Posted on | March 5, 2014 | No Comments
Interview with Daofa Ziran’s Hou Xueying, who quit her job and started a farm in Chongming.
Interview by Sun Jingyi. Jingyi is currently a student at NYU Shanghai.
Sun: What pushed you to start a farm like yours?
Hou: I was working at a company, and so was my husband. The work was stressful and since my husband grew up on Chongming Island, we would often go back there to buy healthy produce and breathe fresh air. One time, we saw someone selling chicken and since my son likes chicken, we thought it would be a good idea to check the place out. Once we got there, however, we saw that the chicken’s beaks were short and flat, like it had been cut off. Afterwards I found that farms did that in order to prevent their chickens from fighting. But the thing is, if these farms were treating their chickens like this, then it made me question what’s really safe out there. My son was overweight at the time and he had a endocrine disorder. I thought that if we couldn’t find safe and healthy food in the market, instead of waiting for someone to change, why not do it ourselves? My husband and I both love the countryside, so we found 20mu (13,333 m2) and initially we thought that would be enough to satisfy our own needs. We would go back every week to tend the farm and come Monday, I just didn’t want to go. I feel like this is how I fell in love with farming.
Sun: So right now, you grow rice and also have ducks on the farm?
Hou: Mainly rice. The ducks are mostly there to help with weeding and insects.
Sun: Was it easy finding the land for your farm?
Hou: We drove around and visited many farms. The previous farmer of my farm is from Jiangsu. He did traditional farming however, and thought farming seemed like a really beautiful career, so he dove in. But its hard, and he didn’t anticipate that. He used chemical pesticide and he obviously couldn’t compete with larger farms. So by this chance, I acquired the land. The first two years we didn’t grow anything at all, waiting for the soil to recover. We officially started running in 2011.
Sun: So you were working in the city, living the 9-5 life and now you’re on Chongming Island. How did this change affect your life?
Hou: I go home twice a week now, and live on Chongming Island. The biggest change would be my living habits. I use to not sleep until eleven or twelve o’clock at night, and now I sleep when the clock hits nine. But I wake up at five in the morning and as soon as I get up, I want to go out and start the day. My husband still lives in the city because we wanted our son to receive his education there. We thought about bringing him out here, but the fact is that he’ll receive better education in the city. I feel like there is still a huge gap between the city and the rural areas.
Before when I was still working and coming to the farm on weekends, I had my doubts. I wasn’t that informed on farming and I didn’t know if I could do this. In the end, safe food is a big issue here, and out of the responsibility I felt for my child, I decided to stick with this.
Sun: Is the farm organic right now?
Hou: We’re not certified, but I hold my farm to a higher standard. I don’t use biopesticide or organic compost, which certified organic farms are allowed to do. We make compost ourselves, and if the ingredients come from unreliable sources, then we don’t use compost at all. As for bugs, we use repellent effect plants have on some, or we deal with it by hand. If the situation gets out of control, then we give up on the crops. Sometimes I leave certain weeds for the bugs, so that they won’t bother the crops.
Sun: What are the challenges you’ve encountered working with other people?
Hou: The land belongs to the ayis that help out on my farm, and they rented it out to me. In the beginning, they saw that we weren’t producing that much crops and weeds were growing all over the place; they felt like I was ruining their soil. But all it takes is communication. After I told them about health related issues and food safety, they realized that what I was doing was good for the soil and good for us too.
The government officials on Chongming have been helping me as well. When I was growing my first batch of crops, they didn’t really think it was going to be a good turn out. But my crops did well that year and that immediately changed their perspectives.
The people who work with me don’t even use compost on their own land now. The farmers near me sees people liking organic produce and they know that this is good for sustainability, and their perspectives have been changing as well.
Sun: What about natural challenges?
Hou: Especially during typhoon season, the wind on Chongming Island can be very powerful. Our ducks live on the field and whenever they are tired they go to coops we built to rest. During typhoon season, wind will crush the coops and even the ducks. The crops will flood and lodge.
Sun: So how you deal with the repercussions?
Hou: I mainly try to handle it on my own. I can make the coops stronger and such. But I feel like with nature, the only thing you can do is accepting it. I can’t change the way of nature nor do I want to.
Sun: What element is indispensable to running the farm?
Hou: My customer base is growing day by day. Sometimes they’ll organize volunteers and come out to the farm to help when they’re not busy. Our relationship is not simply customer-seller anymore, but friends and family who help each other. This makes me very happy and is what supports me to keep on doing this.
Sun: Looking back, have you accomplished what you set out to do? What’s next?
Hou: The initial goal was to satisfy my own needs. Not only do I get to enjoy safe food, but also my friends. Now I can even supply to strangers who trust me. So I’d say that I have accomplished the smaller goals.
After I’ve been on Chongming Island for a while, I started noticing a phenomenon. There aren’t many young people here. And whenever younger people come to visit, the villagers here would be very welcoming and warm. When the young leave for the city, they leave behind older people and children. So I want to make my farm better and attract more young people to come back to the rural areas. A lot of people have this idea, but their parents and friends talk them out of it. I also want to join farms and young people to create a sustainable community.
Sun: Any last things you like to mentions?
Hou: I hope that people can support organic farming. The smog is getting worse and worse, but if everyone changed their habits a tiny bit, together we can make a big difference.
Posted on | February 12, 2014 | No Comments
Women Changing China 2014 Barnard College of Columbia University presents The Sixth Annual Global Symposium WOMEN CHANGING CHINA March 19, 2014 Portman Ritz Carlton Shanghai, China Women Changing China will bring together some of China’s most prominent women leaders in business, finance, academia, media, and the arts. This day-long event will feature panel discussions and conversations on women’s leadership, women’s agency, and women’s voices, and will also include lunch and networking opportunities. The symposium will provide the opportunity for Barnard, as an American college, to learn from women in the world’s most populous country and to bring their unique perspectives back to our students. Online registration is now open. There is no cost to attend. Event Program 11:30am-5:00pm Registration begins at 11:00am Welcome and Introduction Debora Spar – President, Barnard College Luncheon Extraordinary Leaders: A Special Conversation Conducted by Debora Spar Featuring: Yang Lan, Chairperson of Sun Media Group and Sun Culture Foundation Wu Qing, Activist and English Language Professor Panel 1 Insights in Business and Finance Moderated by Kathryn Kolbert, Barnard College Athena Center for Leadership Studies Panelists: Bing Song, Managing Director at Goldman Sachs, Beijing Scarlett Li, Founder & CEO, Zebra Media Yuan Li, Managing Editor, Chinese Wall Street Journal Yunli Lou, Founding Partner of Milestone Capital Break/Tea & Networking Panel 2 Voices in Education and the Arts Moderated by Catherine Sameh, Barnard Center for Research on Women Panelists: Julia Huang, Executive Chairman, China EDU Tracey Trench, Head of Creative Development at Oriental DreamWorks Danwen Xing, Visual Artist 5:00pm – Closing For more information, please contact [email protected] Women Changing China is generously sponsored by Greenland Holding Group.
Posted on | February 12, 2014 | No Comments
Lets save some trees! Stop wasting paper by writing lengthy business plans and enter room filled with 100 entrepreneurial women, all eager to happy to help you with your business idea and eager to get feedback to theirs. “Women in Social Enterprise” conference will take place in Beijing on March 29 and in Guangzhou on April 26, 2014. http://wiseconference.weebly.com/
Are you passionate about social issues? Do you plan to use your career to make a difference? Join “Women in Social Enterprise” conference in Beijing on March 29 and in Guangzhou on April 26, 2014 and find out how http://tinyurl.com/WISE2014
Farmer Interview Series #1 Evolution at Mahota Farms: connecting ends to form the sustainability cycle
Posted on | December 12, 2013 | No Comments
Interview with Shao At Mahota Kitchen who is the son of founder and current owner of Mahota Kitchen and Mahota Farms.
Interviewed by Sandra Kohn who is a student at NYU Shanghai, and currently intern at GoodtoChina.
Interview Date: November 18, 2013
Sandra: What was the inspiration for Mahota Farms? What is the history behind it?
Shao: The reason why we started the farm comes from wanting to be sustainable. We have been a farming family for over 100 years back in Singapore. In 1984, the Singapore government forced us to stop pig farming because the country was urbanizing. New policies and economic zones were being created which reduced agricultural input. They gave us six years, and eventually phased out agriculture in Singapore – almost everything now is imported. At that time we were producing 80,000 pigs a year, which was about 10% of Singapore’s pork supply, so we were even in the position to affect the market (price of pork) despite it being a small country and everything…that’s how big we were at the time.
Sandra: What makes your farm special? How has the farm in China changed from what the farm was in Singapore?
Shao: The pig-breeding farm in Shanghai has been around for 17 years, and we actually sell our pigs to farms for reproduction; we are not just a commercial third-tier pig farm. Mahota is a conversion of existing farms that we had. We had spare land that we leased out to local farmers, and three years ago we decided to slowly take them back as the lease came to term, and began organic farming with them. The main reason why we started doing this was because my father had a heart attack about six years ago, and he decided to lead a healthy lifestyle as he recuperated on the farm. So we planted some vegetables, which are now the main ingredients in our hot pot at Mahota Kitchen. It’s the same dish my father ate every night during the first year during his recovery from his operation.
Sandra: What does it mean to be sustainable? How do you practice it?
Shao: In order to be sustainable at our farm, we need to close in on the loop. To close in on the loop we need to be able to turn waste into resource. If we instead use a linear process, we can never be sustainable. So if we have a lot of pigs, we produce a lot of pork, and you extract the value of pork but you end up with a lot of manure, or pollution. There are several ways to deal with manure, but for a single farm it is too much to cope with if you don’t do any other things with it. So when we started to grow vegetables from the compost comprised of manure, we changed the linear development so that waste turns into resource to close the loop; that’s sustainability.
Now, we understand that in order to be sustainable, we need to be resilient. We realize that resilience, on hindsight, is much stronger than strength of the economic scale itself. If you ask us what is the most underlying reason for what we are doing, it’d be that we are looking into industrial diversification. In terms of addressing social concerns and the need for safe food, these go hand in hand. We now have pigs, chickens and goats, and grow 300 different types of crops a year. This biodiversity of crop agriculture with animal husbandry allows us to really close in on the loop.
A lot of organic farms out there in the market either use the stockings from harvested plants, or have too much manure. For us, although it is harder to manage, we have both, which are the perfect ingredients for composting. We stack all the compost up and 40 days later we till them and it becomes a perfect compost mixture like the Pot of Gold GoodtoChina has. Sometimes Susan (from GoodtoChina) gets her compost from our farm.
Sandra: Is your farm organic? What makes it so?
Shao: Yes, I guess our farm is organic because we produce our own compost. We are two years into the organics in transition and by next year, October, we will be fully certified as organic. For us, our main concern is not whether or not we have this particular label. It is good because we are able to farm organically, but our main concern is to continue what we are doing because we’ve been an agricultural family for a hundred years, and it is our lifestyle.
Sandra: What types of farming methods do you use at Mahota?
Shao: Mahota Farms uses agricultural methods from all over the world. We looked into permaculture, and also into biodynamic agriculture, organics, and of course the standard good agricultural practice (GAP). Mahota Farms implements all these methods in China, and then localizes and names it Taisheng agriculture. It is formed of two Chinese words, and the English word itself is Mahota. We learned Taisheng from nature and use it with traditional Chinese agricultural methods still in good practice and biological control.
Sandra: How does Mahota Farms interact with the surrounding community? Are there any future projects we should be looking forward to?
Shao: We’ve been farming with these practices for the past 20 years in Shanghai, and we’ve participated in other industries like education, leisure, and hospitality. We provide vegetables for the canteen at both campuses at Shanghai Singapore International School– but this is only part of what we do. In terms of expansion, it depends on the demand that we get.
Right now we are expanding the types of products we have, which is why I go to the vineyard in Shandong so frequently. We will also begin raising cattle for dairy because the land and climate there allows us to. We try to farm crops in the most suitable conditions. And this is the development that extends the web of value chain we have, rather than going for a quick establishment of retail outlets etc.
Sandra: What has been the biggest challenge with Mahota Farms in China?
Shao: One of the biggest struggles that we have overcome is changing the attitude of our colleagues, especially since we re-employed the local farmers on our team. They had to look at the whole idea differently, because there is a lot of pressure in terms of not using chemical pesticides. Sometimes you have to know that in agriculture there are things that Mother Nature attributes to, like crop failures that we cannot blame ourselves for; we must simply let it go. Because we use biological controls and non-chemical pesticides, crops are more prone to diseases. Initially during the first year there was a lot of resistance in terms of wanting to do it their way, but it is very important that we manage the farm ourselves. It’s difficult to understand 100% harvest is not our goal; you have to give and take, and if that doesn’t work out, you just have more to add in the compost.
Sandra: If you could pinpoint one of the most successful aspects of Mahota Farms, what would it be?
Shao: If you ask what our biggest landmark of success is, it has to be the fact that we’ve reversed our initial problem. It’s funny that the reason we were shut down in Singapore in the 80’s was because of the abundance of pig manure and the new government policy. But right now, we are actually running out of pig manure because we use a lot of it in our compost. Anything that we say is quite transient; when you say you managed to sell x amount of pigs and x tons of vegetables, it doesn’t really sink in. But what really stuck was that the system has actually begun to work, it’s rolling on quite well. This intersystem, this holistic integration (expanding vertically and horizontally) is beginning to make sense, just like the attitude of our farmers, or the problem of the unpredictable volume of produce at the start of production – everything is coming into a smooth cadence right now. We are presently very comfortable where we are, and we are putting more emphasis on events like Sustainable Shanghai. The Market., because it is about time we start sharing what we do with more people. Being involved in agriculture is a long process; we’ve given ourselves about 5 years to naturalize our process, and compared to our 100 years of history, 5 years is really nothing.
Posted on | December 2, 2013 | No Comments
This past Saturday, November 23rd crowds of curious shoppers converged on MTown for Sustainable Shanghai. The Market. launched by Good to China and Eco Design Fair, local environmental organizations in Shanghai. Over the past decade, it’s clear that people have grown increasingly concerned with environmentalism and aware of the impact we have on the planet. As a result, there’s been a great push for ordinary people to effect change by changing their own personal lifestyles. Shanghai is a city that’s just beginning to experience this green wave, but as a result its citizens face many challenges. Good to China and their partners worked to establish the market as a way address these problems, promoting awareness among Shanghai residents about the benefits of living eco conscious lifestyles and connecting consumers with environmentally sustainable businesses in Shanghai.
Visitors to the market on Saturday were greeted with a variety of events and displays. Shoppers looking to buy food for the coming week took their pick of the wide selection of local, organic produce on display by Shanghai farmers. The farmer’s were delighted to answer any questions the visitors had about the food available: non-GM vegetables cultivated on uncontaminated land without the use of any chemical pesticides, fertilizers, or growth hormones. Many visitors said they came away with a feeling of having learned more about food safety, buying local and sustainable farming.
The hungry flocked to Chef’s Corner- hosted by local chefs who demonstrated how to make various delicious, healthy dishes from fresh ingredients. Visitors enjoyed apple, lettuce, pineapple smoothies provided by Vitamix, carrot soup and a spinach garlic sauté cooked by Sprout Lifestyle, tasted coffee from Cambio coffee brewed from hand ground coffee beans and enjoyed a delicious pumpkin soup with caramelized onions and salty spinach cakes made by talented chef, Francesca.
Food wasn’t the only thing available at the Market- there was a good balance between farmers and eco designers. Curious shoppers browsed through the products made by these talented entrepreneurs with environmental sustainability top in mind. The Squirrelz brought messenger bags designed out of overstock nurse scrubs. Kastro Grove provided olive oils and soaps and other vendors sold jams. Parents at the market with their children went to Kids Corner where the kids spent an enjoyable half hour baking cookies. The event was a success and a step towards increasing environmental awareness in Shanghai. The visitors included both foreign and Chinese but the majority were Chinese, who had never experienced a farmer’s market before and had many questions for the designers, farmers and chefs. The market will hopefully spur more events like it in the future as more people become interested in green issues.keep looking »