Hidehito Komaki pulls a dried pod from the flowering stem of a cabbage plant and carefully splits it. Both sides are lined with tiny brown beads. "Each of these is a seed," Komaki explains to those clustered around him. "A single cabbage plant produces about 3,000 in total," he says before giving instructions for collecting and storing the seeds.

This seed collecting workshop is an integral part of what Komaki sees as his mission. After majoring in agricultural biotechnology at the Tokyo University of Agriculture, he joined a multinational corporation to work on new vegetable varieties. Dismayed by data that showed plummeting nutrition levels in the resulting hybrids, Komaki left to farm using traditional methods and heirloom seeds.

"We were making these perfect vegetables, but there was no respect for the vegetable itself, its character, taste or habits," Komaki says. Ten years later, he now works his family's land in Hiratsuka, Kanagawa Prefecture and teaches about the value of heirloom varieties.