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Experience Farms and Community Gardens in Japan: How to Start Growing Your Own Food

My shimin nouen spot!

This post first appeared on March 5, 2018. The links have been updated and checked; however, if you happen to know of other options, please do let me know in the comments below. I'd be very happy to add them to the list! -JB

I'm often asked if I know how people can find a little spot of their own to grow something in Japan. This post offers a variety of links to help people get started on their hunt.

Shimin Nouen (Community Gardens)
Shimin nouen (community gardens) and taiken nouen (experience farms) are a great way to get a little garden, get involved with the community here, and have some tasty fun, too. Shimin nouen tend to be run by local governments - cities, prefectures, or towns - and are scattered about the area. There will be rules about managing the plot, possibly about what materials (organic or not) can be used, pets, children, and possibly even times of access. Terms of use may be limited to two or three years in popular locations, while in others the spot is yours for the growing as long as you like. My shimin nouen is actually a local club activity with some rules but no term limits. More of this kind do exist, but they usually don't have websites. Word of mouth is how most folks learn about them, so be friendly!

A weekend session explaining the project for the day at a taiken nouen.

Taiken Nouen (Experience Farms)

Taiken nouen are often run by NPPO's or private farmers who want to keep their land in production but don't necessarily want to farm on a large scale. Taiken nouen offer these farmers, particularly in urban and suburban areas, the chance to do just that. It also caters to member of the local community hankering to get their hands in the dirt but not sure where or how to start. Twice a month on weekends classes are offered in everything from planting seeds to pests to techniques for weeding and harvest times. It can be a pretty highly managed affair, but for newbies it is just the kind of hand-holding that is needed and wanted. The farmers I helped out in Tokyo for five years made the transition to this a few years ago and have no regrets, especially now that their two adorable grandchildren are on the scene. The people participating seem very happy, too, as more than half of the members renewed again for this year! (They still have openings, I believe, so check out their web page.)

Work underway at a taiken nouen.

Renting a Field
It is also possible to rent a farmers field, but I'd only advise that if your language and culture skills were reasonably strong and if you live in a semi-rural area. Being known and connected is very important here, and even eager Japanese growers can find this a challenge, so don't feel that you are being singled out if you are a foreigner. Pleasant persistence is sometimes the most effective tool in this situation along with patience.

Useful Websites for Finding a Place to Grow
Following is a list of websites to get you started on your hunt. Prices vary by location and program, but all should be satisfying. Much of this information does not exist in English at all, so make good use of Google translate and then be brave and head out to see how you can get involved. To be honest, if you are a foreigner, you may be greeted with friendly hesitation at first. However, pleasant persistence, lots of smiling and a general easy-goingness will take you far.

FarmNavi - This website lists both community gardens and experience farms all over Japan. It is not totally comprehensive, but it is a good resource to get the ball rolling.

Sharebatake - Another great website for finding taiken nouen operations all over Japan. The name combines the word 'share' with 'hatake (farm)'. (The h goes to b for pronunciation purposes.) Clever, eh?

Nyouen Kyoukai - This nationwide taiken nouen NPO offers information on experience farms all over the country. This happens to be the organization that my Tokyo farmers work with, too.

As I mentioned above, each prefecture and city provides a list of community gardens like this page from Kanagawa Prefecture.

This page for Oiso, a coastal town in Kanagawa, offers a list of the community gardens, the number of spots available, and lays out fees and terms. Some do have a limited time usage (up to three years, for example), so be sure to ask.

Local Japan Agriculture (JA) offices will also sometimes list farms or places open to community agriculture that might be anything from straight-up gardening to citrus farming or a kind of taiken nouen. This one for Hadano City in Kanagawa is a good example.

Then there are organizations like Oiso Farm, which is a kind of hybrid of all of these yet again, that combine some form of hands-on farming experience with potlucks, work parties, regular parties, and general fun. (This group is definitely foreigner friendly and also happens to be the force behind the lovely Oiso Market, by the way. )

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