Sugarcane on Torii Station ready for market
Torii Station, Okinawa - Seventy-five-year-old Kunio Ikehara retired from the Okinawa Bus Company as a bus driver 15 years ago. But he didn't want to stay retired; he wanted to use his time wisely while doing something healthy.
Ikehara decided to become a sugarcane farmer. In 1998 he started farming an 8-acre plot of land on Torii Station next to Torii Beach, the largest sugarcane field not only on Torii Station, but in all of Yomitan.
"As an individual farmer, I have produced the highest quantity of sugarcane in Yomitan for the past seven years in a row," he said.
According to Ikehara, there are a few reasons his sugarcane is so plentiful. He takes care of his crops and weeds the field every day. He uses only the finest, highest quality fertilizer, despite the higher cost. He also prepares for typhoons.
Typhoons, which threaten Okinawa during the "typhoon season" between June 1 and Nov. 30, can wreak havoc on sugarcane. Last year was no different, as Okinawa experienced at least three damaging typhoons including Bolaven in August and Jelawat and Samba, both in September.
"The wind from the typhoons knock down the sugarcane and blow saltwater, severely damaging or killing the sugarcane due to the salt," said Ikehara. "It is important to do typhoon preparation before the storm and after care as soon as possible."
Sugarcane takes a full 18 months of proper care and maintenance before it is ready for harvesting. This year, Ikehara has yielded seven tons of the sweet stuff, although this harvest is not as sweet as some due to a lower sugar level caused by the typhoons and salt water.
"Sugarcane should contain a sugar level between 13 to 17%. This product contains a sugar level of 10 to 11% due to last year's typhoons," said Ikehara. "The salt water damaged the leaves and resulted in lower sugar content."
For Ikehara, the best part of being a farmer is that he has a great working environment.
"I can't play without working, so work for me now is fun. It is a hobby. And through farming, I can contribute to the local economy by helping to keep the sugarcane companies, sugar companies and transportation companies working," he said.
Currently there are 474 farmers on Army installations on Okinawa whose crops include sugarcane, watermelon, carrots, green peppers, cucumbers, purple sweet potatoes (beni-imo), hechima squash, cabbage, Chinese radish (daikon), eggplant, papaya, bananas, okra, mango, dragon fruit, tomatoes, basil, garlic, pineapple, mushrooms, goya (bitter melon) and more.
Some of the produce grown by the farmers on Torii Station is sold at the Farmer's Market held each Friday afternoon from 4-5:30 p.m. in the small parking lot next to the 4-way stop at the entrance to Torii Beach. This farm-fresh produce can be purchased with yen only.