Carrying on my parent’s commitment to great taste
What makes them so great tasting? Mitsuru points to the good soil as one reason. He explains, “Our orchard is in the Iizaka neighborhood of Higashiyuno near a mountain with a natural zeolite quarry that improves the soil. Also, long ago this area was the bottom of the sea, and lots of shellfish fossils have been found. These elements and sediment components that condition the soil, and minerals that enrich the flavor of the fruits dissolve over a long time to create rich farmland.”
The grapes grown at Suzuki Farm are primarily Shine Muscat and Takao, which are varieties with a large berry size. Shine Muscat can be called the classic example of top-grade grapes. Their light green color and fresh sweetness have made them extremely popular now. In addition, Takao were unintentionally created from the Kyoho variety of grapes and contain a rich sweetness within the dark purple skin. It’s a rare variety, but has diehard fans.
It takes a lot of work to grow large grapes that taste great. First, excess spikes are removed before the grape flowers bloom (the first cluster thinning) and the buds on the remaining flower spikes are reduced to only a few centimeters at the tip (spike trimming). To eliminate seeds when the flowers bloom, gibberellin treatment is carried out by placing each cluster into a cup filled with a plant hormone solution. Later, once the berries have grown to a certain size, cluster thinning is again conducted to adjust the number of grape clusters on each tree and thin out the number of berries in each cluster (berry thinning). Bags are then placed over the clusters, and at last the farmers can take a break. These endeavors are carried out in a concentrated period of approximately one-month from mid-May to late June every year. It’s hard work taking care of each and every one of thousands and thousands of grape clusters. When that’s finished, then a hectic season of nonstop harvesting and shipping arrives with peaches harvested by early September, followed by grapes by early October, and then apples by mid-December. Plus, pruning begins from late December for the next season.
Mitsuru and Yoko dove into this farming world in their mid-30s.
Mitsuru states that he’s been proud of his parents’ work since he was small. “One time, they received a letter from a customer who said something like, ‘After eating such flavorful fruit, I can now die with no regrets.’ That’s how great tasting the fruits are that my parents grow. I didn’t want to let the great taste of those fruits to come to an end,” he says. “I’ve leaned toward farming since I was little. In the end, I guess I wasn’t able to lie to myself. “
Three years after returning to Fukushima, Mitsuru and other young growers in the area launched the “The KA-KA-SHI Group, a Higashiyuno Furusato Conservation Association.” The group conducts activities based on the three key pillars of PR for the Higashiyuno area and branding for the fruit production area, attracting and fostering new farmers, and preserving farmland. Mitsuru says that the farmers in Higashiyuno have a strong sense of unity, yet are open to gladly accepting people from outside. True to his words, a system has been established to welcome newcomers in places suited to new farming. In fact, since The KA-KA-SHI Group was launched, two new farmers have been welcomed and fostered.
Later on, Yoko also gradually became involved with growing the fruit. Today, she plays an indispensable role as one of the farmers keeping Suzuki Farm running. Since starting farming, Yoko has decided on a theme each year, written it on a piece of paper, and placed it somewhere visible to motivate herself. Now in her seventh year, this year’s goals are “to teach (try to teach)” and “don’t work too hard.” They are a reminder to keep her tenacity in check so she doesn’t end up working too much, and to go easy on herself.
Mitsuru explains, “The maxim at Suzuki Farm is ‘big and tasty fruits.’ Not long after I’d returned to Fukushima, my wife asked my father what he believes is important to growing fruit, and that was his answer. Both my wife and I thought, ‘That’s the principle my parents have practiced!’” That maxim appears on their website, social media and even on their business card.
“Those words uttered by my father-in-law have become important for us as well. For example, when it comes time to harvest grapes, ordinarily certain ones are all harvested within a certain range for the sake of efficiency, but we look at each piece of fruit, not just grapes, and only harvest those we think are ready. We’re so fussy that If there aren’t any we deem ready on that day, then we don’t ship any.” (Yoko)
When the couple is asked what Fukushima Pride means to them, Mitsuru instantly answers, “Naturally, it’s deliciousness. We’re confident our fruit tastes better than any other.” Yoko honestly replies, “We’re encouraged by our customers who tell us the fruit is delicious, and we work hard so we can always say we’re doing our best.” Mitsuru adds a final word. “My wife came to Fukushima and we’ve been able to farm together. Our days are truly fulfilling.” There is no doubt that for Mitsuru, his wife’s presence is also very “big” source of pride.
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