A conversation about green onions and staking his dreams on agriculture
There are two types of green onions grown in Japan: those with an edible white portion known as naga-negi (literally “deep-root onions,” often referred to as “Welsh onions”) and those with edible green leaves known as ha-negi (literally “leaf onions,” often referred to as “leeks”). The green onions produced in Iwaki are mainly the former type.
Kazunori Sakamoto is head of Sakamoto Farms, which grows crops in Iwaki. “The best thing about Iwaki green onions,” he told us, “is how long and thick the white portions are.” This gives the onions a delightful crispness, which is coupled with a bold sweetness. Sakamoto once measured it at around 12–16º Brix. A sweet, delicious tangerine comes in at about 12º Brix, while a typical melon or persimmon measures around 16º Brix, meaning that Iwaki onions are on par with fruit in terms of their sweetness. “They also contain a spicy compound known as allicin, so actually they taste more spicy than sweet―but once you cook it, the allicin dissipates and leaves behind that amazing green onion sweetness,” he explained. His words are pure music to the ears of anyone who loves green onions. Sakamoto harvests and ships out his green onions by March at the earliest, May at the latest each year.
Sakamoto’s dream is to get into experience-based agriculture, working alongside his eldest son (who’s at university) and his eldest daughter (who’s in high school). Both of them are studying and pursuing a career in agriculture. “My son wants to bring the consumers out to the farm,” he explained. “Plenty of places let people help seed or harvest, but he wants to create a system that takes them beyond those one-dimensional experiences and really immerses them in the heart of the agricultural process. The entire family loves the idea and is backing him every step of the way. We want people to see the magic of farming, which may bring more people into agriculture and help promote our local community,” Sakamoto says. “And because green onions are the perfect way to show people what makes Iwaki so special,” he went on, “they’re also a perfect crop for experience-based agriculture.”
We ended by asking Sakamoto what “Fukushima Pride” means to him. He took his time before answering. “People who grow crops are second only to the gods,” he mused. “Without them, people wouldn’t have the food they need to survive. That’s why I take so much pride in being a farmer. What a joy to dedicate my life to such important work,” he concluded.
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