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Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012

Retirees find new life farming Toyota fields

City provides all the training as baby boomers leave automaker


By YUI MATSUTAKE
Kyodo

NAGOYA — In the city of Toyota, Aichi Prefecture, a growing number of retired corporate employees have taken up farming thanks to a city-run agricultural training program.

News photo
Green thumb: Kenji Nakahara, who spent his entire working life at Toyota Motor Corp., tends vegetables he is growing on a farm in Toyota, Aichi Prefecture, in July. KYODO

The city, the home base of Toyota Motor Corp., launched the training center in 2004 ahead of a surge in the number of retirees when baby boomers began reaching retirement age in around 2007.

It was a big hit and now more than 250 participants are actively engaged in farming.

The program serves a dual purpose — helping retirees find something to live for, and resolving the city's problem of what to do with farmland and rice paddies left idle by the lack of young people going into agriculture, among other reasons, municipal officials said.

Former Toyota employee Kenji Nakahara, 71, is one of those who now spends his days tending to the vegetables he grows in a field in a mountainous area of the city.

"I'm now even busier than when I was a salaried worker," Nakahara said. "But the more effort I put in, the better the vegetables become."

Nakahara, who hails from the city of Saga, joined the automaker when he was 23 and worked there full time until reaching the compulsory retirement age of 60. He stayed on five more years as a temporary worker.

But "every day was dull and boring," he recalled. He enrolled in the agricultural training course in 2006.

With no previous experience in farming, Nakahara started from scratch and became a farmer in just two years. He now grows about 15 kinds of vegetables. By devising unique approaches, such as adjusting the timing of shipments to maximize the commercial value of his produce, his farm business has been turning a profit every year.

"I don't get pocket money from my wife," Nakahara said, laughing.

According to people who were involved in establishing the training center, preparations began as early as 2003.

"It'd been said that even just considering retirees from Toyota, it would be a massive number," one of the planners said, referring to members of the baby boomer generation. "Our city also had a lot of idle and abandoned farmland. So we came up with this project, hoping the retirees could stay healthy through taking up farming after leaving their jobs."

The training center, jointly run by the Toyota Municipal Government and the local agricultural cooperative, has three farms for practical training. It offers three different courses and is open to nonresidents of the city.

Among the options, a two-year course is available for people wishing to become farmers in the city. Participants can get about 50 days of practical training in the fields for only ¥10,000 in fees a year.

"Seeds and seedlings are all provided by the center. One only needs to bring a pair of boots and a raincoat to join," said Hiromichi Kondo, who heads the center.

The center also acts as a go-between for participants who pass the practical skills training in the two-year course if they are in search of farmland in the city.

To date, the center has helped about 170 participants find a total of 350,000 sq. meters of land.

Meanwhile, a group formed by graduates of the course is hoping to find new markets for their products, such as by gathering members' vegetables for collective shipments to be used in school lunches.

With its success, the scope of participants has expanded from retirees to others. A 28-year-old woman taking a course at the center, for instance, said she had quit her job because she wanted to make a living by farming.

"We would like to further improve on the program by offering training for profitable crops," Kondo said.



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