Monday, August 13, 2012

Field Trip! - Hottarakashi Noen Farm, Tokorozawa Saitama

series of posts from visiting interesting little (and large) cafes, food-related establishments and other places of inspiration.

The other weekend I joined an event organised by Minami Aoyama Yasai Kichi - BBQ at Hottarakashi Noen Farm. There was to be a tour of the farm, helping out in the vegetable plots while the farmer explained about their methods and then a barbecue of fresh-plucked veggies, beef and chicken. I was curious to learn about small scale farming, to meet a Japanese farmer, and very interested in the 'have a go' part of the day too.

Tokorozawa is about an hour from Tokyo on the Seibu Ikebukuro line. We met up, bright and early, at Kotesashi station (小手指駅) and took a bus from the south exit about 15 minutes to the farm, where Nomura-san was waiting for us. Nomura-san does not fit the Japanese farmer stereotype. He's young and fluent in English thanks to time in Australia, and he started Hottarakashi Farm after working in other fields, without a family background in farming. Most farmers you hear reported about in Japan are elderly, and the future of their farms uncertain with many being sold to large agricultural corporations or for other land use after they retire.

Nomura-san explaining about radishes

Nomura-san explained to us about the name ほったらかし農園 / Hotttarakashi Noen - In Japanese 'hottarakashi' means to neglect, or to leave something alone, such as an untidy bedroom. As I understood it, the idea with the farm is to 'leave it alone' as much as possible, by avoiding using chemicals, not being too neat or fussy, to create an environment where insects are part of the ecosystem and vegetables can be grown with as little interference as possible.

We set off on our little tour around the farm and saw nasu / 茄子 / aubergine (eggplant, if you prefer), growing on beautiful purple-stemmed bushes with lilac coloured flowers, sweet potato / さつまいも / satsumaimo leaves sticking out of the soil, huge courgettes / ズッキーニ / zucchini and cucumbers / キュウリ / kyuri growing on the ground. Nomura-san showed us the range of different types of tomatoes we'd be eating later, including a blackish variety. Apparently, when one tomato on the plant suddenly starts ripening, it's likely to have been damaged by bugs - early ripening is a way to try to have a chance of maturing and depositing some seeds onto the ground before that fruit spoils.

We were shown the edamame bean / 枝豆 (未熟な大豆 / mijyuku na daizu / young soybean) plants, grown both with and without a protective covering - when edamame are grown without the cover most of the leaves get eaten by insects if you're not using pesticides, so the covering helps reduce this. Bugs thriving is to some extent an expected and desirable thing at Hottarakashi Farm, where they are finding a balance between the productivity of the land and letting nature do its thing. They mentioned that planting certain crops together, as companion plants can help repel certain pests.

Our first task was to help out in the carrot / 人参 / ninjin field. About 20,000 carrot seeds had been planted and two tiny rabbit-ear shaped leaves were poking through the soil at intervals across the plot. We were to pull out everything else that didn't look like the carrot leaves. The carrots are not as hardy a plant as many of the weeds / 雑草 / zassou, and so doing this task now would help improve the carrots' chances as they mature. During this task we learned that 'leaving it alone' didn't mean there wasn't hard work involved... (picture from before our weeding: left, and after: right)

Next we got to select a few seeds we wanted to plant, were allocated a plot of land each (about 3 paces by 2 paces), and we got to have a go at planting our own little 畑 / hatake / allotment plot! We were told we could visit our plot again to tend or harvest as we liked, but that in general the plots would be largely left to fend for themselves, and any successful veggies picked and used by the team. This part of the day was a lovely surprise, I've never planted my own allotment before :)

White: Zucchini, pink: daikon, green: edamame

The afternoon was a blur of cold beer, BBQ food and chatting in the welcome shade. There were about 15 of us who made the trip out with Yasai Kichi, some customers of the restaurant and some friends of the owner. If you're interested to possibly join a future trip, check out the Yasai Kichi site to see future plans.

Hottarakashi Farm also do a veggie box delivery service! You can order as a one-off, or set up a regular monthly (etc.) delivery, and a box of local vegetables will arrive at your door in Japan, straight from the farm at exactly the time it's in season and tasting best. To order, go to their ameblo site (in Japanese) and send a message to ask for details. The current price on their site for a regular box is 2,100 yen + delivery charge (delivery was 315 yen to my place in Tokyo).

What to do with all those fresh aubergines and courgettes? To commemorate what would be Julia Child's 100th birthday this week (Wednesday 15th of August), I decided to have a go at her ratatouille. It tastes so much better than it looks ;)

Also included in our first box was a large green marrow-type vegetable, which I was informed was actually a Japanese 瓜 / uri / gourd. This gave me the chance to find out how to make something new - asazuke! Light Japanese pickles... I'll share the method with you in another post.

My own little shop probably won't be doing much in the way of savoury dishes, but perhaps the occasional quiche, or even as Nomura-san suggested, vegetable cakes! Carrot cakes, zucchini cakes... Hmm, it's got me thinking now.

No comments:

Post a Comment