” MINAMI-SOMA, Fukushima Prefecture–A former Tokyo Electric Power Co. executive who feels guilt over the 2011 nuclear disaster is behind the start-up of a tomato farm which opened in the devastated region here Jan. 20.
Eiju Hangai, whose previous employer operates the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, is now president of Minami-Soma Fukko Agri KK, an enterprise formed by business leaders with ties to the city.
At the farm’s opening ceremony, Hangai said he hopes that the project will help ease local farmers’ struggles in the aftermath of the disaster at the plant.
“We must shoulder the responsibility for causing the nuclear accident for the rest of our lives and we are hoping to carry out part of our responsibility through this initiative,” he said.
“We aim to offer not only job opportunities in the agricultural sector, but also train people for future managers in the industry.”
The company spent 1.1 billion yen ($9.4 million) to purchase a 2.4 hectare property and build the farm.
Of this, 740 million yen was covered by a grant from the central government designed to help businesses creating jobs.
Financial institutions in the prefecture collaborated by extending loans worth 100 million yen in start-up funds.
Around 50 local people have been hired to work on the farm in the city’s Shimoota industrial park.
Mayor Katsunobu Sakurai, who is from a farming family himself, gave encouragement to the employees at the ceremony.
“Since I started in agriculture myself, I am fully aware of the frustration of farmers who could no longer do their work,” he said. “I would like you to channel your frustration into hope and take pride in working in an industry that protects life.”
The farm’s tomato is named “Asubito Tomato” (Tomatoes grown by people playing a key role in building the future).
Minami-Soma Fukko Agri has set an annual target of 660 tons, with the first shipment expected in early March.
Currently, 28,000 tomato seedlings are grown in a 1.5-hectare greenhouse where the room temperature is kept above 20 degrees by computerized control.
Humidity and the concentration of carbon dioxide in the greenhouse are also managed by the computer. ”