Mothers raising young children are often shunned by Japan Inc., due to family commitments, but one young entrepreneur has the solution: flexible working on her cherry-tomato farm.
Requests from mothers to work at Drop Farm greenhouses have come flooding in. The startup, located in a forest in Mito, about a 100-minute drive northeast of Tokyo, now has staff of a dozen women and two men to produce tomatoes as sweet as strawberries, which are sold online as well as at upscale department stores and supermarkets.
Miura, mother to a 4-year-old girl, was a stranger to farming in Mito, Ibaraki Prefecture, before giving birth to her daughter in Tokyo, in 2014.
The Hiroshima native became interested in agriculture after working in the apparel and advertising sectors, believing she could pursue a career while raising a child, and "fell in love with" the crop field in Mito, which was owned by her husband's relatives who were engaged in burdock and rice farming.
She pointed out farming is easily accessible to mothers since it mainly involves non-urgent tending of plants and as hours can be flexible, rather than dealing with clients who have fixed deadlines.
One final push for her venture came when she saw a TV program about the sophisticated Imec film farming method. This can produce nutritious vegetables, such as cherry tomatoes, with high sugar content.
Imec technology uses a thin film made of hydrogel, commonly used in diapers or hemodialysis, which absorbs water and nutrients through nano-sized pores, but blocks germs and viruses. Compared with hydroponics, it uses less water.
The soil-free cultivation method invented by Yuichi Mori, who founded Mebiol Inc. in 1995 to apply the medical hydrogel technology to agriculture, allows even newcomers with no farming experience to quickly learn the technique.
It has been adopted to grow crops such as strawberries, melons, cucumbers and peppers in a number of countries including the United Arab Emirates, with Imec farms built on desert land there, according to Mebiol.