NB: This Sunday, 16 Jan, the 3rd Country Fair will be taking place at Renmin Daxue Gym. More info at pangbianr.
Faith in the quality of our food has become a major issue in China following the recent well-publicized food safety alerts. Many people are turning to organic foods as a reliable source of safe and healthy food, which are also good for the environment. Artist Emi Uemura is working with Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms on the fringes of Beijing to promote awareness of organic principles and access to high quality foods in our city. Recently she launched an online map so you can find the nearest farm for all your organic needs.
The production of food involves processes we often take for granted, so over the last year Uemura has been working with a group of CSA farmers to raise awareness. One of those is Shi Yan, initiator of Little Donkey Farm, and a well-known advocate of organic farming in China. “Organic agriculture means everyone should have the right to healthy food,” says Shi Yan.
At the beginning of 2010, the Chinese Government Health Care Administration published the first ‘Non-Point Source Pollution Report.’ This affects the water system from diffuse sources (hence ‘non-point’), and the report came to the startling conclusion that agriculture and the raising of animals contributed roughly 50% of this pollution in China. “We should use less chemicals and with organic farming we can use even no fertilizers and pesticides in the production of our food, which will directly reduce non-point source pollution,” Shi Yan claims.
Shi works to promote CSA and organic farming throughout China and puts this into practice at the Little Donkey Farm in Haidian District. She explains, “CSA originated in the States, but was originally inspired by traditional Chinese, Korean and Japanese farming techniques.”
Shi emphasizes that: “CSA is a commitment by consumers and producers. The producers grow healthy food for the consumers and the consumers pay in advance for this, supporting the farmers by giving them a reliable income. I also hope that we do not just have a relationship based on buying and selling – we are building a community where each helps the other.”
You become a “member” of Little Donkey Farm by paying a subscription, either as a “Working Share,” granting you the use of a plot of land to grow your own produce; or a “Distribution Share,” to collect or have delivered a box of fresh produce once or twice a week. “In big cities like Beijing about 60-70% of the vegetables you buy travel huge distances from other provinces – this is very bad for the environment,” says Shi Yan, “So we are encouraging people to eat local.”
New members can join by applying through their website, but Shi Yan prefers people to first come to the farm, to see the facilities and crops, and to have a chat with the farmers about how it works: “We obey the principles of organic farming, we don’t use any synthetic fertilizer or pesticides, and we practice crop rotation and feed the animals mainly using our own grass and vegetable leaves.” This one-to-one contact is very important: “The regulations for organic certification in China currently only apply to larger farms, so although we cannot get officially certified we encourage consumers to visit the farm and certify us themselves! They will see what we are doing, which makes for a more participatory guarantee system.”
Every other month Shi Yan and Uemura organize a ‘Country Fair’ (in cooperate initiator with Vitamin Creative Space) that sees several hundred people visit to hear talks by the farmers and buy produce directly from them. Food cooked on site uses ingredients provided by the farmers’ and the waste is composted, creating a virtuous cycle of recycling. Uemura says: “This is for people to share opinions about local organic produce and discover ways to support local farmers.”
The Google map which Country Fair has just produced with Pangbianr also supports the farmers, as you can now locate your nearest producer of healthy food. Uemura says: “The map makes it much easier for farmers and consumers to get a mental image of what is involved in getting the food produced and distributed. We’ve added contact information, website links, and data about the farms and their products, and you can use this map to start ordering your food or just find out about your local farms.”
The next Country Fair will take place on 16 January, 2011, at Renmin University Gymnasium.
Country Fair information: http://www.organicpress.org
Beijing Organic Farm Map: http://pangbianr.com/farm-map/
Little Donkey Farm: http://www.littledonkeyfarm.com/
or Shi Yan’s blog: http://blog.sina.com.cn/usashiyan
Author: Edward Sanderson