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Making A Case for Biodiversity

25 Oct

These have been epic times for Hello Farm Organics! We welcomed our first school group last weekend. The Junior High School students from Osaka YMCA International School spent a few days exploring the biodiversity found both on the farm and in the surrounding forest and rivers in the Keihoku, Kyoto area. There were many first time experiences for both the students and us, notably handling bugs, digging sweet potatoes, getting really muddy, night hiking, catching salamanders, and seeing and eating organic veggies. Our purpose for the farm overnight visit was to: explore the function of biodiversity on an organic farm. To do this the students did the following:

– garden tour and exploration
– digging sweet potatoes
– planting garlic
– sowing radish seeds
– night hike
– stream study
– forest hike

Through their hands-on exploration, the students discovered that biodiversity has an important role in maintaining a balance between garden helpers and garden pests. They learned that biodiversity provides and supports symbiotic relationships among plants and animals, which help food crops grow. For example; companion plants form microbial relationships in their root systems and adding rice mulch provides not only moisture retention properties, but also fungal helpers for decomposition and soil nutrition. Following are some of the students’ written reflections. Enjoy!

Yuka’s Reflection (Grade 6)
I think biodiversity is important to both people and nature because bugs that hinder farming and destroy crops and vegetables come from an imbalance of nature. If the imbalance of nature gets worse, we humans might not be able to survive because there will be a lot of pests that make it harder for farmers to grow crops, and farmers will decrease because there is an imbalance of nature.

On my night hike, I saw the larva of a firefly, even though we were walking without our flashlights on. I was very surprised because I have never seen the larva of a firefly in my whole life, and October is too cold for fireflies to thrive because fireflies are out in June, not October. When I was planting garlic seeds on the first day, I felt that living on a farm is extremely tough because we need to work even though it’s raining.

On my morning hike, I went in the river and saw a lot of wildlife in the river. I found out there is a tree with its branches covered with a lot of thorns, and I saw a plant that I have never seen or heard of that has a lot of spikes. As we went further, it became deeper. It went over my boots, and that caused my socks to get wet. As a result, I decided to take off my wet socks and enjoy the water in my boots. It felt very squishy and weird to have a lot of water in my boots. It felt very cold to go in the river. At first, I was scared to get in, but I started to get used to the river, and the cold water. After our river hike, we went nature hiking. We had to go over many obstacles in the wild. As soon as I got to the place we were going to go taiko drumming, my legs hurt because I had taken off my socks earlier. Later, we went taiko drumming. It felt good to suck in the fresh air. During our taiko drumming session in the wilderness and the peace and quiet of Kyoto in the countryside, we learned a lot of new songs on our Japanese taikos, and we memorized them all. It was very exciting because I found a lot of biodiversity in the wild, such as fungi.

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Taiyo’s Reflection (Grade 6)
I went to Hello Farm Organics. It was really interesting. In this farm they don’t use medicine [pesticides] to kill bugs. From this I learned how important the life cycle is and we even saw an ecosystem in rivers and forest. Ecosystems is the connection between bugs, animals, plants and people, like pollinating bees or bugs eating bad bugs. If one animal or bug is gone the ecosystem will change. I could do things that I can’t do around here in city. I could breathe clean air and see lots of trees. I looked at different kinds of biodiversity and we had a chance to dig sweet potatoes and plant garlic seeds. We even played drums and it was really fun. For dinner and lunch, the food was all vegetarian and it tasted delicious. You can learn why the food is all vegetables, top. Doing all of this I learned how hard it is to live in the countryside. It was very interesting.

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Ji Young’s Reflectin (Grade 6)
I learned that biodiversity is important to farmers, especially to the ones growing organic foods because they need to have some kind of repellent that doesn’t include medicine [pesticides] so that the bugs won’t come and eat up their vegetables or fruits. But because biodiversity is all around the farm all the time, a ladybug, for example can come and eat the pesky aphids or pollinate flowers to make fruits and vegetables.

I experienced sweet potato digging. It was raining quite heavily, so we had to dig in the rain. We cut off stems for food, and I know for sure that the sweet potato stems are delicious because I eat them in my home country, Korea. I thought it would be fun so my friends and I were digging, cutting and picking on the farm in the rain for hours. We all got very wet when we went back home. We ate cookies Mrs.Richardson had baked for us with tea. It was delicious eating it after working so hard.

I also experienced going up the river. I was wearing crocs so my feet were freezing cold but I didn’t care because my feet soon got used to the water temperature. As we were starting to walk up the river, my friend and I found a snake. I was so glad that the snake was a dead one. Whew~ Then we got in the water and started to look under stones which is a habitat crabs were most likely to live. I found big ones, small ones, teeny-tiny ones, and gigantic ones. We also found tiny fish.

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Jia’s Reflection (Grade 6)

I went to Hello Farm Organics and I saw many things there. First, I saw a lots of insects and I felt scared of them. But after I kept walking on the farm, I got more brave with the bugs. On the farm I saw many kinds of vegetables and most of them were edible. There were different smells, shapes, and tastes. Also there were insects all around the farm. I learned that they are important because they need to pollinate the flowers, but insects eat all the good parts so it’s not good for plants. I also saw plants with all holes in it because there were not enough predator insects around. After we finished our tour of the farm, we tried to dig out the sweet potato and cut the sweet potato stems for dinner. But, it was really hard I got muddy and dirty.

After that we did our seeding. Seeding was much more easier than digging. Seeding is the main part for growing so I needed to put complicated soil like compost in the ground, and push down the garlic cloves. When I finished planting I washed my hands and legs with the mountain water. It was fun because we caught many frogs, salamanders, and crabs in there.

On this field trip to Hello Farm Organics, we got more friendly with the nature there and I got more brave with the bugs. It was the great trip ever!

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Mahiro’s Reflection (Grade 6)

I went to Hello Farm Organics. When I got there I was excited. In the garden I saw some beetle larvae. When I saw the larvae, I felt like it was weird because, one patch of radish was totally fine but another one looked terrible. Then I learned that there are not enough predator insects around because of pesticides. This can cause predators of the larvae, like ladybugs to stay away so the larvae eat the radish leaves. I thought biodiversity was important because without a healthy environment, the beetle larvae will be out of balance without predators, and find other plants to eat and at the end all of the vegetables will be eaten by the larvae.

At the end of the trip I felt sad leaving the farm because I wanted to go through the forest and also go up the river more because it was fun having to look at nature and biodiversity in the countryside.

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Hayato’s Reflection (Grade 6)
I found a skull of a boar when hiking. There was green moss on it. It was a great experience to watch how the skull work. This connects to biodiversity because if an animal dies, the bone would give nutrients to the dirt. So the plants grow and insects would come to eat the plants and the good dirt would make the tree grow so a woodpecker, bird or an insect can live in that tree. Then humans would cut off the trees and use that to make lots of different technologies and when that human dies he would be buried in the dirt and give back dirt nutrients. This would make a connection and a rotation [life cycle] of biodiversity.

In the garden, there were lots of worms. When I picked it up, Matthew, the farm helper, spoke rapidly, “Don’t kill it!” Matthew explained that worms make the dirt good and healthy. I already know that worms take the dirt in to their bodies and make new dirt called castings. Its like compost. We dug sweet potatoes, too. Large ones and a tiny ones. It rained a lot but it was very fun doing it using the shovel. It was hard to dig it slowly because I might cut off the sweet potatoes into half. But this was a good experience to find out the perspective of a farmer who grows crops and comparing the citizens who eat the farmer’s crops.

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2014 Veggie Box Startup

9 Jul

Dear Hello Farm Organics customers,

Spring started out very well with the addition of a new vegetable garden, growing rice for the first time, and welcoming WWOOFers from around the world.

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Unfortunately, June brought us a violent hail storm, which wiped out a lot of our crops and damaged most.

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We have since recovered by replacing seedlings, re-seeding and repairs. Although it caused a delay in our sales and our veggie food box program, the happy news is that we are now ready to start the box program. This year, we will be offering one size of box, with about 8 to 12 different, seasonal varieties of organic vegetables. The box is suitable for two adults and will last about one week. If you have a big family, we can ship the equivalent of two boxes worth of veggies in one larger box. We use a refrigerated delivery service and your veggies will arrive on Monday nights, wherever you are in Japan.

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The box will cost 3000yen, plus a shipping fee depending on your location.
Kansai area is 1200yen
Kanto area is 1400yen

We will start deliveries on Monday, July 21st.

Please email us at hellofarmorganics(at)gmail(dot)com if you would like to order a box or would like further information.

Happy eating!

Spring!

14 Mar

We are in full spring seeding mode now. The snow is finally receding and we are able to start digging out overwintered crops like cabbage, baby salad mix, onions and garlic. image

Our indoor grow lights are already full with flats of seeded kale, leek, sweet peppers, eggplant and tomatoes. Always being creative, we found that our heating blanket works nicely to keep the soil a bit warmer for quicker germination. image
Once the seedlings have their secondary or tertiary leaves, we ‘harden’ them off outside for the first time on overcast days. This allows the seedlings a bit of time to adjust to factors like wind and cooler nights, without the harsh UV rays that can burn the tender leaves.

Our first spring seedlings are kale.  This year, we hope to grow a lot more kale to keep up with the demand. Apparently juicing it is all the rage.

Our first spring seedlings are kale. This year, we hope to grow a lot more kale to keep up with the demand. Apparently juicing it is all the rage.


Soon, we will start moving them into cold frames, which are like mini greenhouses, but inexpensive to make. Please watch for updates as we approach our veggie box start date some time in mid-June.
Happy planting!

Year End Reflections

26 Dec

Hello Farm Organics would like to send out a warm and heartfelt thank you to all our customers, volunteers, retailers, friends and family who have supported us in our second full year of production here in Keihoku, Kyoto. We very much feel we are still learning the local climate, pest management techniques and soil fertility balance, and look forward to our ongoing learning next year. Overall, it was a successful year, full of events, triumphs, challenges, good times, and hard work. Here are some highlights.

In September, we became a registered WWOOF farm (World Wide Organization of Organic Farms). We have already had some wonderful memory-making moments with excellent helpers. Gambarou!

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All season we were constantly amazed at how the natural world finds a balance within our own garden. This Mud Dauber wasp is a natural a welcome predator, helping our Kale and brasica plants survive moth caterpillar attacks. Thanks, guys!

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In November, there was flooding in the Kyoto area due to a typhoon. Luckily, we only sustained some damage to leafy crops and all our tomato trellises fell down. We consider ourselves lucky as many local fields were devastated by mud slides.

 

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We enjoyed exploring new and exciting varieties of fruits and vegetables for our customers.  These Purple Tomatillo were excellent for salsa. Next year, we plan to grow organic rice for the first time, as well as Elephant Garlic, and more.

 

 

 

 

 

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We also continued saving as much of our own seed as possible. In this picture, we discovered that Okra seed can cross pollinate, meaning different varieties need to be planted separately, at greater distances from one-another.

 

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We wish everyone a happy and safe holiday season. We really look forward to garden adventures in 2014 as our community grows and flourishes. Thank you, everyone!!!

Summer Update

5 Aug

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Welcome to Aurora, our home stay summer student!

Hello Farm has had the wonderful chance to host a summer home stayer from Canada. Aurora is a high school student with an interest in Art and Japanese culture. She has been helping out in the garden with weeding, harvesting, saving seeds and planting while here in Kyoto. She has also been learning the Japanese language, how to cook Japanese food, and is taking Taiko drumming lessons from a nearby sensei. She is a star helper!

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The bounty is here!

We have 22 varieties of heritage tomatoes to offer our customers this season. Some restaurants have been enjoying the super sweet micro tomatoes, and the colorful large slicing tomatoes. This is our busiest time of year for harvesting. Today, we harvested over 11 Kg of cucumbers alone! So busy!

 

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Share The Love Japan

We are delighted that we have been able to send several shipments of vegetables to Fukushima again this year in response to the need for safe and healthy food since the 2011 nuclear disaster. Our most recent delivery included over 20 000Yen of mixed veggies to an orphanage and a kindergarten school lunch program in Fukushima prefecture. We have been able to do this for two consecutive years now because of the generous support of Share The Love Japan. We look forward to our next shipment this weekend.

Launching Our Veggie Box Program

15 Jun

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We are delighted to announce that we are now taking orders for our Hello Farm Organics organic veggie box program.  Thank you to those who have been waiting patiently over the long winter months. We started the veggie box program this week, and are now taking reservations for our weekly Monday night deliveries. All boxes will feature our seasonal, mixed vegetables and will change weekly. You have a choice of a small (3000Yen) or large (4000Yen) mixed veggie box.  We can send you your veggies by cold delivery, anywhere in Japan for an additional 1000Yen.  Because the kinds of vegetables you receive will be determined by us, based on what is seasonably available, our program is well-suited for food lovers with a spirit of exploration and surprise.

If you are interested in ordering from us, please read through our blog for details about our philosophy, what to expect, and how to order. Please contact us by email at hellofarmorganics(at)gmail(dot)com if you have questions or would like to place an order. We will send you payment details at that time. Please also note that in our first year of the veggie box program, we will have limited space to keep things manageable, but will do our best to reserve a spot for you on a convenient delivery date.

Thank you, and happy eating!

Sincerely,

Ava and Zenryu

25 May

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Plant Sale!!!!

We were so excited about spring seeding, that we planted too many tomato seedlings! If you are a grower living in Japan, you may be interested in purchasing some of our organic, super healthy and ready-to plant tomato seedlings. We offer 22 varieties of heirloom, slicing, cherry, and canning tomatoes. We also have a rainbow of colors to pick from including red, orange, yellow, green, purple, black, white and striped! Each plant costs 200 Yen and we can ship by delivery truck. Please contact us by email for more details and to order at hellofarmorganics(at)gmail(dot)com

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This spring has been very good to us. The weather has been excellent for transplanting on time, and the conditions have been great for successful germination. We are already harvesting head lettuce, baby salad mix, snap peas, radish, parsley, and celery for On The Slope, our main distributor. If you are interested in purchasing a mixed veggie box and you live in Japan, please order through www.on-the-slope.com. Their organic fruits and vegetables are sourced from Kansai area farmers, including our farm.You can email them in English and they will send you an English order form by email. You can also call them by phone. They are super friendly!

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We have also been exploring the practice of companion planting this spring. With reference to the book, Carrots Love Tomatoes by Louise Riotte, we have been trying to both improve our soil fertility as well as maximize on our space. In this picture, we have planted some spring head lettuce among our overwintered bulb onions. We had quite a bit of winter damage to our onion patch, so we inter-planted with lettuce. The main concept here is that companion plants offer a mutually beneficial relationship both above and sub-soil. Some companions deter pests, others form symbiotic nutritional relationships, while others promote healthy growth by providing a bit of shade or keeping moisture in the soil. Its all quite amazing!

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Meet our newest garden family member, Kuwa-chan, our new wheel hoe. She is a one-of-a-kind in Japan with custom-welded parts from Orchard Hill Farm in Ontario, Zenryu-made handles, and a recycled bike wheel. All cleverly assembled for super-hero stirrup hoe magic to happen. We’ve been waiting for months!! So happy!!!!

Spring is Here!

4 Apr

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The  glorious cherry blossoms all over Kansai and Japan are a sure sign of spring and we have been super busy getting ready for our second growing season at Hello Farm Organics. In the photo, Zenryu is using Kyoto rice straw to trellis organic snap peas, which we seeded in the fall and successfully overwintered under the snow. It is always exciting for us to learn local Kyoto techniques from our neighbors. This was the first time either of us had trellised peas in this way. This year, we have been able to get into our garden much earlier and as a result, we feel much more prepared for the coming growing season.

In short, here is what we have been up to in March/April:

– seeding pots of eggplant, heritage tomatoes, sweet peppers, parsley and basil under our warm grow lights for later transplanting

– seeding trays of kale, lettuce and broccoli seedlings in our cold frames (mini green houses for cooler areas) for later transplanting

– weeding and preparing garden beds for planting

– direct seeding radish and baby salad mix in the garden

– maintaining our overwinter crops such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, broad beans, snap peas, cabbage, garlic, bulb onions, and baby salad mix

– consulting closely with our main distributor and supporter, Saka-no-Tochu (On-The-Slope)

As promised, we still plan to start offering our own Hello Farm Organics veggie box delivery program in June.  Although we have continued to harvest all winter, our program will not start until June when we have a greater variety of produce to offer.  We will have 20 veggie boxes available for families each week on a first-come, first-serve basis. We will cater to English-speaking residents as it is a challenge for non-Japanese speakers and readers to find healthy, safe, organic vegetables in Japan.

If you currently live in Japan and are eager to start ordering organic vegetables now, please visit On-The-Slope.com. A large percentage of our produce is already distributed through On-The-Slope and can be found in some of their veggie boxes and in their store, even now. As you will see on their website, they are absolutely committed to supporting organic farmers and consumers, by only purchasing and distributing safe, organic, and naturally grown food. On-The-Slope now has some English pages on their website and you can now order using their English printable order form. Try calling if you cannot sort it out, as many of the staff speak English and are very friendly. (+81) 75-200-9773. Tell them Hello Farm Organics sent you 🙂

Please keep watching for news and updates. We sincerely appreciate your ongoing interest and support in our farm. We can’t wait to start sending donations Northbound to Fukushima again this year. We are so happy to be able to continue participating in food safety programs here in Japan, and the Hello Farm Project again this year.

Love and peace,

Ava and Zenryu

Happy New Year!

14 Jan

As we enter 2013, Hello Farm Organics would like to take a moment to reflect on our successes in our first growing season. We feel so blessed to have been given the opportunity to start our own organic farm here in beautiful Kyoto. We have so much to be thankful for in our first year. Here is a timeline with some highlights:

December 2011- We were introduced to the Hello Farm Project initiated by a wonderful local NPO, 坂ノ途中, On-The-Slope. http://on-the-slope.com/hellofarm/

On-The-Slope supported our transition from Ibaraki Prefecture to Kyoto by finding us both land and buyers for our food, among other things such as finding second-hand equipment and introducing us to neighbors.

March 2012- We finally broke soil with the help of our new neighbors in Keihoku, Northern Kyoto, and started seedlings in multiple locations around Kansai, including Osaka YMCA International School’s Adopt-A-Plant project.

August 2012– With the help of other supporters, we were able to donate a percentage of our crops to communities effected by the March 11 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster. This also included several orphanages in the Kanto and Tohoku areas. In all, we donated more than 130 000Yen worth of safe, organic vegetables over the growing season.

October 2012– With our weekly sales to local restaurants, markets, stores, and food box programs, we managed to come out in the “green” in our first year. Yeah for us!

November 2012– We found out that we will be able to continue supporting orphanages and Northern communities in the Tohoku area for the 2013 growing season. 2013 will surely offer a greater variety of organic vegetables than last year!

December 2012– We decided to start a food box delivery program in 2013, based on seasonal vegetables, with minimal packaging and minimal pre-washing. This is in order to maintain vegetable shelf life but also because it better reflects our ideals about what how healthy, organic produce should be handled in a market culture of over packaging. Our soil and vegetables will also be regularly checked for radiation levels with the help of On-The-Slope NPO. Please visit our Veggie Order tab for more details about the veggie box program. The program will start in June, 2013.

Thank you so much to all our supporters for a wonderful first year up in the Kyoto mountains. Please tell your friends about us! We are super excited about our second growing season and look forward to growing as a business in 2013. Have a safe, healthy and happy New Year, everybody!

あけましておめでとうございます!

Ava and Zenryu

Hello Farm introduction

18 Nov

Hello Farm Project is run by Zenryu Owatari and Ava Richardson in beautiful Kyoto, Japan. The farm started in March 2012 as a farm start initiative sponsored by Sakanotochu (On The Slope) organic food distributor and NPO. The farm provides over 100 varieties of organic vegetables to the Kyoto community. A percentage of the crops have also been donated to several communities effected by the 2011 tsunami and nuclear radiation disaster in Northern Japan. Hello Farm Project hopes to expand sales in 2013 to include an online veggie box program. Please watch for updates!