Did you ever wonder where all this nice little garnishes, greens and herbs in restaurants come from? Especially high prized restaurants have a high demand for fancy and new in taste greens and herbs.
Well, here is the answer - at least for Japan: A family run organic greens & herbｓ farm in Hiroshima prefecture (and I am lucky enough to work there for three weeks and been shown everything). Japan is the country with not only the most restaurants per head, but also the country with the most Michelin Stars in the world. So no wonder there are also amazing farms in Japan.
Farmer Yuzuru is educated in Canada in an horticulture school and for visitors like me his English skills are a blessing. Not many Japanese speak as perfect English as he does and he is very willing to explain everything. He mainly grows French and European herbs, as many Japanese Chefs were trained in France and are looking for the same ingredients they were used to during their education.
Everything is grown in greenhouses, because many of the greens are prone to weather influences. However, in contrast to many farmers in Europe, he grows everything directly in the soil, which he is very proud of. In total he owns about 35 greenhouses, and for Japanese circumstances this means his farm is rather big.
His produce includes different varieties of greens - Asians as well as European - which are either sold as micro herbs, something in between or salad leaves and mixes. He also produces a variety of different edible flowers, including the popular Claytonia.
Chefs love the Claytonia, because it is a mix between leaf and flower and they showcase their creations with the Claytonia.
Furthermore he has different herbs like coriander or rosemary and also varieties of sorrel, including the in Europe well known blood sorrel:
Farmer Yuzuru likes to keep his privacy and does not want to be famous for what he is doing. He declines magazine and tv interviews weekly. But this does not mean he wants to keep his farming methods and ideas all to him - Quite the opposite: He shares his ideas and values with his interns and volunteers like me. Additionally he tries to build up a kind of team spirit within his 5 employees, which is quite uncommon in Japan. Japanese workforce are use to simply obey and work precisely.
Ironically his idea to grow greens and herbs started of from quite a sad story. Yuzurus father himself was a farmer and grew herbs like mint, parsley or basil. The sales were good, but unfortunately he had a horrible car accident, nearly killing him. The doctors told him he might only live a couple more years. Bound to his wheelchar Yuzurus father decided in spite of his love for food he wants to visit the best restaurants around the world. Yusuro himself, the only one capable of speaking proper English and just finished with school, took his father to a trip around the world to eat in the best restaurants (including elBulli). Many people they met during their travels where impressed by the kindness of Yuzuru taking care of his father and promised him help if he would need anything anytime.
Coming back from a trip to the best restaurants in the world, his father not able to continue farming and his brothers not willing to, Yuzuru decided to overtake the farm. Influenced by his journeys he decided to go for a more modern approach than his father (Basil and Parsley where suffering a huge price drop) and grow unusual greens.
But whom to sell to? Who wants to buy some green stuff from an unknown guy somewhere from the middle of nowhere? Destiny decided to help him again. One of the men he met during his journeys was Pascal Barbot - A well known French chef. He invited Yusuro to Paris, cooked several dishes with his produce and showed it to Japanese chefs trained in France. In the first year Yusuro started with just 5 customers this way, but as soon as the word spread, sales were starting to rocket. Now he has about 150 customers (which are all restaurants), and 200 more on the waiting list. He could accept them, but he feels like the current amount of production is as high as he wants to go with greens and herbs.
Why farmer Yuzuru grows organic greens? Many of his customers do not care about organic products and in Japanese supermarkets organic is a foreign word. Yuzuru however is concerned about his health and those from his children. So he does not use any pesticide even though snails and mildow are sometimes an issue. For fertilising he mainly uses crushed oyster shells, chicken manure or waste products from a mushroom farm. Everthing locally of course. :)
So how are the greens and herbs are actually produced? Yuzuru himself oversees the sowing and manages the whole operation. Every ten days new seeds are planted, which ensures to have all greens at different sizes all the time.
Everthing on the farm is done by hand, except the plugging, which is done by the only heavy machine on th farm.
The greens and herbs itself are either cutted or picked by hand, bad leafs and roots being removed and put into crates.
Before the crates are collected in small vans and brought back to the farm (some greenhouses are 2-3 kilometers away), they also get a quick wash to keep the greens fresh.
Back at the main buildings of the farm, all greens are gently washed and collected in the logistic room of the farm.
From there they are sent to the customers around Japan - From Hokkaido to Okinawa. A delivery truck picks them up daily at 5pm and they arrive the next day.
The best thing? Farmer Yuzuru not only wants to produce great food, he also simply LOVES food, as does his whole family. For people staying with them it is an unique experience through high quality organic farming and modern Japanese and European-style influenced cooking (and of course eating ;-)).