Six years ago, Hiroaki Koizumi began a census of Kobe farmers. As part of a consulting team hired by the city to promote Kobe's agriculture, Koizumi's assignment was to locate farms within the city limits. He was astonished at his expanding list of growers and producers, and equally astonished to realize how difficult it was to actually purchase their food.

"There were all these farms in the city, but they had no community representation," Koizumi says. "Japan has a big infrastructure for food, but the vegetables in local supermarkets are from far away. The current vegetable transport system is not working for young or organic farmers."

Most food in grocery stores arrives courtesy of Japan Agriculture (JA) Cooperatives, a nationwide farmer cooperative that handles everything from production and packaging to marketing and distribution. JA efforts lean toward larger farms growing standard varieties of popular crops that are uniform in shape and size for easy shipping.