IITATE, Fukushima Prefecture--Forty kilograms of fresh strawberries were shipped from Iitate Ichigo Land farm on July 31, the first produce dispatched from an area designated as an evacuation zone since the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
"The fruit has a nice, sweet aroma," said Hiroshi Sato, 62, who runs Iitate Ichigo Land farm with his wife, Yoko. "We can ship the produce with confidence."
The Raiho strawberries were cultivated in a greenhouse. Tests conducted by the Fukushima prefectural government did not detect any radioactive material in the fruit.
The first batch of strawberries is expected to be purchased by a produce wholesaler in Nagoya.
All the residents of Iitate were forced to evacuate after the onset of the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant triggered by the March 11, 2011, Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.
The greenhouse is in a locale that has been designated as an area where preparations are under way to lift the evacuation order. Decontamination work in the area has already been completed.
Sato began growing the strawberries last year from seedlings. He has been commuting to the greenhouse from his apartment in Fukushima city, where he has evacuated to.
"I was unsure if I should resume farming while all the residents are still evacuated," Sato said. "But in the end, I thought that something had to be started."
The climate of Iitate is ideal for growing strawberries because of the difference in temperatures between night and day.
Sato hopes his decision to resume farming will be a catalyst for further rebuilding, even though he is aware that some people said farming would never be possible in Iitate.
Before resuming operations, Sato replaced the vinyl used in the greenhouse and also replaced the soil used in the cultivating shelves.
Although there were no problems involving radioactive materials in the soil and water, Sato said he thought about the possible reaction among consumers.
The prefectural government required only one test for radioactive materials, but Sato also had tests conducted by the village government as well as a private-sector company.
"Although I do have concerns about negative publicity, I want to proceed with a positive attitude," Sato said.
Before the nuclear accident, orders for Sato's Raiho strawberries came from bakeries as far as Shikoku and Kyushu. Sato's oldest son and daughter-in-law used to help tend the strawberries, but post-3/11 it is just Sato and his wife who are working the farm, which is one-fourth its pre-disaster size.