Introducing Project Potatohead – A Farm-To-Foodbank Initiative

We’re very happy to announce the launch of Project Potatohead, a farm-to-foodbank initiative here at hackerfarm to supply food banks in Tokyo with fresh produce. As Japan and other countries work to contain the spread of Covid-19, measures are being put in place that preserve public health at the cost of the economy. We’re expecting one result of this to be a decrease in food security for people and families.

To address this, we’ve decided to allocate one of our fields and donate crops grown this year on that field to supply food banks in nearby Tokyo. The original plan was to grow a variety of organic vegetables for member CSA (community supported agriculture) boxes that we distribute to friends and families. As we watched the pandemic play out over such a short time, we quickly realized that it could potentially be a social disaster here in Japan.

Because of this, we got together and discussed various things that we may be able to help out with. We decided that food is something we could definitely work on and adjusted our planting schedule this year. Instead of heirloom tomatoes, exotic cucumbers, and fresh herbs, we will instead focus on staple crops with long shelf lives such as potatoes and onions.

Seed potatoes from previous harvests we’ll be using

Prepping potatoes for planting. We can get more plants out of the potatoes by slicing them into parts

We also re-allocated the hackerfarm CSA field specifically for this project for the entire year. We’ll be growing various crops on it all year for the project.

One of our fields previously allocated for member CSA boxes

Team Potatohead has been putting a lot of work into prepping the field and planting the first crop which will be, of course, potatoes.

Noriko and the family have been spearheading this effort

At hackerfarm, we have to deal with a lot of bullsh*t, but the good kind…

Ark, a 16-year old veteran member of hackerfarm

Ark’s brother, Lewis, who at 11 years old is building his farming skills

We’ll be growing various crops on this field all year with the harvest being donated to food banks around Tokyo. Of course all of the produce is organically grown. We’re also in contact with various food banks and will start working out logistics as harvest time approaches.

Project Potatohead is a unique way that hackerfarm can contribute and give back to the community here in Japan. It’s also a great way to get exercise during the voluntary isolation and the kids learn so many amazing lessons from it. We’re all surprised how quickly it came together and really proud of the team. We’ll also be posting updates to the project page and lessons learned from this experience. Hopefully it will benefit other groups that want to do similar things in the future.

Stay safe and much love from Hackerfarm 🙂

Hackerfarm Autumn Corn Harvest

2017-10-05 Harvesting Corn DSC01788

Autumn has come and the corn we planted earlier in August is finally ready to be picked. This is actually a special breed of corn, a traditional Mexican variety, and is non-sweet. The standard corn we find in Japan and also in the US is sweet corn which can be cooked and eaten (yum!). This variety is meant to be ground into corn flour which we’ll later be able to make tortillas out of. We also used this corn in our tamales which we made for our harvest party.


The story behind this harvest is actually quite interesting. Adrian actually had to go to a place in Narita, near the airport in Tokyo, where a seed specialist stockpiled a lot of different types of seeds. He had some traditional Mexican seeds for corn but wasn’t sure about giving them to us. Adrian would help out at his farm and kind of hint that he needed the seeds for the planting, but the message never got through. Finally, he asked directly if he could have the Mexican corn seeds. The guy smiled and handed him one cob of dried corn from that plant. From that cob, we were able to cultivate around 100 plants. The best corn cobs will be saved, dried, and kept for seeds for the next harvest.

The method of planting is also extremely interesting. We planted these using a milpa technique so we could grow the crops completely organically. The method of growing is called “three sisters” which is a companion planting of corn, beans, and squash. The beans and squash are planted at the base of the corn and wrap around the corn stalks as the corn grows. This strengthens the corn stalks and prevents them from falling in the event of strong winds or typhoons. The beans are also nitrogen fixers and provides much needed nitrogen to the corn so it can grow well. The squash has broad leaves that provides ground cover and prevents weeds from growing.

(via Organica, La Milpa del Bueno Comer)

Growing these three together provides a balanced diet, keeps the soil fertile, and provides excellent harvests. This method of planting has been used throughout the Americas by the indigenous tribes and was the method of planting taught to the pilgrims from the Mayflower when they first landed on the continent. The bountiful harvest from this method of planting led to the first Thanksgiving which is the approximate time when you harvest these crops in North America. So for our harvest party, I called it our “little Thanksgiving” 🙂

Range Testing Non Ideal Terrain at FarmLab

When you hear specs online about wireless modules transmitting X number of kilometers, those specs are usually talking about transmitting under ideal conditions. In wireless terms, those ideal conditions would be something like transmitting from an antenna tower on top of a mountain to an antenna tower on the top of another mountain with a valley in between. In reality, most people including myself almost never have the luxury of coming anywhere close to those ideal conditions. When we decided to put up a wireless link from our farm to a nearby cafe, the same was true. There were very non-ideal conditions that we had to get around.

One of the areas of intense interest for me is agriculture technology which is also why I moved out to Hackerfarm in Japan. We have a project called FarmLab which focuses on experimental agriculture and agriculture technology. I’ll be running a wireless workshop tomorrow to teach other participants the basics of wireless and one of the tasks is to set up a wireless connection from FarmLab which is in the middle of a bunch of rice paddies to our cafe which is about a kilometer away. It’s not a difficult link, but there are a few obstacles such as a hill,  a grove of trees, and a few walls to get to a data aggregator that can put us on the internet.  Continue reading “Range Testing Non Ideal Terrain at FarmLab”