Monthly Archives: November 2009

Don’t you just love freshly picked wild mushrooms?

Wed, 25/11/2009 – Jude Fanton

 In Autumn the cow paddocks are full of these white Lepiote mushrooms that no-one else seems to eat. We have eaten thousands each Autumn this last thirty years. They taste like chicken.

This year was a really good one. 600 Lepiotes came through our kitchen.

IMAGE Jude playing the fool with them.


Kazuya, Seed Saver near Nagoya

Fri, 10/11/2009 – Jude Fanton

Kizuya-san is a young, new farmer who is very serious about his seed saving. He learnt farming only four years ago and started seed saving soon afterwards.

Nagoya is in Aichi Prefecture and about fifty years ago, when the Japanese government brought in a system to register local vegetables, the Prefecture listed 35 varieties.  Here he is with one of our former interns, Masami Sakaban who guided and interpreted for us. Masami works with grandmothers on preserving local varieties.


IMAGE Masami Sakaban and Kazuya holding a traditional local variety of eggplant, in his glasshouse.

Kizuya-san has been collecting and maintaining Aichi vegetables, including the Yayoto Carrot and a long thin purple eggplant. We filmed him collecting seeds of tomatoes, eggplant and okra.


Nothing-but-Lettuce near Mt Fuji

Sat, 09/11/2009 – Jude Fanton

The small village of Morimachi (meaning forest village) is in the area of Shizuoka, near Mt Fuji. But the forest has totally disappeared. To Japanese the village of Morimachi is now synonymous with lettuce. And it is no wonder for there are square kilometres of them in this wide flat valley. All are grown with chemicals, the ground covered with plastic and in cold times plastic tunnels to protect them from frosts.

The morning we were there our friend, Shinji, and his sisters were transplanting lettuce seedlings into a massive field. Two would walk behind a contraption like a large square bicycle spanning six rows into which they were feeding the seedlings. The machine inserted each into a hole and tamped it down.

We learnt that there is a modicum of diversity in that some farmers practise a rotation between summer sweet corn, autumn rice and the ubiquitous salad.


IMAGE Square kilometres of Iceberg style lettuce, here being transplanted by machine.


IMAGE Four hundred lettuces fit in sixty metres by one metre beds. 21,600 planted by machine that day.

All was assisted and translated by one of our former interns and seed saving activist, Masami Sakaban.


Japanese Grandmas maintain local varieties

Fri, 08/11/2009 – Jude Fanton

While we can admire a market gardener who takes the initiative to save seeds of local varieties, it is home gardeners that maintain much more biodiversity, especially grandmothers.

We were really keen to visit the Chiba Prefectural Museum’s Grandmas’ Garden project with one of our former interns, Mariko Hamiguchi.

Arriving along the road in the exquisite landscape, they were so chatty, cheery and vital.


IMAGE While each of the grandmothers has a magnificent mixed garden, the project is located in a community plot in Kimemitsu area.

We met with seven of the grandmas involved who were there to prepare the soil for sowing wheat and harvest seeds of summer crops. They picked okra seeds and pumpkins and cleaned daikon seeds. Afterwards, just like with our Local Seed Networks in Australia, they shared food they had prepared from their own crops:- sweet potato (whole and as chips), peanuts (boiled and dry-fried with savoury flavours) and yacon (pickled).

IMAGE We say goodbye to the petites grandmothers.


Living your Biodiversity

Wed, 04/11/2009 – Jude Fanton

Japan, November 2009

Biodiversity to me is not an abstract concept. It is something that tastes good, that you share with friends. It is also a feeling. I have vivid memories of biodiversity from my childhood. These are the main points of the introduction that Michel Fanton wrote to a presentation that he and Jude delivered at Biodiverty Japan Symposium in Kanazawa on October 25th 2009.

I would like to invite you to join me and slip into your own feelings of what biodiversity means to you personally, living in such magnificient rural landscapes. I hope that you will find your own memories of biodiversity and how they have affected your life. You may remember your own satoyama, the landscape of traditional farming communities that includes the farm house and yard, the kitchen gardens, the fields, the rivers  and the surrounding forest. All contributing to provide delicious and nutritous food for the family and for the market and a sense of community.


IMAGE Typical satoyama in island of Kyushu in Autumn with ripe persimmons, or kaki, native of Japan.

I am French, born in the Les Vosges mountains of Lorraine near Germany and Switzerland in a subsistence farming community.

As we travel to beautiful farmhouses around Japan, it reminds me of the village in the forest where i was born. I realise traditional farmers in Japan still get their mushrooms and berries from the forest, and also from the huge diversity of the VARIETIES of fruits, nuts, vegetables and root crops they grow around their farms.

At five years old, I used to pick many flowers for my mother. One I remember fondly is primroses.  Funnily enough the different patches of primroses in the meadows changes in colour and fragrance. I learnt to discover new ones and loved them all. That was my introduction to the complexities of biodiversity.

On May 1st I would pick lily of the valley, or muguet in French. Some had much more smell than others some had larger bells and some shorter stems.


At ten, I would pick wild blueberries from the forest for my mother to make preserves. The characteristics of the blue berries would change at different altitudes and soils. I knew where to find different types bearing at different time. I learnt that plants adapt to their environment.

We picked wild plums on the edge of the forest and many locally evolved old traditional varieties along roadsides with “personalities” such as Mirabelles or Questches. Both co-habited. We ate them all.

We had the best-tasting semi-wild cherries on the side of road and we had the best cultivars. We kids picked them all. With these fruits the men made alcohol and the women jam.


My family picked wild hazelnuts in the forest. We also had several varieties of cultivated hazelnuts in our gardens.


My family grew in excess of 30 varieties of potatoes, ten of beans, six of lettuces, and three of leeks, etc. Each had its different treatment in the kitchen. Some green beans were for instant use, others for preserving to eat in the long winter.

Gardens of Tahiti

In 1966 I travelled to Tahiti and the Tuamotu islands of French Polynesia where I discovered that Polynesians had the same diversity in their food plants. My favourite was a banana known as Fei. It grows wild in the forest with its huge bunches facing the sky. Tahitians are now rediscovering varieties of fei that were thought of as lost or only remembered by elders.

Tahiti for me was paradise. I started to understand my own native biodiversity. I hope that all children are given the opportunity today enjoy the same!

Wild and cultivated plants sometimes cross-pollinate when they exchange pollen.  Please close your eyes for a moment and enjoy your memories of the Japanese agricultural landscape, satoyama.

It is not only the plants but also the farmers that are endangered. There are only a few farmers left as they are growing older.

Modern agriculture does not provide a market for the hundreds and thousands of types of fruits and vegetables that home gardeners are still keeping today. There are decreasing numbers if these people and we are losing varieties.

Solutions to this situation

We need the public to recognise and appreciate diversity (if they are not too young to remember it!).

We need older farmers teaching the young to keep and utilise the biodiversity of our food plants.

We need everyone with a home garden to take care of at least one variety.

Worldwide we need to stop logging tropical and temperate forests to make disposable goods. We need to reserve timber for long lasting products that will last as long as the tree took to grow at least. We need to keep our seas healthy and biodiverse making sure all species survive. Start with the seed!


Biodiversity as Edible Art

Wed, 04/11/2009 – Jude Fanton

The Japanese are masters at eating diversely. One of our first interns, Masami Sakaban told me that her grandmother’s advice to her was to eat at least thirty ingredients a day.

Often since then I have contemplated that her grandmother must have the same kind of gardens as we have. Gardens where harvests are not huge but diverse in the extreme.

What Masami didn’t prepare me for was how artistic Japanese meals are routinely. Even the lowliest of lunch boxes (bento) for sale is prettily arranged with a garnish flourish.

  And that is the way I like food. Arty and full of little surprises.

Here are two examples

1. Bento box from Tokyo Station

“Autumn vegetables” $12

31 ingredients including asparagus, bean, cucumber, pumpkin, capsicum, eggplant, daikon, carrot, lettuce, shiso, shungiku and mustard leaves, sweet potato, taro, yam, plums, lotus root, gingko seeds, three types of mushrooms, sesame seeds, walnuts and chestnuts.

IMAGE Bento box

2. Dinner at a ryokan, a traditional hotel run by a family.

23/10/2009 in Kanazawa, “little Kyoto”. Served in a private tatami room by our smiling hostess, Kuniko, and a smiling waitress. $30 per person.

Orange plate ·

  • Steamed asparagus with moromi (like natto), that is fermented wheat grains, red in colour

  • Gingko seeds (2) on skewers

  • A chestnut boiled, rolled in sesame seeds

  • A block of something white with brown aerial yam balls in it

  • Block of sushi rice with a skin of moonflower fruit and leaf of a relative of rose, peppery mix set in that skin

  • Tiny block of tofu fermented in miso, wrapped in fine hairs of bonito flakes2 pieces of dried sardine

Yellow bowl

  • Block of tofu made with walnuts

  • Fresh carrot block wrapped in transparent ham

  • Dob of wasabi

Beige plate

  • Soft-shelled crab, mashed flesh and covered with gratinee, deep-fried with a covering of bread crumbs

  • The shape of autumn symbols: gluten deep-fried as a maple leaf, red and green; sweet potato as a gingko leaf, green capsicum as an asparagus

  • Soup of bonito flakes, soy sauce and sugar

Deep beige bowl

  • Thin slice of cucumber with swirl of paste of salmon and of daikon

  • Ball of mashed yam with topping of cod roe flavoured with chilli

  • Sauce of soy and thin ginger slices

Elevated purple and orangey-red plate

  • Warm smoked and grilled silver cod (local)

  • Walnut roasted in bonito flakes

  • Long thin stick of ginger, half of it dyed with natural red dye

  • On a fancily cut bamboo leaf

Green bowl

  • Croquette of mashed lotus root, stuffed with eel paste

  • Soup of soy sauce and crysanthemum petals

Blue bowl

  • On ice, sashimi of slices of tuna and local schnapper, two river prawns (creamy), shiso leaf, shredded daikon, shoots of red shiso

  • As garnish: a small yellow crysanthemum, dob of wasabi and curly strip of carrot

Pink bowl

  • Block of dry-frozen tofu and mashed fish

  • Slice of lotus root

  • Oyster mushroom, soft

  • Block of purple gluten

  • Slice of soft beef

  • Big prawn

  • Cedar leaf, tiny

Lacquer bowl

  • Miso soup with swordfish pieces

Black lacquer pot

  • Rice with powder of red shiso leaf

Blue and white bowl

  • Skemono of cucumber dyed with red, mustard leaf and daikon radish

IMAGE Breakfast in Kanazawa Ryokan