Organic Farm Tour – Nagano, Japan
The Shinkansen bullet train is quiet and fast like a 200 MPH speeding ghost that rips through the rural Japanese landscape. Sitting on the train I see a powerful, perfect mountain with just the right amount of clouds hovering over the peak. Nori Ko, owner of Sunshine Juice, says to me “It’s about a 2 hour ride to Nagano, we will get picked up at the station and drive out to the farm.” Nori is taking me to the farm that grows most of the organic vegetables that go into Sunshine’s juice which is sold through their 4 locations in Tokyo.
A Farmer’s Story
Meet Daiji Shindo, probably the only professional Pachinko player turned organic farmer on the planet. Pachinko is that vertical arcade game where a ball falls down from the top against numerous cascading pins, that cause the ball to bounce around on it’s way down. In Japan, this is a popular gambling game which is basically the equivalent to slot machines in the US. According to Shindo, you can use math to beat the game.
Shindo played Pachinko day in and day out for years earning a living, but eventually started working for his sister on their family’s farm. About a decade later, he branched off and started his own organic farm using both modern and ancient farming techniques. It was a struggle to say the least, since there wasn’t much of a market for organic produce in Japan. Organic vegetables are often irregular and inconsistent in terms of size and color, which limits their ability to be sold at the markets.
The Turning Point
Years later in 2013, Nori started Sunshine Juice [read Spread the Juice, Tokyo] and was looking for organic produce. Shindo was introduced to Nori through a friend, and said he would be happy to grow produce for Nori. One of the great things about juice is that it doesn’t matter if the vegetables aren’t perfectly shaped since they get ground up and turned into juice. Now Shindo has expanded his farm by three times the size in order to supply organic produce to Sunshine Juice, and the operation is growing rapidly as Sunshine expands its market.
This story was being told to me as we were walking through the farm, up and down in between the rows of vegetables. We would occasionally stop, pull a plant out of the ground, wipe off the dirt, and eat it. When veggies are truly fresh, you can taste each and every characteristic that makes them unique. It’s not often that I eat vegetables just as they are pulled from the earth, and every time I do it makes me feel guilty for not having my own garden. Sunshine Juice has the vegetables going straight from the ground into cold pressed juice in less than a day, which means ultimate freshness.
Keeping the Plants Healthy
Shindo has interesting ways of keeping the plants safe from pests and hungry animals. A rather modern method of preparing the soil for planting is to wait until there is rain, then wrap up the soil in a translucent plastic sheet that traps the moisture in. Then, when the sun heats the soil through the sheet, it creates a greenhouse-like effect, naturally heating the ground and killing the pests. This treated soil can then be used to grow the plants with a much higher success rate than the non-treated soil.
Although rain is needed to grow the plants, Shindo says that when there is too much rain, the plants grow too quickly and the outer skin is too soft. When plants have a weak outer layer, it lets out too much of the scent of the vegetable, attracting pests that eat and kill the plants. Growing organically is much more complicated than growing with pesticides and chemicals.
Overall, the tour was educational and helped remind me why we are in the business of juice. This organic farm, and many others around the world exist because juice needs them. The new abundance of organic produce is creating a steady supply not only for juiceries, but also for the restaurants, cafe’s, and markets in the community. Sunshine Juice and other juice companies like it are educating the world on eating organic, whole foods, and spreading knowledge of nutrition and science. #spreadthejuice