna gardening.

But with a twist: lasagna gardening in cardboard.

Taking a bit of inspiration from Amber over at The Cardboard Collective and her most awesome cardboard garden, I gathered together a handful of similarly sized boxes left from our recent move and took them down to the garden. Taking a few hints from Juliet Kemp and other permaculturists, I positioned them in good light, but out of the way of folks who might want to use the space for a picnic or a bit of afternoon fun. (We have cleaned the garden up considerably, so there's plenty of room now to play, nap and barbecue.) I filled the boxes with compost from the three bins left by previous residents, alternating the layers with the dried stalks of various grasses and weeds cut down during the great tidy.  


Cinder blocks and some landscaping bricks that had been lying about got set along the outer edges of the boxes as additional support. My fear was that the boxes would melt in the rainy season while my plants were still in them. Under the cinder blocks I placed the cut off flaps of the boxes as a weed deterrent. More dried stalks and grass got laid on top as mulch. Then I watered whether they had been planted in already or not. Once the cardboard does fade away, a nice bed of rich soil will be left behind.  So far, so good! 

Friday, May 16, 2014

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

Best manju EVER at the Nippori Farmer's Market!

Welcome to the hippest, happening farmer's market weekend in Tokyo! Choose your location for foodly adventure and head on out to see what you can find. There should be no shortage of wonderful vegetables, seedlings, fruit, and jam all ripe and ready for the picking. I, however, will be up in Soma with Minowa Rice Field and farmers there helping put the first rice seedlings in the soil since the disaster in 2011. I imagine it will be an event full of mixed emotions, mud, good food, and good company. I can hardly wait.

Ebisu Market
Sunday, May 18th
Ebisu will be in full form this month with its two usual markets. Don't miss the opportunity to head to a nifty part of the city where on these sweet Sundays you'll find farmers and producers galore. (One even comes from Okutama with a lovely array of vegetables and a vegetable-based spread that will knock your socks off.) It's worth noting, too, that Do One Good, an animal NPO will be on hand with some of the cutest dogs ever waiting to go home with you!
11am to 5pm
Map

Koenji Farmer's Market
Saturday, May 18th
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

Nippori Farmer's Market
Saturday, May 17th and Sunday, 18th
Another great market in the city found with a little help from friends, this one is sure to not disappoint. A small but lively market, particularly on Saturday, it is well worth the trip. 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!
10am to 5pm

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
Back up and running after a refurbishment of the market space, the Roppongi Farmers Market is as booming and bountiful as ever. Don't miss this chance to meet a grower from Tokyo's very own Kokobunji and sample seasonal bounty.
10am to 4pm (Usually. Do check their website for schedule fluctuations.)
Map

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!

Monday, May 12, 2014

How to Get on a Farm in Japan

Me on the farm in Tokyo.
I often get asked how to get on a farm in Japan. Farming and food are hot topics right now, and travelers often want to try their hand at getting dirty on a Japanese farm. And with good reason. Farms are often where the the roots of culture and tradition can be found and tasted. There is much to be learned and shared. 

Yet, travelers need to keep in mind that each farm is unique. Each farmer or farming family has their own techniques and practices, traditions and habits. Keep in mind what your goals as a traveler are (learn a new farming technique, lounge in a hammock after working a couple hours, learn recipes, or get in some language practice, for example) and then keep an open mind and be flexible. There's some good fun to be had out there!

WWOOF Japan – The easiest and best place to look for farming opportunities in Japan is WWOOF. An international organization that pairs those hankering to get on a farm with those who need extra hands, WWOOF is a classic solution. It's not necessarily cheap (6,000 yen or so) for an annual membership, but it does simplify things immensely. We've done it and good friends are currently doing it in Nagano Prefecture. Stays can range anywhere from a week to a month to longer, depending on the farm and farmer and season. If language is an issue at all, this would be the way to go.

Farmers markets – If you live in Japan or will be here long term, it might be worth a wander over to a farmers market. Any of them will do, but I might recommend the Earth Day Market as a best option. All organic and all fair-trade, the Earth Day Market is also where the person standing behind the table is the actual farmer. Some speak English but many don't, although that may not be a problem. If you speak some Japanese, no matter how rudimentary, you'll probably do just fine. I might also recommend speaking to the market manager. He or she spends a fair bit of time chatting with the growers, some of whom have been coming to the market for years, about this and that. They might be able to offer a few solid leads on farmers open looking for a bit of help. Again, some speak English, but not everyone.

Rural travel companies – If you're looking to spend some time in the country without committing to an extended period of work on a farm, I might suggest a rural travel company. Usually small bi-lingual affairs, these companies offer visitors a chance to spend some time in the countryside exploring by bike or on foot, meeting locals, engaging in cooking or crafting, and generally having fun. We've traveled with One Life Japan a few times and always enjoyed it, and I've got my eye on taking a trip one of these days with Satoyama Experience.


Got other ideas or suggestions? Let's hear them.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Tokyo Farmer's Markets: Saturday, May 10th and Sunday, May 11th


A sunny weekend awaits those who venture out to find spring vegetables and fruit this weekend in Tokyo! Don't be shy to step out the door, but do take your sun screen. And a big backpack! And your mother, of course! There's plenty to be had even in these first days of the season! See you at the market!

Market of the Sun
Saturday, May 10th and Sunday, May 11th
The newest of Tokyo's farmers markets, Market of the Sun professes to be one of the largest. A short walk from Tsukiji Market and its wonderful surrounds, it's worth a stop for a selection of foodly and crafty items that rivals that at the UNU Market.
10am to 4pm
No map but step out of Kachidoki Station exits A4a and A4b

Koenji Farmer's Market
Saturday, May 18th
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

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
Back up and running after a refurbishment of the market space, the Roppongi Farmers Market is as booming and bountiful as ever. Don't miss this chance to meet a grower from Tokyo's very own Kokobunji and sample seasonal bounty.
10am to 4pm (Usually. Do check their website for schedule fluctuations.)
Map

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!

Monday, May 5, 2014

How to Find Organic Food in Tokyo (and Beyond!)

Organic kohlrabi at the Earth Day Farmers Market.
Recently, I've received a lovely run of emails asking how to find organic produce in Tokyo. It seems a number of folks are moving to the area or preparing to move, and are working on sorting out their grocery options. I decided to put my answers into a post here so others can find it, too. That said, if others have more ideas or suggestions or even other questions about food, farming, and farmers markets in Tokyo (or even gardening!) then let me know. I'm happy to help out as best I can. - JB

Hands down, the best way to get the least expensive organic produce is to head to the Earth Day Farmers Market in Yoyogi Park. Prices are incredibly reasonable and the selection is great. It's a great way to begin learning what is in season when in Japan (citrus in winter and bamboo in spring, for example) and how to cook with these items. Whether the item in question is tea or tomatoes, the tanned and smiling person behind the table is almost invariably the person who grew it. They come with a bounty of knowledge of recipes, growing tips, and general good humor. Plus, it is a very fun market with music, workshops, an excellent selection of food carts, and a nice mix of handmade soaps, clothing, ceramics, and more. It's a guaranteed good time.

Fruit 
The same holds true for organic fruit. Fruit, in general, can be very expensive in Japan. At the Earth Day Market fruit growers and producers are often featured or, at the very least, present on a regular basis. It's an excellent way to get to know the wide variety of citrus as well as the seasonality of other fruits. It's also a great way to support these growers, many of whom are young and/or new to farming. Fruit can be particularly challenging, so by putting something yummy on your dinner table you contribute to a better world. Seriously, how satisfying is that? The other benefit of heading to the Earth Day Farmers Market and meeting the grower is the possibility of setting up regular delivery to your home. It takes a bit of language skill, patience, and time, but most farmers will be happy to make that a reality. Such a relationship may also create the opportunity to visit the farm for events, which makes for more good fun.

Grains 
Organic grains are also available at markets or in supermarkets. Quinoa, for example, can be ordered from Alishan or purchased at slightly upscale stores like Natural House, Seijo Ishii, and National Azabu Supermarket. (The websites are mostly in Japanese, but the products will have both languages or be decipherable by looking at the contents.) The Earth Day Market also has three vendors who sell a variety of grains such as barley, whole soba (buckwheat), millet, as well as red, black, and brown rices and a wide variety of heirloom soybeans. I buy most of what I want there, but if I want an interesting flour for making bread (in the rice cooker) I try my local soba shop or one of the above stores.

It is worth noting that organic growers can also be found at other Tokyo farmers markets. I strongly encourage folks to also head out to those and see what you can find. Growers and producers go to different markets for different reasons – scheduling, table pricing, number of visitors, and location to name just a few – just like customers. Go see what market is near your home and suits your personality and shopping desires. Offerings and vendors change throughout the year, so spend some time exploring and sampling.

Supermarkets 
Organic as well as locally grown produce and products can also be found at most supermarkets. They can be a bit more expensive, but again it's good to keep your money circulating locally. Imports are available and can be expensive. Assorted trade agreements make some things, like citrus, cheap despite the fact that Japan produces heaps of its own. If you want imports of specific foreign foods, it can add up; however, if you want a Japanese version or substitute, it can be cheaper. My husband and I simply switched our ingredients over to whatever was locally and seasonally available that we thought was tasty. There were some errors along the way, so be prepared.

Got more questions? Send them along. I'm happy to help!

Friday, May 2, 2014

May Farmers Markets in Tokyo

Yoshioka Atsuo at the Earth Day Market in Tokyo holding part of a cinnamon tree.
I'm typing this up on a rainy afternoon just before Golden Week arrives. Already, the fields around my new place in Kanagawa are bursting with green and the local chokubaijo are full of citrus still. The mixing of the seasons is one of the best things about Spring. There's some sweet anticipation of summer favorites while bidding a fond farewell to the soft taste of daikon (summer daikon is spicier!) and winter greens. It means the mint in the garden is going gangbusters, and that means mojito's on those hot evenings. It means the ume will soon be ready for boshi-ing (a made up word, of course) and shu-ing. Rest while you can because the market is only going to get better!

Ebisu Market
Sunday, May 4th and Sunday, May 18th
Ebisu will be in full form this month with its two usual markets. Don't miss the opportunity to head to a nifty part of the city where on these sweet Sundays you'll find farmers and producers galore. (One even comes from Okutama with a lovely array of vegetables and a vegetable-based spread that will knock your socks off.) It's worth noting, too, that Do One Good, an animal NPO will be on hand with some of the cutest dogs ever waiting to go home with you!
11am to 5pm
Map

Market of the Sun
Saturday, May 10th and Sunday, May 11th
The newest of Tokyo's farmers markets, Market of the Sun professes to be one of the largest. A short walk from Tsukiji Market and its wonderful surrounds, it's worth a stop for a selection of foodly and crafty items that rivals that at the UNU Market.
10am to 4pm
No map but step out of Kachidoki Station exits A4a and A4b

Koenji Farmer's Market
Saturday, May 18th
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

Nippori Farmer's Market
Saturday, May 17th and Sunday, 18th
Another great market in the city found with a little help from friends, this one is sure to not disappoint. A small but lively market, particularly on Saturday, it is well worth the trip. 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!
10am to 5pm

Sunday, May 25th
I could go wax on forever about how great this market is and how important it is for the future of Japanese farming and global food security. Instead, I'll just insist that folks go and see for themselves what great things the market and these innovative growers are doing. This month the market will be a bit of its wonderful normalness. If something exciting comes up, though, I promise to alert folks. Planning is in the works, so who knows what Fairtrade excitement might be in the air?
10am to 4pm, Rain or shine!

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
Back up and running after a refurbishment of the market space, the Roppongi Farmers Market is as booming and bountiful as ever. Don't miss this chance to meet a grower from Tokyo's very own Kokobunji and sample seasonal bounty.
10am to 4pm (Usually. Do check their website for schedule fluctuations.)
Map

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!