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There’s a good reason behind the delicious taste! Okinawan pineapples nurtured and grown by a father and son team (Nago City).
post : 2021.08.23 15:00
Driving through the old part of town in Nago, located in the northern region of Okinawa Island, and up towards the mountains along a curvy road. Outside the car window, I can see the large spiny tree ferns bustling with life. The shades created by the lush greenery are comfortable and simply perfect. A pineapple field comes into view, surrounded by trees as if to provide a protective wall of nature. The sight is lovely and I can feel the nature of Yanbaru embracing me. Growing on the field and bursting with energy are pineapples about the size of two hands. These are called the Golden Barrel pineapples.
“I began preparing the soil so that the field would be ready once my son started his journey as a farmer. I grew the pineapple saplings, too.”
As I stood there lost in the beauty of the landscape, Yukihiro Miyazato approached me and told me about the field. Yukihiro-san graduated from the local agricultural university and began working for Japan Agricultural Cooperatives (JA), assisting and guiding farmers. Later, he started his own farm and grew a wide range of fruits and vegetables.
The tall man who seemed to humbly be standing behind him is his son, Marimu-san. He, too, had graduated from an agricultural university and just recently joined his father on the farm. Marimu-san had decided when he was in high school that he wanted to grow pineapples. Just pineapples. One of the reasons was because of a high school friend’s father, who had been growing pineapples with very high sugar content for a long time and had found great success. Since meeting his friend’s father, Marimu-san had always dreamed, “Someday, I want to be like this man.”
“I plan on passing down all my farming equipment and tools to my son,” says Yukihiro-san, glancing at his son. Someday, Marimu-san will likely leave the nest to start his own farm. The expression on the father’s face showed countless emotions as he looked at his son.
The father and son duo work hard together to grow their pineapples. Both of them are very particular about two things. First, to grow delicious pineapples. And the other is to engage in farming that will not pollute the beautiful seas of Okinawa. At various production areas, every pineapple farmer puts a lot of thought and hard work into delivering wonderful pineapples to the world. A few years ago, Shio Pine (or salt pineapple) was one of these wonderful gifts born from the tireless work of the farmers and introduced to the world. As Miyazato-san showed me around the farm, I asked him about his thoughts on growing delicious pineapples.
“I always keep in mind about reaping the benefits of microorganisms. I use fish scraps, kelp, and seawater to grow microorganisms. This is excellent liquid fertilizer rich in amino acids. I spray this on the field regularly. This makes the balance of sugar and acidity of the pineapples just right, and the color is wonderful.”
I see his point. Fish and kelp do have a good balance of minerals. With microorganisms added and sprayed on the fields, the soil will undoubtedly become healthy.
Miyazato-san continued, “And of course, there’s the soil. As long as the soil is improved to meet the needs of a particular crop, it helps with their growth and as a result, the taste is enhanced.”
“Then there’s the environment. Without care for the environment, farming isn’t possible.” Yukihiro-san continued to tell me his thoughts. For years in Okinawa, the issue of red-soil runoff has been a problem. This happens when the islands are met with heavy rainfall and red soil from farms and other areas flows out to the sea, causing the beautiful blue waters that surround Okinawa to a reddish-orange of the soil. To prevent this, Miyazato-san has planted vegetation known as Bechipa around his field, and using special methods, he has also dug out trenches on the rock layer underneath the soil. This allows better permeation of rainwater and doubly prevents the red soil from the field to run off into the ocean.
“This method was born in Okinawa and they even have a patent. It was introduced to Cambodia as a technical cooperation project and has resulted in five times more in sorghum harvest there.”
Yukihiro-san proudly explained this all to me.
“What’s more, this technique actually ties in directly with growing delicious pineapples. Because rainwater infiltrates and doesn’t remain on the ground, this allows the roots of the pineapples to spread out easier. Because this creates an environment where the pineapples can take in more oxygen, they grow healthy and without any diseases. They grow to have a rich flavor and are not excessive in moisture. On top of that, the rainwater gets filtered through the farm before it reaches the sea, and this becomes clean underground water.”
Apparently, pineapples are often harvested and shipped out to the market when they’re about 30 to 50 percent ripe. However, Miyazato-san patiently waits until they’re 80% ripe, he says.
“The deliciousness of pineapples also depends on their maturity, too. Since we don’t force-ripe, we wait as long as we can until they’re almost completely ripe on their own. Every year, it’s a battle with the crows that come looking to take bites. But since we set up the hawk trick, we haven’t been outdone by the crows.”
Usually, pineapple shipments reach their peak around August 10th every year. Miyazato-san says that’s because his farm is located at a relatively high altitude where the temperature is slightly lower. Many other pineapple farmers begin to set up the protective nets around the end of May, but Miyazato-san waits as long as possible. He wants his pineapples to get as much sunshine as possible.
The father and son team has continued their hard work in cultivating delicious pineapples through trial and error, but they also learn from a master in the field whom they look up to for various tips and advice. Their teacher is Higa-san, who’s been on his own journey of learning about pineapple cultivation for 40 years. It was almost 10 years ago when Miyazato-san was working at the pineapple division of JA, that he met Higa-san, who was a pineapple advisor.
“If we have anything that we’re not sure about, we call him up and he teaches us,” says Miyazato-san and his son. They spoke as they look in the direction of where Higa-san stood and showed obvious pride to call this man their teacher. Higa-san’s farm is located where Okinawa’s pineapple farming all began. Higa-san says, “In Okinawa, pineapple production began at Arashiyama in the Motobu Peninsula and on to Izumi in Motobu town, and then spread to Ishigaki Island.” Just like how the production area for the pineapples expanded, the passion and skills involved in the cultivation have been passed down across three generations from Higa-san to Yukihiro-san, and then on to Marimu-san.
The Gold Barrel pineapples that Miyazato-san puts much of his efforts in, is a variety that was nurtured and developed in Okinawa. He also grows a variety of pineapples called type N which has roots in Hawaii but was improved in Nago City, as well as Bogor pineapples which originated in Indonesia.
“My favorite is the Gold Barrel. The taste is better than the others, the mouthfeel of the fruit is smooth, and the fragrance is strong and rich. There’s a particularly sweet variety called the Sun Dolce, and yes, they are very sweet and delicious. But it lacks in acidity. The Gold Barrel, on the other hand, has an excellent balance of sweetness and acidity. You can eat it all the way to the core so there’s nothing to waste. And another thing, which is not exactly relevant for people who simply eat them, but as growers, the Gold Barrels don’t have the sharp and ragged saw-like leaves, so when we’re caring for them, we don’t get hurt (laughs). Still, there are challenges in cultivating the Gold Barrel, too. Unlike other varieties, the Gold Barrel doesn’t bud the following year, so even if we work hard in the field for two years to grow them, after one harvest, we have to replant them. Even then, the harvest rate is about 50%. With other varieties, we can harvest about 80%...” Marimu-san explains. As he talks passionately about farming, his expression goes back to the serious face of a young, hardworking farmer.
“I’ve always liked plants and vegetation since I was a child. My father began growing pineapples when I was in the fourth grade in elementary school, and as I helped him, I became more and more interested in them. Some young farmers grow vegetables. But when it comes to pineapples, we’re facing a lack of a new generation of farmers to carry it on. I began to hope that I could do something by becoming one of the next generations of pineapple growers.”
During his years in agricultural university, Marimu-san visited various farms and agricultural research centers to acquire knowledge and skills in pineapple cultivation.
“When we think of what the representative fruit of Okinawa is, people will think, mangoes. Mangoes are so popular that pineapples are always left in their shadows. My goal is to bring the pineapple into the same league,” Marimu-san says shyly.
Marimu-san is also a member of a Shi Shi lion dance group called the Shimakaji. Twice a week, after his tasks in the field are done, he hops in his car and heads out to Urasoe City to practice with the other members. In appearance, he looks like an ordinary young man, but it was clear to see that in his heart was a strong and vibrant passion for Okinawa.
Okinawa CLIP photo writer, Nobuya Fukuda.