“Strawberries we grow from seedlings are like our kids”Cuter and tastier - A loving farmer’s journey
Updated: May 8, 2019
Japan, a country with four seasons.
In Fuefuki City, each season’s different characteristics are attracting a lot of visitors. From spring to autumn when the climate is nice and comfortable, the city offers Hanami (flower viewing), fireworks and fruit picking. In winter, winter sports are the highlight. But you cannot forget their strawberries.
In January, beginning of spring, strawberries grown with great care in a warm greenhouse turn red and they look cute with their tiny round shape.
Once you bite into one, its tart and sweet taste fills your heart with happiness...
Why not come and experience spring a little early with Fuefuki City’s strawberries?
Ms. Rika Komazawa is the representative director of Komazawa Fruit Farm. Around January every year, they open their doors for strawberry picking and direct sales of their produce in full swing. Almost all of the staff is female at this farm and it’s run with support from their neighbors. Ms. Komazawa describes her farm as “the most laid-back strawberry farm in Yamanashi”.
A strawberry farm run by women
Ms. Rika Komazawa works as the representative director at “Komazawa Fruit Farm”, which is a greenhouse farm where they offer direct sales of their strawberries and strawberry picking.
“It was originally a peach farm. But when all the peach trees needed to be replaced as they were getting too old, I decided to change our crops to strawberries. It’s so hard to cultivate peaches in greenhouses that you wouldn’t have time to sleep.
But just as we started as a strawberry farm, we had ‘snow damage (January, 2015)’. I managed to get out of the house and came to check on our greenhouse to find it was squashed by snow. All the neighboring farmers had the same problem. Everyone was crying and everything in front of me went black.”
“It couldn’t be helped”, continues Ms. Komazawa.
It’s been about seven years since Ms. Komazawa took over the farm. She tells us that she’s continued to work on her farm with help from neighboring farmers thinking “If I keep working hard, the farm would turn great”, but it made her realize how hard it actually is to run a farm working on nature’s terms.
Even though they’re grown in the same way, the results can vary
It’s not just natural disasters that made her realize the difficulties of working with nature. Even if they cultivate in the same way every year, the same quality in strawberries cannot be achieved since the climate changes slightly each year.
“For example, last year, the flower buds suddenly went to sleep and there were not many fruit growing at the timing of spring holidays. We had a lot of bookings at the time so I fretted about it thinking I had to fix it somehow.
“Even though you grow them in the same way, you cannot always get the same results, you know. But the greater care you give the strawberries, the tastier they get.”
The best season for strawberries is between January and May. That’s apparently why the fruit is called “Ichigo” (“Ichi” means one, “go” means five) in Japanese.
“When the strawberry season arrives, we are busy every day with harvesting, serving customers and so on. But in fact the off season is equally tough.”
When the fruiting season of the year is over, they start the preparation for next year.
“The off season requires physical work. We pull out all the strawberry plants, replace the soil and grow seedlings in our greenhouse. We do such work in a greenhouse in the middle of summer, too. It’s not unusual for the temperature in a greenhouse to reach up to 40 degrees.
From winter to spring, it’s mental labor, where we keep our eyes on fruiting progress. From summer to autumn, it’s physical labor, where we prepare for the next harvesting season. But a staring contest against the weather forecast is always on all year around (laugh).”
“You’re looking cute” “Thanks for today”… Affectionate farmers talk their love to strawberries
While peaches grow on already existing trees, strawberries are grown from seedlings each year.
“We start from growing seedlings and they flower, then fruit… When I see them grow, I feel emotional and affection towards them. Those red fruit is like our own children. I guess that’s one of the charms of strawberries. The coloring of green, red and white is lovely, too.
We also keep honeybees in our greenhouse. Honeybees are an essential part of production process to make strawberries into a clean cone shape. They carry pollen from one flower to another and pollinate the plants. We check the number of flowers and adjust the number of bees in the greenhouse. Those honeybees are the important part of our team, too. They’re sensitive to cold temperatures so we put a blanket over their beehive box. We also pick up and bury those who have passed on.”
They have a unique ritual at this farm. Farmers talk to strawberries while cleaning them or give them a bow saying “Thanks for today” with all the staff when leaving the greenhouse every day. You see a group of affectionate farmers at Komazawa Fruit Farm.
“I feel great affection towards them”, says Ms. Komazawa with a smile.
“I didn’t know anything about growing strawberries at first. But I have this person I call “Master” in the neighborhood and everyone around me shows support. I’m able to continue what I do because of support from those people and my passion and affection towards strawberries.
I’m still a beginner when it comes to cultivation techniques. But I try my best to run this farm. I made a change in our operation policy like making the farm dog friendly and so on. I put a lot of thought into it to make this farm better.
What’s more rewarding than anything else is to see customers enjoy our strawberries we grew with love and to hear ‘They were delicious’ from customers.”
Ms. Komazawa tells us that the reason why the strawberries from this area taste so delicious is because of their fertile soil. At Komazawa Fruit Farm, they have an increasing number of repeat customers for both strawberry picking and the direct sales every year.
Fuefuki City is well known for their peaches and grapes but why not come and try their strawberries this time?