Planning a trip to Hokkaido soon? Instead of the usual tourist spots, why not head to the Tokachi Girls Farm opening this spring to support ladies working in the agricultural industry?
At the mention of Hokkaido, images of beautiful natural scenery and delicious local produce would definitely come to mind. Did you know that Hokkaido is the agricultural powerhouse of Japan? According to the agricultural industry analysis report issued by the Hokkaido Prefectural Government last April, the northernmost prefecture in Japan accounted for 25.4% of farmland in Japan and contributed 22.1% of the national energy intake per person in 2012. Hokkaido also has the title of being the No.1 producer of wheat, soybeans, azuki beans, kidney beans, potatoes, salmon, sugar beet, soba, onions, pumpkins, carrots, scallops, sweet corn, asparagus, milk, beef, kelp and light breed horses.
However, agriculture is hard work because there are various barriers to entry, loads of specialised knowledge to learn and it is physically demanding. Despite an estimated number of 40,000 new farmers joining the industry annually, the proportion of farmers being 65 and above is expected to exceed 30% soon. This suggests that the number of new and young farmers entering and staying in the industry is lesser than the existing farmers who are getting on in age.
About 80% of farmers are men and it’s been said that the only way that a woman can enter the industry is to be born into a farming family or marry a male farmer. As such, this makes female farmers a rare sight to behold. Although there are still numerous issues making it difficult for new female farmers to join and stay in the industry, there are people taking the initiative to change the current situation.
Agri Fashion Group (アグリファッショングループ) is a company headquartered in Obihiro City, Hokkaido Prefecture, which designs and sells fashionable working clothes for farmers. Hashizume Tsuneo and his wife Rie are the owners of Agri and also dairy farmers. They started an agricultural company on 1 December 2015 with the aim of supporting women who want to work in the farming industry. The pilot project undertaken by this company will take off this spring (2016) in the form of Tokachi Girls Farm which is managed by two young women, Sawai Eri and Takano Haruna who are in their mid-twenties.
The Tokachi Girls Farm (十勝ガールズ農場) started with the rental of 5 hectares of farm land (equivalent to the size of Tokyo Dome) and the planting of crops such as potatoes, pumpkins, sweet corn, paprika and Japanese leeks at the beginning of 2016. Upon harvesting, there are plans to sell them to customers such as confectionery shops in Sapporo and an izakaya chain in Tokyo. The farm will also have a kitchen car to sell food and drinks using the crops they grow and allow tourists to get involved in the harvesting process so as to experience farming for themselves. Once the business takes off, the owners plan to employ more female farmers. In future, the farm may also join the local Japan Agricultural Cooperative branch so as to establish more distribution channels for their products.
Sawai and Takano, who are the joint managers of the farm, hail from Mashiko-machi in Tochigi Prefecture and Tomakomai City in Hokkaido. They graduated from Rakuno Gakuen University (which specialises in teaching dairy farming) before undergoing an internship at Ladies Farm School which is a farming experience facility for women. While working at different agricultural companies in Obihiro, the ladies came up with the idea of setting up their own farm and decided to strike out on their own at the age of 25. However, they were faced with the challenge of financing and how to find farming land which they could rent. With the help of Agri Fashion’s connections and crowdfunding via the Internet, they were then able to make their dream come true.
At the moment, there is no official announcement as to when the farm is expected to be open to visitors so If you are interested in supporting these ladies at the Tokachi Girls Farm and getting to know more about the farm, please visit the farm’s Facebook page to get updates on their progress. Hopefully, this will bring about a much-needed new wave of change in the Japanese farming industry and that we can continue to enjoy the best agricultural products from the land of the rising sun!