Prefecture: Shizuoka City, Shizuoka Prefecture
Date:-February 8, 2012
Interesting trivia learned on this trip: The stems of tomatoes should not be removed until just before they are eaten. Removing the stem after picking markedly reduces the fruit’s vitamin C content.
Impressions of the Journey:
In typical fashion, we traipsed over to Yokohama train station at the crack of dawn and floundered our way through a few train transfers in order to get to Shizuoka as early as possible. We met our wonderful host, Robert, in Shizuoka City’s train station, and by the time we walked across the small parking lot, he had already blown us away with his knowledge of the area’s agriculture and history. Having lived in Shizuoka for 35 years, he has amassed a store of knowledge rivaled perhaps only by Wikipedia.
An often repeated catchphrase in Japan is 地産地消 (“eat local”), and taking this philosophy to heart in Shizuoka would be an enjoyable endeavor. Unlike many other regions of Japan that focus on only one or two specialty crops, Shizuoka’s accommodating climate allows for the cultivation of high quality melons, persimmons, berries, green leafy things, wasabi, tea, citrus, and over 100 other crops. Additionally, with its mountain streams and ocean access, Shizuoka’s fish, seafood, and sake are some of the best loved in Japan. Robert mentioned that Shizuoka prefecture produces a variety and quantity of food sufficient to sustain its population for 6 months, a tidbit that is particularly noteworthy when one considers that, as a nation, Japan is a net food importer and has an estimated food self-sufficiency rate of about 39% (on a calorie basis).
Impressions of Agricultural Life in Shizuoka:
Robert’s Employer, M2 Labo, supports Shizuoka’s agriculture and organic culture in several innovative ways, focusing on branding and marketing local farms and their products since most farmers do not have the time to promote their own businesses. An initiative supported by Shizuoka’s prefectural government, the project not only helps connect farmers with potential outlets for their products, it also helps better acquaint local consumers with information about where and how their food is produced.
Our first stop for the day was an organic farm called Shizen no Chikara (“The Power of Nature”), a two year old organic farm that employs 13 staff and supplies organic, pesticide-free produce to several local restaurants and markets. Perhaps the most amazing project at Shizen no Chikara at the moment is its successful production of pesticide-free strawberries, a feat I thought was impossible after my time working on a strawberry farm in Saga prefecture. The greenhouse full of strawberries is also home to Shizen no Chikara’s thriving bee colony, which happily pays its rent by pollinating strawberry plants and aiding in the formation of round, shapely berries. We visited several tuber and vegetable fields as well, and were astounded by the sheer variety of tubers, root vegetables, and leaf vegetables that were growing on the same, small patches of land. The diversity of Shizuoka produce really stood out.
Kanji: Something we at 47 Japanese Farms have discussed in a variety of settings recently are efforts, particularly by newer farmers, to close the gap between producers and consumers in Japan. Most city-dwellers in Japan do not have access to much information about where their food comes from or how it is produced. Additionally, because of long-standing structures that insert several entities between food producers and food consumers, production and distribution are unnecessarily complicated, and prices are, in many cases, unnecessarily high. Nevertheless, these supply chain inefficiencies are being questioned, and a recent observation is that many of the farmers we have spoken with who wish to create a closer relationship between Japanese consumers and producers are also the same individuals who are leading the charge to promote real change, innovation, and internationalization in Japanese agriculture. Given the importance of their mission, particularly as Japan mulls over trade talks regarding the liberalization of its agriculture, the kanji that captures the atmosphere of this trip is 距離 [distance].