Naruko-no-Kome (Naruko Rice) Project
Challenge to maintain the local agriculture by the support of local community

Takeo Ueno
"Naruko-no-Kome" Project Conference

Naruko hot spring in Osaki is the traditional hot spring resort opened about 1,200 years ago. This area is mountainous and borders Akita and Yamagata Prefecture. Because of the hard environmental conditions and rapid progress of depopulation and aging, local people are anxious about the maintenance of the paddy fields and fear that the present market economic conditions would destroy the beautiful scenes of farming village around the hot spring resort.

This project has started under the idea that the local agriculture should be supported by the people who live there against the trend of market economy. At that time the actual price of rice for farmers in this area was 12,000 yen per bale (1 bale is 60kg), and this program aimed at 18,000 yen per bale for farmers as the proper price which enables them to continue their farming.
People in this area decided to growing the new variety of rice on trial which was developed in Miyagi and suits to the mountainous conditions of this area as the symbol of 'Naruko rice', and they selected "TOHOKU No.181", which has no brand name yet.

Local farmers planted rice in their paddy fields where covered with cold but clean water, and after harvesting they hang rice plants in piles on their rice paddies for drying rice naturally.
Not only farmers but also consumers took part in this program. People from various fields made efforts to cook rice delicuously. Women in this area researched how to cook the new variety of rice. They found out the suitable rate of water and devised about fifty kinds of rice balls making the most use of characteristics of low amylose content in the rice.
Confectioners using rice flour from the new variety of rice, developed about 40 kinds of sweets, including dumplings, breads, and Japanese cakes. Crafts workers of traditional woodwork in Naruko made rice ball containers using local materials and traditional technique.

People's effort and cooperation changed their rice as a product for sale into the local original food. Now 'Naruko rice' is expanding the variety of its use, like for children's box lunch or the cuisine of local hotels.
Consumers make purchase reservations before harvest so that farmers can make rice hardly. To eat is the measure to support the production process that anyone can do. They think food is so important that they have to make a reliable link between the people within the area without depending on others entirely. 'Naruko rice' project is a new challenge to establish a confident relationship between producers and consumers in the area.