Kojiro Uchiyama, the Portland-based consul-general of Japan, will host a birthday celebration in honor of Emperor Akihito on Dec. 7, and Oregon City High School culinary arts teacher Tera Fukuhara will be there.
She will accompany Stacey Givens to the event, to be held at the Hilton Hotel in downtown Portland.
Givens is the owner of the Side Yard Farm, an urban farm, supper club and catering company located in the Cully neighborhood in Northeast Portland.
Seed to Plate Tour
For the past four years, Givens has led the Side Yard's Seed to Plate Tour to Japan, and this fall Fukuhara was part of the group that visited local farmers and cooked at the Kobe Farmers Market.
"The whole idea was to help farmers get more involved with their community," Fukuhara said.
Other members of the visiting group were Lili Tova, owner of Flying Coyote Farm in Sandy; Jaime Holub, owner of Sweet Honey Farmacy; Althea Potter, executive chef of the Southeast Wine Collective; and Shawn Lineham, a photographer who specializes in taking photos of farms and seed collectives.
During the event, Givens spoke at a panel about how she has "grown her business working with other chefs to sell her unique produce," Fukuhara said. She and Givens both attended the Oregon Culinary Institute and Fukuhara has helped Givens cater events.
Fukuhara was asked to be on the tour because she is a teacher.
"One reason Stacey brought me on this trip was to show how I use local ingredients in the classroom," Fukuhara said. "My main thing is to teach students where their food comes from. Nothing in this classroom comes out of a box.
"I teach kids how to feed themselves in a healthy way."
Fukuhara noted that she teaches a Japanese food unit where the students make ramen from scratch, including the noodles and broth. She plans to incorporate into this unit dishes from root vegetables and flavors she sampled in Japan.
'Passion for food'
Fukuhara had never been to Japan before and said the tour was "an amazing trip back to where it all began."
"My father is Japanese, and I have a passion for food after watching my aunties and grandmother cook," she said.
At the Kobe Farmers Market, Givens and Fukuhara cooked butternut squash soup, which was a big hit with those who tasted it.
"This is a vegetable that grows in Japan, but is not used very often in Kobe," she said.
The visiting group also met a seed saver outside of Kyoto who has been collecting seeds since the 1960s and "growing amazing veggies."
He hosted the group and made a six-course meal using produce he had grown on his farm from heritage seeds.
"The rice had just been harvested, and he showed us how to make tofu and miso soup from scratch," Fukuhara said.
Another six-course meal was served up at a dairy farm outside of Kobe, featuring many kinds of cheeses.
As Fukuhara's group traveled around the region, they saw rice paddies everywhere, but at the same time she was told that so many food items are being imported that Japan is losing its agricultural heritage.
"In Kobe, they're trying to bring young people back into farming because it's becoming a lost form of work," she said.
"I was impressed by the technology in Japan; vending machines serving hot and cold drinks in cans were everywhere."
For the last meal on the trip, the Oregon group decided to cook a Mexican meal for their Japanese hosts.
Because certain foods were not available locally, "we had to order black beans, avocados and limes and have them sent overnight by Amazon Prime," Fukuhara said. "They had never had black beans before, and we made Spanish rice. They had never had a tomato-based rice made with cilantro and cumin.
"We served braised pork and handmade tortillas over a wood fire. We also served guacamole, a persimmon-based hot sauce, Mexican slaw, pickles made from daikon radish, and onions and roasted root veggies," Fukuhara said.
Looking back on the tour, Fukuhara noted that "culture in Japan goes deep. We went to a castle and the first two floors were built in the 1330s."
Although she had been exposed to Japanese culture her entire life because of her heritage, when she was in the country she "learned how to be respectful and aware of my space. I am proud to be Japanese.
"To be able to go to a country where my ancestry is from, and to do it through food I am so passionate about, was an amazing and life-changing experience."
Meet Stacey Givens
Givens is the owner of the Side Yard Farm in the Northeast Cully neighborhood in Portland. She has a passion for urban farming and is a proponent of the seed to plate food philosophy.
Givens has a Kickstarter campaign underway to renovate a building on Northeast 42nd Avenue in Portland, in order to build a commissary kitchen.
She is calling the project a community-supported kitchen, which follows the model of community-supported agriculture (CSA).
The CSK mission is to help entrepreneurs grow their food business in a professional and collaborative environment.
Learn more at thesideyardpdx.com and kickstarter.com/projects/867306521/community-supported-kitchen-csk.