- Farmers: Rie and Kenta Suzuki
- Brand: Enshu Olives
- Year of settlement: 2011
- Location: Ashida, Shizuoka, Japan
- Size: 2,4 ha, 700 olive trees
- Varieties: 11 cultivars, 50% Frantoio, but also Mission, Moraiolo
- Harvest time: October, hand picking, olive by olive
- Mill: Oliomio 80plus (80kg per hour)
- Oil production : 60L in 2018 (typhoon)
- Other products : table olives, olive leaves tea, soaps
- Specificities : organic, biodynamic
When youth takes over!
After travelling around Mount Fuji and its lakes, we leave its natural attraction behind to reach Enshu Olives, in Shizuoka province, 250 km southwest of Tokyo. Rie and Kenta are a couple in their thirties and happily claim to be the youngest olive oil producers in Japan. Above all, they are firmly committed to doing things their own way, on a human scale and in organic farming. A sunny encounter despite the devastating typhoon of September 2018.
In Olio Veritas – Kenta and Rie, thank you for having us at your farm, located in the largest tea producing region in Japan. Why did you choose olive oil?
Kenta – It all started in 2008, while we were in London for a one year studying program. I was involved in a totally different field, i.e. fashion design, but many gastronomic trips in southern Europe, flooded in olive oil and wine, inspired us and made us want to escape the chaos of cities to come back to the land and produce our own extra virgin olive oil. Back in Japan, we chose my home region, Shizuoka province, to buy a plot of land and plant a hundred olive trees in 2011. We have gradually planted more trees, and since 2017 we also have our own Italian mill, which allows us to be completely autonomous to produce our olive oil!
IOV – What technical training did you take to start this new activity?
Rie – If Kenta comes from a farming family, I’m from the city, so we were quite starting from scratch. Before settling down, we followed an agricultural course at Nagano University, which we wanted to complete with practical training with experienced olive growers. We spent six months in New Zealand on Waiheke island, then a year and a half in Australia, to cover all the stages from olive tree cultivation to oil tasting. Finally, we studied the practices of Japanese producers at Shōdoshima, Japan’s olive hotspot.
IOV – Could you tell us more about your olive grove and the organic growing practices?
Kenta – We have about 700 trees, on several plots. We are currently on the most recent of these plots, planted last year with Moraiolo trees. The farthest plot is on the seaside, 15 kilometres from here. In total we have 11 different varieties of olive trees, with a majority of Frantoio, but also Mission, which we bought and shipped from Shōdoshima, the « olive island ». After decades and decades of tea growing, the ground here is a very black soil, spongy, with no stones and therefore not really draining. It is not ideal for olive trees, as they do not like humidity.
Rie – We grow everything organically, with natural practices and without any chemicals. To protect trees from insects or fungus, we use only seawater or copper. Between the rows of trees, we plant barley or beans, which we then cut and mix with the soil under the olive trees. Herbs and flowers are a good indicator of the health of the soil and therefore of our olive trees.
IOV – What are the main difficulties you are facing here?
Kenta – Typhoons! Three days of rain and wind storms over 200 km/h can be fatal for crops. Typhoon Trami last September 30th occurred a few days before the olive harvest. A real disaster: we lost most of the olives, and the trees suffered significant damage. To tell you the truth, this year we were only able to produce 60 litres of olive oil! The tanks have been empty and our oil sold out since mid February. In addition to typhoons, the rainy season in June and early autumn make it complicated too, especially for organic farming, as many diseases can appear in the grove with moisture. I think that the humid climate contributes greatly to the very low yield of olives. Here in Japan, the average is 10-12% oil, far from the 20% we can observe in Europe.
IOV – The obstacles are huge! How do you manage then?
Rie – As you may have noticed, extra virgin olive oil is a very expensive product in Japan. The harvest is done manually and our olives are hand-picked one by one. The little oil we have, we sell it well, aligning our prices with those of the producers of Shōdoshima (100 mL = 2800 yen, or 225€ per liter). In addition, we have other products such as table olives – which we fortunatelly harvested before the typhoon last year – and olive leaves tea mainly from Frantoio’s thick leaves. We have different blends of olive tea, whose recipes were prepared by a friend of us who is an expert in tea. Last, as « young farmers » we benefit from the Government support: to face the ageing of the population and mainly farmers, the government has decided to support young farmers, a real chance for us.
IOV – So, 2019 can only be a better year in terms of harvest!
We continued the conversation drinking a delicious olive leaves tea and our hosts generously offered us samples of all their products: 100% Mission and Enshu blend olive oils, natural table olives, 100% olive herbal teas, olive chai. Adorable!
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