Home Japanese values Plants and people thrive when you garden with the neighbors

Plants and people thrive when you garden with the neighbors

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Working outside in a community vegetable garden in suburban Tokyo on a sunny Saturday morning in early fall, Ikuko Fujishiro is in his element. People of all ages are engaged in various tasks, but the atmosphere is decidedly relaxed and there is a lot of discussion mixed in at work.

With free time after pivoting to working from home due to the pandemic, Fujishiro accepted a friend’s invitation to help harvest potatoes last June. Grateful for having had the chance to take a break from her laptop, she has been going once or twice a week to the shared plot of her neighborhood.

“So far I have had the experience of plowing the field, planting seeds, weeding and harvesting rice and vegetables – all of this was new to me,” Fujishiro says with a smile. “I have lived in Tokyo, Kobe, London and Shanghai, but I have never had the opportunity to farm before. I feel relaxed and fulfilled when I spend time in the garden.

New Zealander Jon Walsh, Tokyo-based urban agriculture consultant and founder of Business Grow, points out that the COVID crisis has helped raise awareness of the value of food and community.

“Since the start of the pandemic, demand for community garden plots in my part of Tokyo has jumped to the point where I missed the opportunity to win one for the first time in nearly a decade,” he said. said Walsh.

Most of the plots in Tokyo Community Gardens are approximately 3 meters by 5 square meters. | WITH THE AUTHORIZATION OF AGRIMEDIA INC.

Land use

Many towns and villages offer plots of land for the use of local residents for a nominal fee, often in the category of shimin nōen, or “citizen farms”. The rental application period for a community garden plot is usually in the first half of January. Details of the request are published in local newspapers or newsletters, available at town halls, libraries, train stations and other public establishments.

Typically, the ‘winners’ of the plots are notified in February and the gardens open in mid-March. In Tokyo, the plot size is likely to be around 3 by 5 square meters. In most cases, community garden users have to provide almost everything themselves, but can share large shed tools. garden tool with other plot owners – perfect for someone who knows what they’re doing; maybe a little more intimidating for a novice.

Agriculture support company Agrimedia Inc. offers a more structured type of community gardening experience at its approximately 110 Share Batake locations (“shared fields”) in Kanto and Kansai. Tools, seeds, and fertilizer are all included in the plot fee, and experienced gardening advisers are on hand to help. According to Agrimedia spokesperson Masahiro Ohta, interest in Share Batake has exploded since the start of the pandemic, with some 70% of users being complete beginners in vegetable farming.

Share Batake is also seeking to address the problem of pockets of unused farmland in urban areas.

“By making efficient use of unused farmland, we believe this model can be a win-win situation – both for those who wanted to grow vegetables but were unable to do so, and for those who had vacant land. and needed help managing them, ”Ohta says.

Amid issues such as the climate crisis and changes in the global food supply, Walsh predicts that community gardens will play an increasingly valuable role in society.

“They are a microcosm of what food production can be, should be and probably will be in the very near future,” he says, adding that community gardens are a tangible way to impart food farming skills to the younger generation. . .

“Long-term food supply is a critical issue, especially as Japan’s food self-sufficiency rate in FY2020 fell to 37%, its lowest level since record breaking in 1965. Ordinary people will increasingly have to take responsibility for at least part of their food supply, and urban agriculture using community gardens is an important way to achieve this, ”said Walsh.

Urban agriculture consultant Jon Walsh believes community gardens will play an increasingly important social role, especially in Japan.  |  COURTESY OF JON WALSH
Urban agriculture consultant Jon Walsh believes community gardens will play an increasingly important social role, especially in Japan. | COURTESY OF JON WALSH

Grow together

With many international residents unable to travel to their home countries, community gardens can also be an opportunity to forge new relationships.

“Starting a conversation isn’t much easier than giving fresh food to another gardener or neighbor,” says Walsh. “I have often given my excess food to other urban farmers and received a lot more in return. When you grow your own vegetables, especially tall vines like tomatoes and cucumbers, your fresh produce bills can go downhill. Try 1 per tomato! “

Following a decision to practice a more environmentally friendly diet, Joanna Arai got involved in urban agriculture several years ago. Originally from Poland, she now grows vegetables on a shared plot in downtown Tokyo.

“It’s very rewarding and fun to be able to witness all stages of life and then provide my body with incredible flavor and nutrition,” she says.

Across the country, Canadian Jodi Lindsay shares her garden and produces with her friends and neighbors from Shikoku. In the wake of the uncertainty caused by the pandemic, she believes it is more important than ever to pool resources with those of similar values.

“Besides the obvious health and economic benefits of producing our own food, our children are also exposed to a variety of people and knowledge that will prepare them for their own future,” says Lindsay.

Concerns about health, lifestyles and livelihoods due to the pandemic have also led to increased stress levels. TELL Outreach Coordinator Selena Hoy emphasizes that it’s more important than ever to do things that nourish the soul.

“Community gardening is a great hobby in that regard and it ticks so many boxes – change the scenery, get out into the great outdoors and nature, move your body and exercise, do something creative and establish. social ties – all in a relatively safe outdoor environment for COVID-19, ”she said.

So if you’re up to try something bigger than a microscopic balcony garden, contact your local gardening community and get cultivated.

For more information on Jon Walsh’s urban farming consulting services, visit bit.ly/urbanfarming-jp. Prices for Share Batake plots vary by region. For more information and to check the gardens available near you, visit sharebatake.com (in Japanese only).

Some tips for gardening in the fall:

While spring may seem like the best time to garden, Jon Walsh says fall is a wonderful time for urban agriculture in Japan. Here are some of her tips for getting the most out of planting this season:

In warmer parts of Japan, the fall-winter growing season is likely to run from mid-September to mid-November, during which time plant growth will slow to virtually stop. If you are growing something at home, you may need to clean up any debris and weeds before you start planting outdoors, as well as freshening up the soil in your planting containers to maintain these essential plant nutrients. interior and exterior.

To find out what plants can be grown in the fall, visit your local plant store or home store and see what varieties they have available. Options may include broccoli, mizuna green vegetables, chingensai (bok choy) and herbs. Walsh advises growing a combination of seedlings and seeds – the products from the seedlings will be ready to eat first, with the seeds not far behind them. If you want to put food on the plates quickly, sow seeds of young shoots. These come in a range of different mixes and, with good sun exposure, should be ready to harvest in 12-16 days.

Growing vegetables isn’t rocket science, so don’t be afraid to seek advice and learn the basics. The key is to sow the seeds at the right depth, to grow most of your plants in places that receive maximum sunlight and water regularly. Almost anywhere a flower, shrub, or tree is currently growing, this will be a good location – just replace the plant with an herb or vegetable and add general purpose soil suitable for a wide variety of plant types. .

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