Students tasked with developing dishes using Fukushima produce to promote prefecture's recovery

[Translated by the Japan Times] A group of elementary, junior high and high school students in the city of Fukushima are taking part in an initiative to develop original recipes using local agricultural products as part of a broader project to highlight the city’s recovery from the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. The first phase of the campaign, known as the Fukko Project, whereby the students create new dishes, started Dec. 16. It is designed to help the children learn about local agriculture so they will be able to implement their own action plans to assist Fukushima’s recovery. “I am convinced that the experiences of thinking about and taking actions to better their hometown will serve as a driving force for these children in the future,” said Kimio Suzuki, the director of the municipal Mikawadai Learning Center, the organizer of the campaign. The dishes they create will be served at several locations, including the cafeteria in Fukushima City Hall. Eighteen students ranging from fifth grade in elementary school to second grade in high school from five schools are participating in the initiative. Those schools are Sakura no Seibo High School, Sakura no Seibo Junior High School, Gakuyo Junior High School, Mikawadai Elementary School and an elementary school affiliated with Fukushima University. In February, a group of judges, including Minoru Honma, the head of the city board of education, will select two dishes that will be served by the students who have been divided into two groups. In addition to city hall, the Kiichigo restaurant located in the Corasse Fukushima complex will also serve the dishes. The building has a store that features regional products. The hope is the children’s efforts will increase the chances that visitors will want to try dishes made from local produce. On the initiative’s first day, a city official explained to the students about the harmful rumors related to the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant meltdowns and about regional specialities such as peaches, freeze-dried tofu and gyōza (dumplings). The students, some of whom were just 3 or 4 years old when the 2011 earthquake happened, sampled some of the products before setting off to plan their own dishes. “I now understand the thoroughness of the (city and prefecture’s) decontamination and inspection processes,” said Ikumi Nakatsuka, 12, a sixth-grader at Mikawadai Elementary School. “I am amazed by the different efforts done up until this point.” Mariko Chiba, 16, a Sakura no Seibo High School student, said she is enthusiastic about the project. “I want to guide elementary and middle school students in this project and complete a menu featuring what the city has to offer,” she said. After the food project is complete, the learning center is hoping to start another similar project wherein students would devise a plan to attract tourists to local festivals and hot spring areas.