News from the Farm | April 15, 2024

Today’s News from the Farm is an interview with an awesome member of our team, one of our interns, Saeko! She is part of the 2023-2024 Japanese Agricultural Training Program cohort. She came last September and will be with us until the beginning of October when she’ll head to UC Davis for a few months of classes before heading back to Japan at the end of the year. 

Here’s our conversation, only very lightly edited version.

Thank you Saeko for sharing!

– Elaine Swiedler, CSA Manager

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Fuchu, in western Tokyo, in the city.

Were you around farming as a child? When did you first start farming?

I had some opportunities to see agriculture when I was a child. My grandmother on my mother’s side of the family was an egg farmer and my father’s parents had a big garden.

When I started college, I got interested in farming. I went to Takushoku University and majored in Community Development. I wanted to focus on development in rural Japan but didn’t have any connections to those areas. As a freshman, I had to choose a focus for my development classes and I chose agriculture and as I learned more, I got more interested in farming. I spent my third year of school in Hokkaido, the island of Japan that’s most north and most agricultural. The school connected us to farms and I got to work mostly with vegetable farmers but some animal farms too. As a senior, I worked with 25 different farmers – mostly vegetables, but also a few other things, like hops. During the summer, I also worked at a farmers market in the city.

Do you prefer to work with animals or plants? 

I like both! Though they are very different.

Why did you want to come to the US? How did you decide to apply to the JATP?

In Japan, I think the customers and the farmers are very disconnected. I wanted to do more connecting customers with the farmers. I was reading a book that said that CSA and farmers markets are very successful in the USA. Japan has the teikei system and some markets, but not the same. I wanted to see more. 

I told some farming friends that I wanted to go to the US and learn about this kind of agriculture and a friend told me about the program. I applied, then after I graduated from college I worked on a mixed vegetable farm with someone who had done the JATP program for two months, and then went to the US.

What kind of work have you done at Full Belly?

I have done a little bit of everything. I go to the Palo Alto Market, I’ve worked with animals, I’ve washed eggs, and I have worked with the plants, like weeding and transplanting and picking. When I first got here, I did a lot of work with the flowers.

What do you like doing most?

I think I like working with the animals and the flower team the most.

What’s something you still want to do at the farm?

I haven’t harvested fruit! I would like to do that.

What’s one of your favorite Full Belly crops to eat?

Citrus! I already miss the oranges.

What’s something new that you tried here?

I hadn’t eaten a pomegrante. And many of the melons, like piel de sapo, were new to me. In Japan, we just have cantaloupe and watermelon.

What’s something that surprised you in the US or at Full Belly Farm?

The Palo Alto market is so far away. I was surprised that we would drive so far every week. At the farmers markets in Japan, if a farm is far away, they will only go to the market a few times a year, maybe only once. Only a close farm would go every week.

Do you have plans yet for what you will do after you leave the farm?

I want to sell vegetables in farmers markets. I’ve never worked for a company and think that could be a good experience. We have yaoyasan, a kind of produce seller, and I might want to work for one of those.

NOTE: if you want to get a bit more info about teikei, farmers markets, and more, I recommend checking out this post about visiting a Japanese farmers market, this profile of a Tokyo farmers market, this post about visiting a teikei farm, and for a more academic take, this paper or this research paper about teikei.