PRODUCER SPOTLIGHT: Kazemaru-Nojo - Planting Apple Seeds of Change
Kazemaru Farm located in Ajigasawa Town in Aomori Prefecture is known for its apples and for its entrepreneurial leader - Mr. Saiki Kimura.
Like many people in Japan, who go on to take over their family businesses, Mr. Kimura was born as the eldest son of a family which had been farming for generations. However, Mr. Kimura says that as a child he hated farming, but grew to love it over time. He now wears many hats aside from being a farmer and managing one of Japan’s largest apple orchards. He also helps to inspire the next generation of farmers in Japan.
Driven by an Experimental - Can Do! - Attitude
From the start, Mr. Kimura pursued new experimental ideas for Kazemaru Farm.
When he was 37, he took over the business from his father. At the time, the farm burned the pruned branches of apple trees during the winter. Noticing the potential for a business opportunity, Mr. Kimura decided to buy up pruned branches from surrounding farms, process them into firewood, and sell them as fuel. His ingenious idea worked and kept him busy during the cold winter months, until the product fell out of favor with the introduction of wood pellets.
Next he turned his attention to finding new uses for trees that had been damaged by hail. He started to sell dried apple products, which can now be found all around Tsugaru. The products were so popular that now many other dried fruits, like pears, persimmons, and prunes, are also sold.
Mr. Kimura also experimented by growing less common apple varieties. He has cultivated a variety called “Geneva” for over twenty years. This unique apple has dark red flesh and a tart flavor. For the first ten years of cultivation, Mr. Kimura said that no one was interested and the novel apples barely sold. Now the apples are a favorite with his customers and sell well.
Throughout the years, Mr. Kimura says he has tried many different new products and has even asked students studying packaging to help design the products. Many of his ideas failed or were not popular but he never gave up his can do spirit.
Planting the Seeds for the Future of Farming
Although Mr. Kimura says that he once hated farming, he has now become an unlikely spokesperson for agriculture. At his farm, he runs an exchange program for students, so that young people can experience farming. He has a student visit nearly ever month. The students plan their own projects from inventing new products to participating in festivals at local elementary schools. Thanks to the program, one student moved to Tsugaru to launch her own business, while others have started working at the local Aomori Prefecture government office.
With the farmer population aging around Japan, the influx of fresh talent and youth has reinvigorated the area. Mr. Kimura says he is amazed by the flow of young people, who are the next generation of the Tsugaru region. And they have Mr. Kimura to thank for showing them the potential of farming.
Learn more about Kazemaru-Nojo at http://www.kazemaru-nojo.com/