The entrance to NamaYasai Japanese vegetable farm is hidden along a woody lane near Lewes, East Sussex. It’s so well concealed, the first time I went, I didn’t find it.
On my second attempt, I drive through an iron gate up to the farm’s giant greenhouse and tractor shed. Inside, a team of eight or so workers are mingling among boxes and seed trays. On an upturned bin, some mementoes – a fox skull, feathers and stones look like an artist-composed still life.
It being the summer holiday, owner-farmers Robin Williams and Ikuko Suzuki’s son lounges comfortably atop a pile of packing sacks. Robin shows me around the greenhouse. It’s full of cropping yuzu trees, Charentais melons and Japanese aubergines and humming with the sound of bees, hoverflies and parasitic wasps.
NamaYasai is not a certified organic farm by choice. Instead, Robin and Ikuko refer to what they do as ‘Natural Agriculture’. They began growing commercially eleven years ago from what was their back garden. They were extra careful, says Robin, to keep the garden walls out of shot in publicity photos so they would appear bigger than they were.
They trademarked the term Natural Agriculture, to offer customers assurance that they cannot legally sell vegetables grown using chemical sprays. Instead, Robin and Ikuko work to the principles of soft footprint – choosing varieties that survive well in local soils with little intervention. They encourage beneficial insects and grow outdoors wherever possible.