Mom-friendly cherry tomato farm in Japan

Mothers raising young children are often shunned by Japan Inc., due to family commitments, but one young entrepreneur has the solution: flexible working on her cherry-tomato farm.

Requests from mothers to work at Drop Farm greenhouses have come flooding in. The startup, located in a forest in Mito, about a 100-minute drive northeast of Tokyo, now has staff of a dozen women and two men to produce tomatoes as sweet as strawberries, which are sold online as well as at upscale department stores and supermarkets.

"Women become core consumers after having given birth" because they become conscious about what their kids eat, said Ayaka Miura, 29, president and CEO of Drop Inc. "It is a plus that our company has many staff members who understand how female consumers feel."

Miura, mother to a 4-year-old girl, was a stranger to farming in Mito, Ibaraki Prefecture, before giving birth to her daughter in Tokyo, in 2014.

The Hiroshima native became interested in agriculture after working in the apparel and advertising sectors, believing she could pursue a career while raising a child, and "fell in love with" the crop field in Mito, which was owned by her husband's relatives who were engaged in burdock and rice farming.

"We were concerned about risks from disasters, such as floods and typhoons, and decided to rent the field from my husband's uncle and aunt because it was located on a hill and surrounded by woods," Miura said.

She pointed out farming is easily accessible to mothers since it mainly involves non-urgent tending of plants and as hours can be flexible, rather than dealing with clients who have fixed deadlines.

"Even if a worker has to take several days off to care for a sick child, jobs to tend a plant can wait, and substitute workers can cover their tasks," Miura said.

Many moms prioritize family time, rather than higher pay or career advancement in exchange for long working hours, so employers recognizing this can attract workers, she added.

One final push for her venture came when she saw a TV program about the sophisticated Imec film farming method. This can produce nutritious vegetables, such as cherry tomatoes, with high sugar content.

Imec technology uses a thin film made of hydrogel, commonly used in diapers or hemodialysis, which absorbs water and nutrients through nano-sized pores, but blocks germs and viruses. Compared with hydroponics, it uses less water.

The soil-free cultivation method invented by Yuichi Mori, who founded Mebiol Inc. in 1995 to apply the medical hydrogel technology to agriculture, allows even newcomers with no farming experience to quickly learn the technique.

It has been adopted to grow crops such as strawberries, melons, cucumbers and peppers in a number of countries including the United Arab Emirates, with Imec farms built on desert land there, according to Mebiol.

Click here to watch the related video.

Click here to read the complete article at Kyodo News.

Photo credit: Kyodo News

02/08/2019 - Maya Kaneko/Kyodo News

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