Pasona Urban Farm

Take a tour of the farm yourself by watching this video, kindly made available by CScout Japan

What would you not expect to find underneath an office block in the heart of Tokyo’s business district? That’s right – a farm – and what’s more it’s open to the public so you can go check it out the next time you’re in Japan. You might think that sunlight and fresh air was necessary for growing crops – but the Pasona O2 Urban Farm seems to prove that wrong.

The farm occupies the ground and first floors of a newly built office block. Visible from the street outside is the rice paddy that occupies the entrance lobby, while flowers, herbs, melons and various vegetables are grown in other rooms. Energy-efficient LEDs and spotlights are used to provide the energy the plants need to grow, and the temperature of the whole complex is carefully controlled by computer to optimize the crop yields. This system works so well that the farm manages to produce three rice crops a year. A big advantage of growing plants indoors is that it keeps them away from natural pests, so there’s no need to use pesticides – meaning that the produce is 100% organic.

The set-up for each type of crop is different – and in total there are around 100 different kinds of produce. The tomatoes are grown hydroponically, using water rather than soil, and trail down from trellises on the ceiling. Seeds are sprouted in drawers to make maximum use of the available space, and beans grow up the walls. Perhaps oddest of all are the lettuces: shelves of lettuces are stacked four high, and each shelf is brightly illuminated by its own array of fluorescent tubes. Other crops are grown amongst the office space on the upper floors of the building, but these areas aren’t open to the public.

Is this the way of the future? So far there are around 15 computer controlled ‘plant factories’ in Japan – but this is the only one in a city centre. (It replaces an earlier one that operated in a disused underground bank vault on the other side of Tokyo station until it closed in 2009.) Its main function is to train unemployed people to work in agriculture. (Pasona, who run it, also have conventional farms in the countryside where workers from the underground farm can go to learn more conventional farming techniques.) It’s popular with local office workers, who drop in to buy fresh produce, or to relax in the stylish café, and as the rooftop and balconies are used to grow flowers and ripen fruit, it really helps to make the otherwise dull and utilitarian business district more pleasant.

If you’d like to visit, it’s open between 9:30am and 5:30pm, Monday to Friday, and entry is free. The farm is located in the same building as the head office of the personnel company Pasona that runs it. Take the train to Otemachi Station which is on five different subway lines: the Marunouchi, Tozai, Chiyoda, Hanzomon and Mita lines. Leave via exit B9 and turn left. Pasona’s building is just on the left before the crossroads. Here it is on Google Street View, but the photo was taken before they started to grow plants on the balconies, so it looks quite a bit different now. More information is available on the farm’s website, but unless you can read Japanese you’ll have to settle for just looking at the pictures.

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