"I didn't want to be a farmer, so I got a job working in a restaurant in Tokyo," admits Yoneta Masaki, chairman of Noen. It was when he helped out at a Hokkaido product exhibition in Okinawa that he realized the value Hokkaido's agricultural products have on a national scale. Pure White, a corn with white kernels known as a specialty of Hokkaido, originated in Nanporo. Yoneta said, "It sold extremely well at product fairs, and I realized how interesting agriculture is. I decided to return to my hometown to promote Nanporo's agricultural products more." Currently working for an agricultural production corporation, he grows rice, soybeans for natto (fermented soybeans), sweet corn, and other crops.
After talking with fellow farmers, he said, "The best way to let people know about Nanporo's agricultural products is to hold a festival. If we are going to do this, we have to form an organization." In 2016, the first group of eight Noen members was formed. The ideas that came out over drinks were interesting. Jochi Shingo, a rice, sweet corn, and vegetable farmer and a Secretariat of Noen, explained the reason for the formation of the group saying, "With these members, we may be able to do even more interesting things and expand the possibilities."
Secretariat Hashimoto Sokichi said, "I came back from Shizuoka in 2012, working as an instructor at a cram school while helping out on the farm of my friend who was a former classmate. This friend invited me to become a member." The only requirement for membership in Noen was that you must be from Nanporo. Currently, there are 21 members, including those from outside the town.
Noen is working to promote local farm products by holding an event called Yasai on a holiday around August 31 every year. Locally harvested rice and vegetables are available for sale at a discount. Jochi explains, "We caught loach fish from rice paddies and drainage ditches and held a loach scooping booth. We want to show children that there are loaches in Nanporo, too. We want them to learn about the charm of the local area."
The children's eyes lit up the most at the tractor test-ride. Yoneta says, "Hands-on experiences are the best for children." A tractor manufacturer once sponsored the event and let the children ride on a large tractor with automatic steering. Jochi says, "It was an idea that came to us randomly. For us, the drinking sessions are very important."
Yoneta says, “We would like to focus on agricultural experiences and food education activities in the future. We try as much as possible to provide a series of experiences such as sowing seeds, planting rice, harvesting, and eating. We want to convey the fact that it takes a lot of time and effort from planting to harvesting, and we believe that the curry we eat after putting in all this work tastes better."
They have also brought a field of crops to preschools in Sapporo. Corn and cabbage about to be harvested were transplanted and transported on the back of a truck with the soil. Jochi said, "We had an idea that it would be interesting to build a vegetable field on top of a light truck to put on display at the Yasai event, so when the preschool asked me about it, I thought we might be able to do it." Just by listening to the expressions and voices of the preschoolers from the video, it seems that we are witnessing, "The moment when children change their awareness of food."
Bringing a field of crops to Sapporo (click here for a video)
(Movie courtesy of Noen)
They use 100% Yumepirika brand rice that they grow themselves, and with the advice of experts, they develop products and sell them online. Yoneta had the simple idea of, "Can we make udon noodles with rice flour?" From this idea, they started out by making rice flour with rice, which is an abundant material. In order to differentiate their products from others, they chose Yumepirika rice grown in Nanporo.
Normally, crushed rice for processing is used as the raw material for rice flour, but Noen's Yumepiriko Rice Flour is made from loads of rice that is eaten on an everyday basis.
A rice flour pancake mix was also created. The mix of flour, beet sugar, and other ingredients was created by Oki Hirotsugu, a pastry chef in Sapporo. By using only soft and sticky Yumepirika rice flour, a batter that does not become dry when cooked and tastes good even when cold was achieved.
They also do their own beekeeping. One of the members is the grandson of Yamamoto Tetsuo, a beekeeper in Nanporo. He consulted with the group, saying "I am retiring because of my advanced age, but I want to preserve beekeeping in the town." Currently, four volunteer members manage the bees and collect honey. Hashimoto is positive about the experience saying, "I started this project just to give it a try, and I have not regretted anything. Everything we've done has been an experience."
Because of their pride in farming, they seem to truly enjoy the activities of Noen in a fun and playful way.
Nishi 12, Minami 13-sen, Nanporo-cho, Sorachi-gun, Hokkaido, Japan