Shi Yan and Her "Little Donkey" Green Farm

July 31, 2009
By Yang LuEditor: zhuhong

Shi Yan got up, as usual, at 6:30 am on Saturday morning and went to work on her "Little Donkey" farm in the Fenghuang (Phoenix) Hills near Beijing's 6th North Ring Road.

Her cherished "green sea" comprises more than 20 mu (15 mu = one hectare) of green vegetables. After digging up a Chinese lettuce, she stripped off the outer leaves and munched on it.

"I use no pesticide at all! The vegetables here are 100% organic," Shi said, adding, "These lettuces sell for eight yuan (about $1.17) per pound in Hong Kong."

A line of 33 boxes stood at the side of the field, each bearing the name and address of the consumer and an information sheet about the farm. Shi would later deliver them to each customer.

"Last week, one young woman who is a student at Harvard University and three students from Hong Kong Lingnan University came here to experience in person Chinese Community-supported agriculture," Shi said.

CSA Mode of Agriculture

In Canada, community-supported agriculture or community-shared agriculture (CSA) is a socio-economic mode of agriculture and food distribution. It consists of a community of individuals who pledge to support a farming operation, in effect making the farmland community-owned. Growers and consumers provide mutual support and share the risks and benefits of food production. The CSA usually operates according to a system of weekly deliveries and collections of boxes of fruit and vegetables, dairy products or meat.

Community-supported agriculture began in the early 1960s in Germany, Switzerland, and Japan in response to concerns about food safety and the urbanization of agricultural land. Many consumers and farmers in Europe formed cooperative partnerships to fund farming and pay the full costs of ecologically sound, socially equitable agriculture.

The idea emigrated and took root in the United States in 1984. Since then community-supported farms have been organized throughout North America, mainly in the Northeast. North America now has at least 1,300 CSA farms, and there are estimates of as many as 3,000.

Customers of Shi Yan's Farm

Customers of Shi Yan's "Little Donkey" farm fall roughly into two groups. One consists of "common buyers", who purchase organically grown vegetables every week. The other is that of "self-farming customers," who cultivate vegetables or other crops on 30 square meters of rented land. Both groups sign contracts with the farm and pay certain costs in advance.

More people are choosing weekend farm work in preference to spending their free time surfing the Internet. Office worker Liu Lishan said: "I really enjoy working on the farm, and the exercise I get doing farming work means I needn't go to the gym. I come here every weekend to plant my vegetables, get some healthy exercise and enjoy the fresh country air."

Bridge engineer Gao, who was there with his 7-year-old grandson said: "My whole family love our ‘farm.' It's a great chance for the kids to play and enjoy nature."

Running a CSA Farm

The idea for Shi's "Little Donkey" Farm came from an overseas experience. She was selected in April 2008, in her capacity as PhD student at China's Renmin University, to do research on a CSA farm in Minnesota.

"Farming in the U.S. is more like a heavy-duty, exhausting job. But in China, it's a kind of lifestyle that allows people to relax according to their needs," She said. After graduation, and armed with what she had learned in the U.S., Shi opened her own farm

Running a CSA farm is not easy in China, Shi Yan's doctoral adviser Prof. Wen Tiejun said, because Chinese people are not accustomed to paying in advance for agricultural goods. Such a venture calls for trust between farmers and customers.

The total running expenses for 20 working weeks on Shi's farm is 2000 to 2500 yuan ($292.8 to $366). The farm guarantees each contractor at least 200 kilograms of fresh organic vegetables.

Many farmers have recently learned from the "Little Donkey" model. Shi Yan stressed, however, that even in the U.S., the ratio of CSA farms is low. She hopes that the Chinese government might announce initiatives similar to eco-agriculture stopgap subsidies to promote CSA development in China.

(Source: Life Week / translated by womenofchina)


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