Tell us about your farm!
Founded in 2020, Hinata Farms is a farm located in Chicago, IL that focuses on growing Japanese and other Asian varieties of vegetables and herbs. In the Japanese language, “Hinata” means “a sunny place”. When written in kanji “日向” means “toward the sun”.
Our mission is to provide locally-grown and culturally-relevant produce for the Asian community of Chicago. Secondly, although our efforts are somewhat limited due to COVID-19 restrictions, we seek to create a space where Japanese and other Asian Americans can connect to the earth and their food heritage.
The farm currently grows on a 1/8-acre incubator plot located in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood.
Why do you farm?
There are two major things that motivate me to farm. The first is ecological. As someone who had only lived in urban areas, I felt my connection and appreciation for nature was too theoretical and not enough based on firsthand experiences. This led me to become more and more interested in plants and eventually pursue a career in farming. I began to read books on various farming practices and approaches and there was one that stood out among the rest, and that was One Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka.
Fukuoka’s approach is one in which we work WITH nature to grow. Its major principles include:
- Human cultivation of soil, plowing or tilling are unnecessary, as is the use of powered machines
- Prepared fertilizers are unnecessary
- Weeding, either by cultivation or by herbicides, is unnecessary; instead, only minimal weed suppression with minimal disturbance should be used
- Applications of pesticides or herbicides are unnecessary.
It’s an approach that has the utmost respect for nature and it has deeply influenced the way I grow at Hinata Farms. Although at our current site, we face some major limitations to employing these practices (small land, temporary lease, raised bed separated from contaminated urban native soil), we try to incorporate as much of these principles as possible. It may be a slow process of careful observation and trial and error, but I truly believe it will be worth the effort, especially from an ecological perspective.
The second reason I farm is to be able to connect to my Japanese heritage. I was born and raised in the Edgewater and West Rogers Park neighborhoods of Chicago in a family who bonded through food. Some of my fondest memories are helping my mom cook Japanese food, especially Osechi (traditional Japanese New Year food). For ingredients, we would go to the Korean, Chinese, or Vietnamese grocers to find the closest equivalent, or make the trek to the northwest suburbs to the Japanese supermarket, Yaohan (now Mitsuwa).
Three decades later, my mom has since passed, but my family and I still carry on those cooking traditions. While we still do not have a Japanese grocer in the city, we now have our farm to be able to grow many of the veggies that we would have had to drive almost an hour to access. We’ve even been able to grow things that you would only find in Japan. Since starting the farm, one of the most rewarding aspects has been to be able to provide other Japanese Americans in Chicago, who each have their own relationship and memories with the food, access to veggies from their heritage. In the future, I hope to move to a more permanent land situation and be able to grow perennial Japanese crops and produce Japanese value-added products.
What farmer alliance in Routes to Farm are you involved with and how many years have you been involved?
I have been involved with Advocates for Urban Agriculture for about a year and a half. From the beginning, when Hinata Farms was just an abstract concept, they assured me that there was value to what I wanted to create. I have learned so much from meeting with their staff, attending their various training sessions, and from the community of farmers that they have connected me with. They are a hard-working, generous, knowledgeable, and compassionate bunch and I’m truly grateful for the work that they do.
Tell us how your Mentor Farmer has guided you along your new farm journey.
Kerem Sengun has helped me immensely through my first season of running a farm business. He generously shared the knowledge he gained from being one of the few for-profit urban farms operating in Chicago proper. Not only did he provide guidance with crop plans and developing markets, but especially in this year of COVID-19 and having to constantly reassess and pivot business strategies, this year has been made less daunting to know that he was just a phone call away.
What is the biggest obstacle you face or have overcome as a beginning farmer?
The biggest obstacle has been learning the business side of the operation. I love growing, but sales, accounting, and marketing are not intuitive or things that I particularly enjoy. I still have much to learn, but I’m proud of what I’ve been able to do so far.
What is new on your farm next season? How are you innovating or growing and why?
Next season I plan to spend another year at the incubator site and increase production by being more efficient and thoughtful in my practices based on the mistakes and lessons from this season. I hope to continue testing out different Asian crops and varieties to see what grows well our Midwest climate. I also plan to increase the number of CSA spots to be able to accommodate the people currently on our waitlist.