A rubber-booted farmer and a sharply-suited city worker may appear to inhabit two different worlds. In Japan, however, the gap is inching closed due to the rise of “virtual farmers.”
A growing number of “virtual farms” are opening in the countryside complete with web cameras and social networking sites. Today, there are at least 20 operating across Japan, five of which are operated by virtual farm pioneers MyFarm, where 200-plus members pay from 5,250 yen (around $50) a month to grow crops from strawberries to tomatoes. The idea is simple: city-dwellers rent monthly allotments at farms dotted around rural Japan, where they grow fruit and vegetables that they tend to whenever they can, usually on weekends or evenings.
When they return home or head to the office, they can flick on their cellphone or computer and survey the progress of their crops via live web cams. If any farming queries pop up, specialists are on hand around the clock to offer advice.
MyFarm also boasts a social network so farmers can befriend each other and swap tips about growing blackberries on their BlackBerrys.