PRODUCER SPOTLIGHT: Ichikara Farms - Rebuilding Snow Country with Soba
Soba, which is the Japanese name for buckwheat, is arguably one of the most popular types of noodles in Japan. It has a recognizable grey color and robust nutty flavor which can be enjoyed hot in a noodle soup or served cold with a chilled dipping sauce.
You may be surprised to learn that buckwheat is not actually a type of wheat - in fact, it’s technically not a grain at all. Buckwheat is actually a highly nutritious seed that contains all eight essential amino acids and is rich in lutein, vitamins B1, B2 and dietary fiber.
Most soba commonly eaten in Japan is made from ground buckwheat that uses the inside white portion of the seed which is then mixed with wheat. Gensoba, on the other hand, uses the whole seed including the dark colored husk resulting in a darker, more flavorful soba that is chewier and more nutritious. Some producers, including Ichikara Farms, go a step further to produce the purest, high-quality soba made from 100% gensoba with no added wheat.
The story of Ichikara Farms is one of rebirth and regeneration. The farm is located in the Snow Country of Niigata prefecture an area that had been devastated by a large earthquake in 2004 which triggered numerous landslides and destroyed local fields and pastures. The founder, Yudo Yoshida, had been living as a part-time farmer in Hokkaido at the time. His parents' house collapsed during the earthquake, so he decided to return home to help with the reconstruction. His intention was to return to Hokkaido, but destiny had another plan in store.
While helping a local ranch being rebuilt, he began to feel a strong connection to his surroundings. He saw the potential to regenerate the land through the cultivation of local soba. Despite numerous challenges, difficulties and the ever-present unpredictability of nature, Yudo was able to transform an abandoned pasture into what is now 30 hectares of farmland in the Uonuma and Ojiya districts. The farm has since expanded to include farming, harvesting, selecting, shelling, milling, noodle and stone mill powder making, and mobile truck sales.
Ichikara Farms also helps to support other local businesses through various collaborations. They store some of their soba in local, natural fridges made of snow, know as "yukimuro". Yukimuro can be used to store vegetables, meat, coffee and even alcohol, and is only possible in snowy regions such as Uonuma. This unique refrigeration method makes food sweeter by converting starches into sugar, helps to age meat and decreases the aldehyde in coffee and alcohol making it more mild. One ton of snow can replace the use of 10 liters of oil and 30kg of CO2, which can make a meaningful environmental impact given each snow fridge uses 400-700 tons of snow annually! They also supply their soba to a local brewery that specializes in buckwheat ale.
Ichikara Farms is committed to making products that are safe from both an environmental and food perspective. Instead of using chemical fertilizers or pesticides, they use bi-products from mushroom beds and buckwheat shells and husks, the create natural fertilizers for their soil.
Above all, they are thankful for what nature and the people of Snow Country Niigata have taught them about connection and regeneration.
Learn more about Ishikara Farms at http://www.ichikarabatake-soba.com/