Ajishima Farmers’ Market is open!

The one project I really wanted to see completed on this trip was the Ajishima Farmers’ Market. Together with the Ajishima Community Kitchen, it has received ¥2 million thanks to HOPE International, since my last trip. Soon after arriving on Oshika, I visited Ajishima to see what needed to be done to get the market ready for business.

The first thing that needed to be done was actually to wax the floor of the Community Kitchen, so that the kitchen items that were being stored in the market space could be moved in. Once those items were moved, we could see what space we had to work with. We cleared the other items out of the space, setting aside anything that could be repurposed, then set to work sanding down the walls and any shelving that the previous occupants had left behind. I then left the islanders, led by American Rick Mickelson who lives on Ajishima, to create the market space that they had wanted when he originally asked me for support.

This morning I returned to Ajishima to see the “soft opening,” with the official opening scheduled for 1st February. Rick and his team have done an incredible job of transforming this dusty old space into a beautiful shop, filled with local produce as well as a few necessary household items as requested by the islanders.

The walls are painted white, the shelving has been coloured with warm wood stain, display boxes have been made out of wood off cuts, pretty curtains and bamboo blinds hang at the windows and in front of hidden storage spaces, and interesting paraphernalia stand on the highest shelves, giving the shop character and warmth. The shop is filled with locally grown vegetables, and other packaged items produced by the islanders or those connected with it. The shop is called 808 (ya-o-ya) and Rick and his wife Michie have made a beautiful sign for above the entrance, with a clock stopped at 8:08. The clock had been found discarded and hadn’t worked for years, and bizarrely, when work started on the market, the clock started working again of its own accord until Rick stopped it at exactly 8:08, the time that they had planned to open the market for the first time.

The shop was open until just 10am today, to introduce the products to the islanders. One by one they turned up at the shop, very excited to see what was inside, and to do some shopping at this, now their only shop on this side of the island. Some went off to gather their friends and come back, some made more than one shopping trip, and some got in a car and drove across the island to see what the announcement that had gone out on the island public speaker system was all about. People kept coming and coming, and shopping and shopping, until past 11am, despite the shop intending to close an hour earlier today.

I met some of the people who had produced items to sell at the shop, who were excited about this new venture that would help them with their business. And one man and his ten-year-old daughter were one of the first shoppers, who later told me how much his children loved the new playground on Ajishima and played there all the time. By the time the shop closed, half of the shelves were empty — the soft opening was considered a great success!

Farmers’ Markets have been such an important part of my own pickle business in England. I have seen firsthand not only what these kinds of outlets can do for one person’s business, but also what they bring to a community. Giving older people a reason to take that little walk to the shop keeps them active. Fresh, homemade, locally sourced products without artificial ingredients keeps everyone healthy, and is especially appreciated by people who are too busy or too old to be able to make them themselves anymore. They provide a place for people of all ages to mix and chat, even if they’re not shopping. And they play a big part in the local economy, in a number of ways, which benefits everyone.

Congratulations to Rick and his team on Ajishima for having the vision in the first place, and for working so hard to achieve it, and a very big thank you to HOPE International for making this special project possible.

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