While it may have started off as a bit of a faddish trend, the rise in the number of farmer’s markets and green innovations like Imera’s soil-less “hydromembrane” has accompanied a resurgence of interest in the potential of urban agriculture and farming.
Trying to come up with innovative ways to both promote and supply urban-dwellers with access to fresh, locally-grown foods as well as open green spaces that make the city more livable is not always easy, but urban planners, companies, communities and individuals alike are not shying away from the challenge. We’ve decided to look at 5 initiatives around Tokyo worth checking out.
1) Changing the way we buy our food: United Nations University’s Farmer’s Market + 246 Commons
The upmarket fashion districts of Aoyama and Omotesando is not where you would typically find your local farmer’s market, but the one held most weekends outside the United Nations University hosts over 40 stallholders whose products are grown by farmers in the Kanto area. The market was thought up by Roswitha Lasser and Terao Kurosaki, cultural advisors to the UNU, as an attempt to encourage consumers to buy direct from farmers.
In a similar spirit, 246 Common located a short distance away is an outdoor food court and farmer’s market community that sells a range of foods, drinks and snacks.
2) Teaching the community: Shibaura House’s ‘Green Project’
Shibaura House is an event and workshop space located in the business district of Minato-ku. Designed by Sejima Kazuyo, the three-storey space recently opened a community herb garden on the first floor.
To accompany the opening, Shibaura House is has started a ‘Green Project’ that is running until the end of July. The project aims to get the community engaged in not only cultivating herbs, but also involved in the process of preparing and eating them through series of workshops and expert talks surrounding how to use herbs in recipes as well as how to preserve and dry herbs properly.
Shibaura House is also host to a number of weekly and monthly events focused on food preparation and production, including Eat Talk, which brings in professional chefs who teach participants how to cook a meal during their lunch time breaks.
3) Showcasing fresh produce: Roppongi Nouen
A farm transported from the countryside to the city, Roppongi Nouen is a urban agriculture project that encompasses a restaurant, farm and public space run by the children of farmers. The farm section is housed in a seemingly haphazard arrangement of eight glass containers, each leased to a farm producer to grow vegetables as a way to promote and showcase agriculture to city dwellers.
Next to the containers is an experimental restaurant which uses vegetables and meats from both the onsite farm as well as direct from many of the owner’s parents’ farm. All of the produce used in the restaurant can be traced back to its source through photos of the grower’s faces and fields.
The space was created by architecture firm On Design, and was envisioned as a place to foster community through agriculture in the urban city. In line with this concept, the space also contains an open space where various events are hosted to encourage city dwellers to think more about where the food they are eating is coming from.
4) Urban Farms in Unexpected Places: City Farm in Odaiba, Pasona O2 Farm, Omotesando Farm
City Farm Odaiba
City Farm is one of the increasing number of rooftop farms appearing in urban centres around the world. Located in Odaiba, the farm grows a range of fruit and vegetables common in the Japanese kitchen, including melons, soybeans and tomatoes. Notably, the urban rooftop farm grows rice in traditional wet circumstances that require different draining and irrigation systems from many rooftop farms located in Europe and North America.
After “Tokyo Plan 2000″ was implemented on April 1, 2001, any new building greater than 1000 square meters is required to green at least 20% of their usable roof space. Far from just growing crops and vegetables, rooftop farms are being seen as a way to address rising temperatures in Tokyo through a process called evapotranspiration. This process removes heat from the air effectively lowering the temperature of roof surfaces and requires buildings to consume less energy for air conditioning and the like.
Pasona O2 Farm
No list on urban agriculture would be complete without mentioning Pasona O2, the farm located in a former bank vault in the business district of Otemachi. Affectionately referred to as the ‘Jungle Building’ by locals, the building is the headquarters of the Pasona Group, a job creation company that also stresses protection of the environment and promotion of Japanese agricultural industries. The farm uses a combination of traditional farming methods, special lighting, and hydroponic innovations to grow fruits, vegetables and rice.
Based on the concept of ‘Symbiosis with Nature’, Pasona’s office-urban farm grows over 200 types of flora on their veranda including Japanese wisteria, maple trees, and fruit trees. The building’s veranda, roof and exterior walls are covered with deciduous trees that acts as shade during the hot summer months and allows employees to reduce their air-conditioning usage.
Their well known rice paddy is harvested up to three times a year, and is cultivated under two high-pressure sodium and metal-halide lamps which are elevated or lowered depending on growth monitoring.
Another rooftop farm, Omotesando Farm is located on the top of a building that overlooks the skyscrapers of Tokyo. Started by architect Kazuki Iimura after the success of his rice farm in Ginza, the area is a rental space that offers sixteen plots at rents ranging from $170 to $250 a month.
The farm overlooks views of Shinjuku, Roppongi and Aoyama and utilises a special light-weight soil from Chiba Research Centre. Many of the plot owners are young people who are new to vegetable farming and were attracted by the proximity of the farm to their offices.
5) Another way of using rooftops: Ginza Honeybee Farm
Ginza Honeybee Farm
Fruits and vegetables are not the only things that are being cultivated on Tokyo’s numerous rooftops. Ginza Honeybee Farm is a nonprofit organisation launched in March 2006 that keeps hives in the ritzy district of Ginza.
There are currently about 150,000 bees living and collecting pollen from Tokyo’s city plants, and the group sells up to 300 kilograms of honey each year. The honey gathered from these Ginza bees are sold as an exclusive item to the area’s top patisseries and bars, including Matsuya department store.
The farm puts a strong emphasis on education, and periodically invites groups to visit the hives in order to educate urban dwellers about agriculture. A large number of volunteers including children, help in collecting and labeling the various types of honey.
Bonus: ‘Gyaru’ and Maid Farmers
While the idea of ‘gyaru’ and agriculture seem at odds with each other, entrepreneur, Jpop singer and gyaru Shiho Fujita started up a rice farming project in 2009 as a way to educate young people about problems surrounding the environment and food production. Dubbed ‘Nogyaru’ – a portmanteau of the words ‘nogyo’ (agriculture) and gyaru – the project ploughed 24 hectares of paddy to produce and sell rice. The final produce was sold as ‘Shibuya Rice’, named after the well-known gyaru hangout, and was packaged in female torso-shaped bottles that bore the figure of the emblematic dog Hachiko on its front.
Activities have not stopped at simply introducing young women to farming. Since 2010, Fujita has also organised farming day trips for young mothers and their children, collaborated with jeans maker Edwin to design denim overalls to both work and party in, and has even published a book on the gyaru farming project.
Another example of two groups that don’t seemingly mix, an organisation called Licolita based in Akihabara uses the help of the numerous maid cafes in the area to conduct various environmental activities. Currently, they use the help of volunteer maids to harvest and clean rice and vegetables that are being grown in a roop-top farm in the area.
For an incredibly dense and populated city like Tokyo, the problems associated with increasing urbanisation such as the heat island effect and poor air quality are becoming increasing causes for concern. In addition, people are becoming more concerned about the safety of the food they are eating as well as environmental conservation following the Fukushima nuclear fallout. The diversity of projects described above provides an interesting insight into how ideas and innovations related to urban agriculture will shape attempts to restructure the way Tokyo produces, buys and eats food in the future.