Monday, August 11, 2008

Veg-a-matic

Tokyo is known for its quirky vending machines: from them, you can buy booze, porn, fresh flowers, even, according to legend, the used undergarments of enterprising schoolgirls. But would you believe vegetables? Yes, indeed! In northern Suginami-ku, a 20-minute bike ride from Ajimi HQ, a vegetable vending machine operates at the edge of a small urban farming plot. For those of you who have just had your minds blown by the idea of a farm in the middle of a Tokyo residential neighborhood, be aware that these kinds of market gardens are a fairly common sight within the bounds of the 23 districts that make up the central Tokyo region.

The vending machine has 36 little doors and looks more like the kind of locker that you put your shoes in at public bath houses than, say, a canned soda dispenser. You slip in your 100 yen coin (about $1) and pull out a bag of four or five vegetables that were picked that morning from the adjacent garden. At the time of our visit, about 5 pm on a Monday, all that was left were a few bags of なす(nasu, or eggplant) じゃがいも(jaga imo, jacket potatoes) and きゅうり (kyuri, slender Japanese cucumbers). A sign next to the machine invited customers to e-mail a website to have tomato harvest updates transmitted to their cellphones.

These are not bad prices by Tokyo standards, especially considering that the produce carries Eco Farmer certification, indicating that the farm, called Miyuki-en (三幸園), has made efforts to reduce dependence on chemical fertilizers and pesticides through soil enhancement and use of organic farming techniques.

If you can't peddle up to Igusa 2-chome to visit the vending machine, you can have the vending machine come to you, so to speak, at least at certain times of the year, at least if you live anywhere in Japan. At Miyuki-en's website, www.yasai.com, one can place vegetable orders via the Internet or download a fax order form. Alas, that service has ended for this year, but seasonal vegetables will be available at the vending machine through January.

The website is fun to look at just to read the blog (hit the auto translate option to get the Japanese translated roughly halfway into English) and the commentaries on urban agriculture and the latest goings-on in the garden.

Now, as for those vending machines dispensing schoolgirl panties...the Ajimi team will offer a bag of fresh Miyuki-en eggplants to anyone who can provide documentary evidence that such things exist.

VS

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