Posted on | March 5, 2014 | Comments Off on Farmer Interview Series #2 Daofa Ziran: Leaving the city for the countryside
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.