Promoting local food from local farmers

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One of our tour stops took us to a local farmer’s market in Miyagi prefecture about two hours north of Tokyo. It was a sight to behold: more than three million customers pass through its doors every year. According to market general manager Jin-ichi Sato, only two places in the entire prefecture – or state/province – have three million annual visitors: the market and Sendai train station.

The market only sells locally grown products supplied by 276 area farmers, with a singluar focus on freshness and seasonality. The market as a major buyer of produce in the area makes three pledges to its farmers and its customers:
1. freshness: vegetables harvested before breakfast are to be delivered to the market by 9 am; those harvested after breakfast are to be delivered by 11 am, and those harvested after lunch go to market no later than 3 pm for a total of three daily deliveries. This is to ensure that customers can always buy the freshest possible produce.
2. extension: the market works with farmers to teach them production techniques. One of the keys here is encouraging farmers to follow proportioned cultivation to ensure that they will always have fruits and vegetables to deliver. This helps the market have a consistent supply and farmers a consistent income stream.
3. competition: the market strongly urges its farmers not to compete with each other and tries to treat everyone the same. According to general manager Sato, when farmers are competitive with each other, they become envious of the success of others and spend more time focusing on that than on what they are growing.

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The market also uses its farmers in its promotions to encourage customers to buy at the market.

Lilian Schaer is attending the IFAJ 2007 congress as part of the Canadian IFAJ 2011 Development Initiative, supported by Pioneer and Syngenta.

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