As cities grow and fuel prices fluctuate many people have found in hard to find fresh vegetables at decent prices. Over the last five years people in various communities throughout the world have try to figure out the solution to the problem of obtaining quality vegetables without having to spend a lot of their budget. As Japanese started to become more concerned with chemicals and waxes being sprayed on the market vegetable, they stated to look for alternatives such a organic vegetable.
An example of how people are trying to solve this dilemma can be found in one of the most densely populated areas in the world, Japan. In April of 2007 two friends (Sean Johnson from Indiana, U.S. and Sergei Ivanov from Novosibirsk, Russia) living in the massively crowded Hanshin area of Hyogo Prefecture became disillusioned with fruit and vegetables prices in local markets, both men armed with degrees in Botany and Agriculture decided to engage land-owners with vacant lots and farmers cultivating small urban rice fields. The reception they received was mixed, in about half the cases the local people thought the men were apart of some sort of fraudulent business as both men were foreigners . Needless to say within a years they had started various small farms in Amagasaki and Nishinomiya cities. Their first project was to grow tomatoes along side the small rice patties that dot the two cities, after this took hold many of the local organic markets started to sell their tomatoes. To help stimulate their progress the tomatoes they grew were bigger and near a third cheaper than tomatoes of same breed sold in supermarkets. Within two years these two friends and their coop of farmers and landowners have become the main organic vegetable suppliers in the Hanshin area. At this moment Sean and Sergei's coop provides tomatoes, beans of various types, peas, several different varieties of gourds, cucumbers, okra, cabbage and just this year corn from an elderly woman's eighteenth floor balcony. When ask why she wanted to grow corn on her balcony, she said, “I am to old to go to the market and a few of the other ladies on the seventeenth and nineteenth floors grow other vegetables so we share. Anyways I love corn soup. Both Sergei and Sean are sweetheart, we call them our boys because help so much. Us ladies have only our retirement income to live off of, so of the vegetables we don't use we let the boy take the leftovers in the morning to sell and they always pay us the next morning. That is beside the point, the vegetables they teach us about and help us to grow are the best I have eaten.”
Currently they oversee nearly forty organic gardens and twelve organic farm, ten of the forty or so gardens are located on building roofs where another sixteen gardens are on people's balconies. At this time Sean and Sergei are planing to meet and speak to local businesses and department stores to allow them to start growing vegetables on their roof and vacant spaces. “In Japan there are many place to farm but the cost of land and the expense of transporting goods from the countryside to the city would drive a man mad. So we engaged the communities we live in and started with a few farmer who allowed us a place to start compost piles. After getting the piles started we convinced them to allow us to plant tomatoes, that was Sergei's idea. He says tomatoes are the most touchy plants to grow as they are highly sensitive to UV radiation, air pollution, ground contamination, etc ” states Sean. Since their break into popularity among Japanese consumers more people have come forward to volunteer what little space they have.
Another case of urban organic farming also come from Hyogo Prefecture where five universities (Kobe University, Kwansei University, Konan University, Sonoda Woman's University and Himeji University) compete every year to see which institute's students grow the best organic produce. The idea was conceptualized six years ago by two sisters, one who attended Sonoda Woman's University and the other who attended Kobe University. The sisters competed with each other by growing summer squash and cucumbers on their dorm room balcony. When their friends heard of their competition they joined in, soon it expanded to include students from various universities in the area, two years ago Kobe University, Sonoda Woman's University and Kwansei University decided to make it official. “It is really fun to grow vegetables and compete. I have learned many things about how to grow different plants in such a small place. My favorite thing to cook is pasta, so I grow tomatoes, eggplant, basil, oregano, and other herbs. It took me along time to solve the space restriction on my balcony which is only three meters long by fifty centimeters wide” explains Miss Taniguchi, 2009 Organic Produce winner.
Throughout Japan many people are turning to organic gardening and markets for their vegetables. As the world goes through economic hick-ups, Japan has seen a turn around in organic food price, Nearly five years ago organic produce was a third more expensive that the average supermarket prices but, for the last six month organic food has seen a reversal as prices are now a third cheaper than their supermarket counterparts. Many cities are starting to give both financial and physical support to urban and rural organic farmer. Some cities and prefectures have gone as far as setting up their own community organic farms with help from various public and private universities.