What I Learned In Japan: A Culture That Values Local

By: Lindsay Record

If you caught the article in last month’s newsletter, you know that I was fortunate enough to travel to Springfield’s Sister City, Ashikaga, Japan with an agriculture delegation.

As promised, 4 more things that really resonated with me (remember, you can read 1-4 here.):

  1. They harvest asparagus for 9 months of the year! Grown in high tunnels, a farm we visited was harvesting asparagus in mid-September and said they harvest February – October. This was mind-boggling to me.  I love asparagus.  When it appears in early spring after a long winter of canned and store-bought foods shipped from far away, I am desperate for something fresh. It always seems so fleeting though, usually only making an appearance for a couple months of the year.  Now I’ll admit, I am not well versed in plant biology so I kept asking one of the fellow farmers in the delegation, “How do they do that!? and why don’t farmers back home do that??” He said that perhaps they didn’t harvest all of the asparagus so that it kept sending up new shoots.

  2. Garden plots are huge and abundant.  Rows of daikon radishes, leeks, and potatoes in plots much larger than the average U.S. garden were sprinkled throughout the city just outside the inner core of the city which is primarily commercial.  Maybe some of these are considered farms since the city quoted having 4,000 farmers in the city, 180 of which are large scale.

  3. Japan excels at local.  Ashikaga is a comparable city to Springfield with a slightly larger population (Springfield: about 117,000 and Ashikaga about 154,000) yet when I went to the grocery store with my host sister, I kept pointing to various produce and asking where it was grown. Those apples? Northern Japan. The mikan (similar to a tangerine)? Southern Japan. The daikon radish, spinach, and squash? All in Japan. Not China or South America.

  4. Not only is Japan ahead of the curve with technology, but with value-added agriculture too.  At various shops and markets I saw handmade noodles, local wine, traditional red bean paste popsicles, beer made with the abundant locally grown barley, ready-to-eat lunches, tofu, rice crackers, cakes, and more that were made using locally grown and produced foods. We even visited a small indoor market that was a privately owned store where locally grown and produced products were sold.  They had a huge variety of produce, noodles, and bento boxes which provided ready to eat items that were made with local ingredients.  It gets even better. Those bento boxes? Those were made on-site in a certified kitchen that employed a number of people who processed the food purchased from local farms.  All I have to say is: Springfield, let’s get it together!

Upon returning from my trip, many people asked, what could we learn about farming from Japan? It’s hard to pick the most applicable thing since their farming system doesn’t exist in a vacuum.  It fits into a larger culture that values the craft of food production. The art of making sushi or noodles or rice cakes may be passed down from generation to generation.  They value local. Locally grown and produced food is sold in grocery stores, restaurants, and served in hotels. If there is something that we can take away, it’s the need to change our values.  If we value locally grown and made food, then that’s what we’ll get.

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