Life cultivated in Unzen, Nagasaki - Seeds

What is essential in FYLGDU MÉR’s pressed juice, are the vegetables grown from Masatoshi Iwasaki’s seeds that are of native variety.※1
He is a pioneer in seed growing farming, located in Unzen, Nagasaki. These vegetables with a fresh smell and unique, strong seasonal taste serves as the indispensable core of our juice and cuisine. We conversed with Mr. Iwasaki on his work – he grows about more than 50 kinds of vegetables each year in Shimabara Peninsula, while picking each of their seeds and passing the life on to the next generation.

Unzen is often covered in fog.
Cool, clear water can be found anywhere you look. Chikashi Okutsu, who has moved to this region from Tokyo, explained in the car on our way to visit Mr. Iwasaki’s “Natural Farm of Seeds”.
White fog has silently risen from the deep valleys in Shimabara Peninsula after the rain. The mountains breathed quietly, as if circulating water to the whole of the peninsula.
Up a small hill from Obama Onsen, facing the Tachibana Bay, was a small shrine. Beside it, a ladle was placed so that the townspeople could freely scoop up spring water. The water vein is so abundant, that a nearby village is named “Karimizu”, meaning that water gushes out not knowing its limit. The mountains in the back are covered with primeval forests, where felling of trees have been prohibited from long ago. Further into the mountains by car, Suigen Shrine was enshrined by a stream. These small shrines inform us the history in which the people of this land have been treasuring the sources of water, which protects life and prospers the fields.

Mr. Iwasaki’s fields are interspersed from the summit of volcanic Mount Unzen to its northern foot. Facing the Ariake Sea, salty ocean breeze carries minerals to this land. Here, not only has Mr. Iwasaki harvested his vegetables organically over the years, but has also continued to pick its seeds.
“Picking seeds” may sound too easy than what it actually takes – not many know of tremendous amount of effort, experience and affection this process requires. This is because the majority of the farmers now practice cultivation from purchasing seeds※2 that are exported by seed companles or those that are cultivation-managed. Also, many of the vegetables that are on the market are grown from F1 Hybrid Seeds.

In a large circulation market, a steady production of standardized size, length and shape is preferred. The seeds used to be sowed, which then sprouted, flowered and bear fruit, leaving new seeds. Life grew while obtaining the ability to live amongst the region’s natural characteristics. Agriculture obeying to such work of nature used to be the common way, yet now it is the minority. Mr. Iwasaki claims that it is largely because the process of extracting and protecting the seeds while also producing the vegetables requires an immense amount of effort and time, and is not compatible with market principle. “I started producing seeds because I wanted to learn from the way a copse participates in the nature’s syste of circulation,” says Mr. Iwasaki. After 33 years as a seed growing farmer, he concludes, “Cultivating vegetables and raising a human being is the same thing.” The act of selecting which crop to pick the seeds from is called mother plant selection; Mr. Iwasaki realized that selecting only the ones that are of good shape led to a decrease in seeds year after year. Life needs diversity. A mixture of lives with different sizes and shapes, is the key to passing down a healthy life to the next generation. “It takes many years to understand one kind of vegetable and its seeds,” Mr. Iwasaki laughs, and continues. “When I select the seeds, I’d like to take candid opinions from chefs and persons from food-related industry on what kinds of vegetables they find tasty. Being able to carry out mother plant selection is a great aspect of open-pollinated, native variety vegetables.” We were astonished by how the work of agriculture is so full of creative bliss. Along with that sense of amazement, it also brought us to light the growers’ prayers to offer a more abundant lifestyle.

“How do we pass on the seeds?”
Mr. Iwasaki asks himself occasionally. Underlying this question is his joy in circulating life, and his respect to those who the seeds have traveled through, those who have continued to pass down the seeds before reaching him. At the same time, he cares and worries for the young farmers, wondering if open-pollinated and native variety vegetables will still be in demand in the future. Moreover, it is a question to us consumers, of how we intend to eat and continue to support what is responsible of sustaining life itself.

Currently, young farmers teamed up with members including Mr. Okutsu mentioned above and Naoki Kaneko of Kaneko Shouten selling Mr. Iwasaki’s vegetables in Fukuoka to establish ”Unzen Seed Cradling Club.” Once a month they visit Mr. Iwasaki’s farm and learn the techniques of cultivating local vegetables and picking their seeds to pass them on to the next generation.

Text: Aya Ogawa
Photography: Yuna Yagi