[FoRK] Underground farms

Rohit Khare khare
Wed Aug 31 17:27:10 PDT 2005


Fruit and Vegetables Grown Under Office Building (March 17, 2005)

An underground rice and vegetable field has been planted beneath an  
office building in Tokyo's Otemachi business district. This urban  
farm - in what used to be the vault of a major bank - is maintained  
using computer-controlled artificial light and temperature  
management. It was brought into being by a personnel company as a  
means of providing agricultural training to young people who are  
having trouble finding employment and middle-aged people in search of  
a second career.
New Use for Former Bank Vault
The hi-tech vegetable patch, called Pasona O2, is located in the  
Otemachi Nomura Building in the Tokyo district of Otemachi, where  
many major corporations have their headquarters. The building, which  
has 27 floors above ground and five below, used to be home to Tokyo  
Life Insurance and Resona Bank (formerly Daiwa Bank). But these firms  
have left, and office space in the building is now leased to several  
different companies. This project was launched by the temporary  
staffing agency Pasona Inc. When Pasona moved its headquarters to  
this building, it decided to lease the second basement floor -  
formerly the Resona Bank vault - and turn it into a vegetable garden.

In the absence of sunlight, the plants are sustained by artificial  
light from light-emitting diodes, metal halide lamps, and high- 
pressure sodium vapor lamps. The temperature of the room is  
controlled by computer, and the vegetables are grown by a pesticide- 
free method in which fertilizer and carbon dioxide are delivered by  
spraying. Hydroponics, in which plants are grown in water and hardly  
any soil is used, is one of the methods of cultivation used in the  
facility. Technical assistance in setting up the indoor farm was  
provided by Professor Masamoto Takatsuji of Tokai University, who is  
researching such projects, which are known as "plant factories."

The "field" has an area of about 1,000 square meters. Tomatoes,  
lettuces, strawberries, and other fruits and vegetables are grown, as  
well as flowers and herbs. There is also a terraced paddy field used  
to grow rice.

There are said to be about 15 fully computer-controlled "plant  
factories" nationwide. Most are located in suburban areas, though,  
and this is the first such endeavor to make use of a city-center  
building. The organizers hope that the first crops will be harvested  
in the early summer of 2005, and they will initially be used as  
ingredients in Pasona's canteen. By providing training to people  
interested in agriculture, the ultimate goal is to create job  
opportunities in the agricultural sector.

Tended by Aspiring Farmers
This urban agricultural training facility is tended by former  
freeters (young people who hop between part-time jobs) with an  
interest in farming. Through its Agriculture Internship Project in  
the village of Ogata, Akita Prefecture, Pasona, along with Kanto  
Employment Organization Inc, offered on-the-job training on a real  
farm. About 100 aspiring farmers, including young people and middle- 
aged businessmen, have already taken a course of agricultural  
training in Ogata.

The organizers also plan to keep the facility in Tokyo open to the  
public until 6 p.m. to enable businessmen and office workers to drop  
by and experience hi-tech farming on their way home from work.

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