FUKUOKA, April 15 — A handball team of strawberry farmers, Fresa Fukuoka, based at Itoshima, Fukuoka Prefecture, is now drawing attention as a new model for athletes to work on the farm and play in the court. All its members are farmers and players and their goal this year is to win the tournament and join the top league.
Established in 2016 as a team of young strawberry growers, Fresa Fukuoka now has a membership in the second-level handball league in Japan. It currently has 15 players, headed by a 25-year-old captain, Akihiro Watanabe, and all of them work hard during the day on weekdays as employees of seven strawberry farmers in Itoshima. From Monday to Saturday, they apply themselves to the training of around two hours a day.
The key to the creation of the team of young farmers was the encounter between a 39-year-old representative of the team, Kenta Maekawa, and a local strawberry farmer, Terutomi Hidaka. It was a dream of Maekawa to create a strong handball team in Fukuoka, but he once found it difficult to source the fund for the team operation. Then one day, he was introduced to the 59-year-old strawberry grower who was seeking to staff up his farm to expand strawberry export to the Middle East.
Maekawa explained to Hidaka the idea of “operating a professional handball team consisting of professional farmers.” Hidaka supported the idea, thinking that “this might initiate an interesting chemical reaction to the local economy,” and decided to become the first farmer who gives them the place to work and shows them how to become professional farmers. The team name “Fresa” comes from a Spanish word for strawberries.
One of the very distinctive features of the team is that it clearly positions farming as the second career of young athletes. According to Junichi Kurisaki, team manager, the members of the team are required to commit themselves to building up experience in farming while playing in the team and to becoming independent farmers in the future. “They need to be prepared to work even harder on the farm than in the court,” he said.