One of the things Chef Hiroki Hiramatsu insists on is choosing the produce used in the restaurant in person — visiting farms to see for himself how it is grown, and talking to producers face to face. On this occasion, he visited Suirin Natural Farm, on Nagano Prefecture’s Iizuna Plateau, which uses natural farming methods to grow a wide range of vegetables, without chemical fertilizers, and emphasizing the natural cycle of nature.
“To me, the most important thing about this farm is how seriously the people who work here take the work of growing vegetables.” As Chef Hiramatsu says, the people who work at Suirin even take into account the way they live as they work the land and grow the vegetables. The farm is like a school of life.
“They use no fertilizers except compost made from fallen leaves, and, up to a point, they allow the weeds to grow among the vegetables. Because they don’t use chemical fertilizers, the plants grow deep roots, which produces really flavoursome vegetables.”
Mr Sugano and Mr Kudoh, who manage the farm, began working here as interns, and explain how, with the help of many young people, their quest to grow for truly flavoursome vegetables continues.
“This land used to be pasture, so no one had ever used agricultural chemicals on it, and it was perfect place to start natural farming.”
Suirin Natural Farm produces a really wide range of vegetables, and in its quest for flavour grows many varieties on an experimental basis.
Different vegetables are of course harvested at different times of year, but vegetables grown using natural farming techniques apparently do well even when there is little rain, such as this year.
“Natural farming doesn’t mean just leaving crops to grow any old way. You have to think about how to create the best possible conditions for plants — including weeds — and growing them in a way that brings out the very best in them. Part of that is researching their country of origin, and learning about conditions there.”
Every day, Mr Kudoh and his staff walk around the fields, check the soil, and harvest any vegetables that are ready.
“I believe it’s very important for a cook to meet producers who love working with vegetables every day, face to face, and hear from them how the vegetables are growing. I often get ideas for dishes when I’m visiting farms like this. So I make regular visits, not just for myself, but because I’d like everyone who works in our kitchen to share that feeling.”
As Chef Hiramatsu describes, seeing real farming at first hand helps people at Restaurant Hiramatsu Hiroo, including the service staff,to remember how the produce comes to be so delicious.
Suirin Natural Farm
Suirin Natural Farm is an agricultural production corporation that makes use of idle farmland to grow garden vegetables, wild vegetables, flowers and ornamental plants, herbs, medicinal plants and fruit trees, using natural farming techniques, producing, processing and marketing food grown in harmony with nature that is both safe and packed with energy. Through these activities, it helps to protect the cycles of nature and life, and contributes to the regeneration of primary industry in Japan, and the transmission of Japan’s traditional farming culture to future generations. The farm also runs therapeutic programmes for the elderly, the physically handicapped or those who require mental healthcare, and offers a variety of residential training courses, including farming experience programmes and apprenticeships, workshops and seminars on farming techniques adapted to local climate and conditions etc, and study programmes and seminars on horticultural therapy. It is involved in a wide range of activities based on natural farming.