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Orders pour in for west Japan farmer's colorful 'vegetable bouquets'

A bouquet made of colorful vegetables is seen in Himeji, Hyogo Prefecture, on Dec. 9, 2020. (Mainichi/Nao Goto)

HIMEJI, Hyogo -- "Vegetable bouquets" created by a couple running a farm in this west Japan city have been getting orders from all over the country during the coronavirus pandemic, thanks to the bouquets' aesthetic and gastronomic value.

    Hiroshi Suzuki, 45, who has experience working at a florist, started making bouquets at the couple's business Farmer's Yard about five years ago. At first glance, the product looks like a bouquet of flowers, but is actually a collection of vegetables, which in addition to carrots includes rare varieties such as purple turnips and red daikon radishes.

    Hiroshi Suzuki, left, and his wife, Aya, who run Farmer's Yard, show off vegetables they grew in Himeji, Hyogo Prefecture, on Dec. 9, 2020. (Mainichi/Nao Goto)

    Hiroshi and his wife, Aya, 42, started farming in 2011 in Himeji, Hyogo Prefecture, and have been growing about 400 varieties of colorful vegetables a year, for which they have devised various cultivation methods to grow them in small sizes.

    When the state of emergency was declared due to the novel coronavirus pandemic in April 2020, vegetable orders from restaurants, which had been their produce's main destination, almost entirely dried up. Orders for bouquets, demand for which was rising for welcome and farewell parties, were also down to less than one-tenth of the previous year's level. Even so, Hiroshi tried to keep his spirits up, saying, "Let's not get carried away by the big trend, but keep trying."

    Encouraged by the positivity of a restaurant chef he knows who was also in a difficult situation, Hiroshi decided to produce vegetables that would inspire chefs' creativity when their restaurants restart. He put more effort into growing vegetables that could be offered to eateries as new ingredients, such as herb flowers -- which he hadn't shipped before -- to add color to their dishes. The words he used to reassure himself came from the American film "Back to the Future Part III": "Your future hasn't been written yet. No one's has. Your future is whatever you make it."

    At that time, vegetable bouquets were attracting attention as Mother's Day gifts through online shopping, and the number of shipments in May reached 12 times that of the previous year. Offering his analysis of the unexpected popularity, Hiroshi said, "It seems that the age group that uses online shopping has expanded in the coronavirus pandemic, and more health-conscious people were attracted to the product."

    Seizing the business opportunity, he has started to sell his products on online shopping sites for direct deliveries from farms, which he had not used before, and also began to sell seasonal gifts for occasions such as Japan's tradition of year-end gift-giving and Christmas. He is also focusing on using social media like Instagram to publicize his products.

    This year marks Farmer's Yard's 10th anniversary. Hiroshi says, "I cannot predict the future, but no matter what happens, I will solve problems one by one, and my goal is to become a world-class farmer in 10 years." In the first step toward this goal in the New Year, he said he wants "many people to enjoy the 'vegetable art' I can create as a farmer." He is now planning his next move.

    (Japanese original by Nao Goto, Himeji Bureau)

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