Japanese commuters go green with community gardens

| April 15, 2014

How about breaking up your commute to work with a bit of gardening? That’s what’s being offered to commuters in Japan. Rooftop community gardens are popping up all over the country on top of rail stations. That location is no accident: the idea is that exhausted commuters can take a few minutes to decompress between train connections by growing fresh food.

In a culture “famous for working hard and making long hours,” this commuter gardening initiative provides a relaxing — and green — break.

community gardens

There is now a commuter garden atop Tokyo’s JR Ebisu station. From Andrew K. Smith.

The initiative is called Soradofarm. There are currently five Soradofarms farms in operation, the largest of which is on top of the JR Ebisu station in Tokyo. It’s a joint initiative of the train company, JR East trains, and “station entertainment company” Ekipara.

Here’s how it works: for an annual fee (just under $1,000 per year in the JR Ebisu garden), anyone can rent a three-square meter plot. The fee includes gardening supplies.

While the fee certainly makes for a relatively expensive way to spend a few minutes between trains, it must be pointed out that green space is at a premium in skyscraper-laden Tokyo. For many residents, the rail station gardens provide the only gardening opportunity available to them. And, of course, it’s still cheaper than spending your down time purchasing a $5 latte every business day — plus, you get to keep the fresh produce you grow.

Could the idea of commuter gardens catch on in the U.S.? “The green-roof movement has slowly been gaining momentum in recent years,” according to NPR. Rooftop gardens offer more than a relaxing break and fresh produce. When done correctly, they can reduce energy costs for the building as well as clean the surrounding air.

Whether or not a garden will end up on top of Grand Central Station remains to be seen. Rooftop gardens aren’t without obstacles. To name a few: there are permitting issues, there’s the need to make the rough sufficiently structurally sound to support the weight of gardeners and admirers, there are the logistics of transporting soil and water to the rough, and there’s the liability of having people on a rooftop.

It’s also expensive — but the Japanese model of having people rent space could offset some of those costs (as could the reduced energy bills).

The Japanese Soradofarm project’s intention is twofold: 1) to encourage local cultivation of food, and 2) to “help rushed passengers relax by connecting with nature.” It’s hard to quantify the therapeutic benefits of spending a few minutes picking tomatoes at the end of a grueling workday, but it’s clearly appealing to many. After all, it would have to be pretty enticing in order to convince people to shell out money for the privilege of getting fertilizer on their business suits.

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Category: Food

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Ellen Hunter Gans has been writing for RecycleReminders since the blog’s inception. She is passionate about words, new media and, of course, recycling.

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