Saitama Prefecture- 埼玉県
Location: Fukiage, Saitama Prefecture
Host: Gabare Farm, owned by the Ebara family
Dates: July 14, 2012
Impressions of the Journey:
According to the Ebara family, if you take the hour long train ride from Tokyo to their farm in Fukiage, Saitama prefecture, there is a decisive point about 40 minutes north of Ueno Station at the town of Ageo where the mega-urban landscape suddenly turns into a green carpet of rice fields, rolled out between single family farm houses. We saw this striking change when we visited the Ebara family and experienced our first suburban farming experience. Saitama Prefecture, often compared to the U.S. state of New Jersey, is mostly known as a suburb, or “bedtown” of Tokyo, though despite its industrial landscape, the prefecture hosts some of Japan’s most well-known organic farms and thriving organic farming communities.
Hiroaki and Hiromi Ebara run a small, organic farm in an unlikely spot tucked into an alley off a highway teeming with car dealerships and strip malls. Just a quick turn off the main drag, we were greeted by the sight of the Ebaras’ 400 year-old homestead, formerly a silk farm. The driveway, surrounded by flooded rice fields, was filled with aigamo ducks. The ducks eat pests, soften the soil, and fertilize the rice fields. This method is known as “aigamo farming technique,” (アイガモ農法) and was popularized in Japan, but Ebara mentioned that there are currently only about 10 farmers in Saitama using it. The Ebara’s ducks were stolen last year, a disheartening commentary on the intersection between farming and urban living.
In addition to rice farming, the Ebara’s produce a wide array of organic produce. During our brief farm stay, we picked and cleaned eggplants, peppers, cucumber, and tomatoes, and after that rainy morning’s work we spent an afternoon planting soybeans in the broiling heat. Fukiage is very close to the town of Kumagaya, the hottest town in Japan. Despite the heat, the three generations of Ebaras were kind and gregarious, and it was a pleasure working on their farm.
Once a month since 3.11 (the massive earthquake-tsunami-nuclear accident of last year), the Ebaras drive 10 hours each way to Iwate Prefecture, where they spend a weekend with 3.11 survivors, making bento lunch boxes for sale in intact urban areas. The Ebaras shared some of their experiences working with NGOs and evacuees in the area. They noted that organic farmers in the disaster area were able to start the next chapter in their lives more easily than other farmers. Organic farmers in Japan are part of a strong international network, and some organic farmers affected by 3.11 were able to count on a strong support system to help them relocate to other prefectures, or even as far away as Vietnam, and have already started farming again.
We plan to visit Saitama again in a few months to touch base with Ebaras and harvest some aigamo power-infused rice!
蚕, kaiko, is the word for silkworm. Fukiage and surrounding areas, as well as nearby Gunma Prefecture, used to be known as the silk-producing centers of Japan. The Ebara homestead, a renovated silk farm, featured handmade, sliding glass doors that were almost 100 years old. The beam supporting the house was made from a single tree, of a size and quality that can no longer be found and harvested in Japan. Spending our breaks drinking tea, perched in the breezy doorways of such a harmonius, traditional house, it was hard to believe we were only an hour away from Tokyo.