• Kyodo

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The foreign agricultural products of Toyoda, Shizuoka Prefecture, are providing a niche for the town at a time of drastic increases in imports of produce from other countries, particularly China.

Local farmers started growing Chinese vegetables, including “qinggengcai” (celery cabbage), 25 years ago.

Together with their regional counterparts, they have succeeded to the point where their produce is now regular fare nationwide.

“Why were we successful?” asked Shigemi Tsunoda of the Enshu Central branch of the Japan Agricultural Cooperatives (JA) in the city of Iwata, Shizuoka Prefecture. “All I can say is that we were right to set our sights” on Chinese greens commonly known as “chingensai.”

Tsunoda is the chief of the Chinese vegetable section of JA Enshu Central, which comprises farmers from Toyoda and surrounding areas.

What made them successful in the cultivation of chingensai was their ingenuity and willingness to take a chance on growing a type of vegetable that others were not.

The idea of growing Chinese produce originally came from a farmer’s wife who wondered what crops she could grow to earn money while caring for her children.

She began growing chingensai with 16 other women, and Tsunoda joined in growing the greens five years later.

He had been growing fruit, including peaches and “mikan” mandarins, but abandoned the effort.

Through trial and error, the group determined which varieties of vegetables would grow best in Shizuoka, among other things, as well as learning how to recognize common vegetable pests.

“We were in a state of war every day,” Tsunoda recalled, adding that the group held study sessions to learn more about cultivation and overcome their inexperience.

He also went to Tokyo, Nagoya and other large cities to establish sales routes and held vegetable-tasting parties. The bubble economy and a demand for Chinese vegetables at the time helped him to promote his produce.

Presently, Tsunoda’s wife and parents grow the vegetables in vinyl-covered hothouses measuring about 2,000 sq. meters. They harvest the greens eight times a year and ship them to markets.

As the chief of the Chinese vegetable section of JA Enshu Central, Tsunoda leads 388 farmers in three cities, eight towns and two villages in areas surrounding Toyoda. His JA office posted about 1.2 billion yen in vegetable sales in fiscal 2000, including chingensai greens and “jiuhuangzi” (hotbed chives).

“We are prepared to grow any variety of Chinese vegetables so long as there is demand,” he said.

“We would like to heighten our awareness as farmers and not lower the quality of our vegetables.”

He said that if they can do that, the area will remain as the production center of Chinese vegetables.

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