Thursday, July 17, 2014

Urban Harvest Tokyo

I live in one of the 23 inner wards of the Tokyo Metropolitan District. The density of population in my area exceeds 15,000 persons per square kilometer. Nevertheless, since I live sufficient far away from the nearest railway stations there are still operating micro-farms next to my building.

At this time of year the old man who tills, sows and weeds the plots directly in front of where I live sets out the vegetables he has harvested three times a week. Most of the vegetables are purchased immediately by a crowd that gathers in front of the man's driveway in the morning. The remainder the old man leaves in a wooden shelter just off the street. Passersby pack up what they want and leave their payment in a small wooden box on shelter's left hand side.

The photo above is my morning's purchase from the old man's tiny field. Everyone says the sweet corn is divine.

Richard Katz, with whom I correspond on occasion, used to and may still have a bee in his bonnet about the farmland still dotting Japan's urban cores. For Katz, these tiny farms rob cities and the country of potential growth. Abolish them, and folks build could build big houses and apartment on the suddenly more plentiful supply of urban housing land. All Japan would benefit from the burst of consumption.

While sound in theory, the idea always rankled。Only one who does not live in the TMD would ever think of the micro-farms as wasted land. Without the farms, life in the great concrete metropolis would be far less livable. The central wards are woeful in the paucity of their area devoted to parks. Such public parks as exist are uninviting due to bad design, regulations and a love of bare dirt.

The urban farms, by contrast, are green oases -- and not just for the humans. The plots in front of my building provide shelter and food to loyal pairs of roly-poly kijibato (Streptopilia orientalis), raucous and handsome gangs of onaga (Cyanopica cyana) and flocks of mukudori (Sturnus cineraceus). The your-can't-help-but-love-them invasive pest honsei inko (Psittacula krameri) feed on the flowering tree buds. I even saw a bull-headed shrike (mozu - Lanius bucephalus) last week. It was studying the field from a perch on an electrical wire, searching the rows for prey.

When the rains come and night falls fat hikigaeru (Bufo japonicus) claw out of their holes and march on webbed feet in search worms and mates. After the rain stops, bats swoop overhead, catching flying insects on the wing.

Where would all these fellow Earth travelers have to live, if the farms were to go?

The last operating grape arbor in the ward was torn out two years ago and replaced with homes. Only two apple orchards still operate. I look forward to visiting them in the fall. But for how many more autumns will they open their gates?

Eliminating the economic inefficiency sounds excellent. Possibly increasing the size of homes sounds great. However, the actual costs to society imposed by these little fields seem trivial as compared to the benefits being enjoyed by all.


Yakimi said...

For all the criticisms leveled at the pampered agricultural sector, I can't help but be charmed by Japan's micro-farms. That quaint agricultural can coexist with urban amenities is an notion worth preserving, if not spreading. And with the population declining, that might just happen.

Philippe said...

Did Mr Katz really claim that? Take him out through the backdoor, tar and feather him… :-p.

Mono-culture is always detrimental to (economic) efficiency and productivity! In particular when what is cultivated is concrete.

Here in the neighbourhood (Fukuoka-shi) gardens and small patches of cultivated land are fast disappearing. The old folks die or can no longer live alone, the land is sold, the concrete terrorists strike (Daiwa House I’m looking at you - filling every possible cm2 of the patches behind my house).