Snow-preserved cabbages keeping the staple on the table all year long

by Yuko Fukaya

ASAHIKAWA, Hokkaido (Kyodo) In a snow-covered field on the outskirts of Wassamu, Hokkaido, lie lush green cabbages harvested in the fall but preserved in snow until spring.

“Cabbages do not freeze even if the temperature drops to minus 20,” said cabbage farmer Yuko Arai, 43. “Cabbages breathe in snow and grow.” In fall 1970, when cabbage prices plummeted, several households that were raising the vegetable left them in fields instead of harvesting them.

What they saw the next spring were fresh young cabbages dotting the snow. Farmers shipped them to the market on a trial basis and found they were fetching high prices.

Since then, these particular cabbage types have been improved through trial and error.

There are two kinds of winter cabbages — “kogetsu,” which is shipped between December and January, and “fuyukoma,” which is sold between January and March.

A winter cabbage weighs about 2 kg and has the same sugar content as strawberries and melons grown in hothouses.

Due to the growing popularity of winter cabbage, 110 farmers in the area now grow it. Wassamu is expected to ship 4,500 tons worth this winter.

“My children think cabbages are a winter product,” Arai said.

The use of snow as a preservative is now spreading to rice and other agricultural products.

The town of Numata, Hokkaido, built the world’s first facility for preserving rice in snow in 1996. The facility is called the Snow Cool Rice Factory.

The snow storehouse cools air that is piped in during summer into a facility stocking about 80,000 bales of unhulled rice.

“The taste of rice does not drop if unhulled rice is preserved at a temperature of 5 degrees and a humidity of 70 percent,” a town official in charge of the facility said.