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Beijing, China — This past Saturday morning, I heard the call of the farm. Somewhere in Haidian district, birds were chirping, water was softening earth, artisans were selling their goods, and the cleanest of pigs were grunting with glee. Lauryne Massinga of Education USA China invited me to join her with Yan Nan (program manager at Education USA), daughter Claire B., and friend Candice Y. for a drive out to Little Donkey Farm.
Escaping Beijing’s Chaoyang district, we drive past lilacs and blossoming trees. Once inside the Little Donkey Farm, we find ourselves surrounded by Chinese families who rent plots of earth to cultivate vegetables, organically. The land is gridded with sprouting plants and urbanites who have come to water and weed; some with children learning the origins of their food.
“Activate Your Hoe” is the name of the day’s festivities, kicking off the summer with events supporting community supported agriculture (CSA) and organic farming.
The ladies and I stock up on delicious things like bean spread sandwiches, sweet potato spread open-faced sandwich topped with sliced tomatoes, homemade carrot cake, homemade cake topped with strawberry preserve, and more. With a little more community involvement and organization, this festival has the potential to grow towards being a model sustainable community event in China. I’ve been waiting to find something like this for the past four years of living in Beijing.
Lauryne and I met Shi Yan, the co-founder of Little Donkey Farm. Shi Yan devoted her time to learning about community supported agriculture at Earthrise Farm Foundation for half a year in 2008. Bringing her passion and experiences back to China, she helped found Little Donkey Farm. She offered information about cost to rent land for personal gardens. For as little as 1,500RMB, anyone can grow their own vegetables and visit as often as they like with friends and family. For 12,000RMB, one can farm 60m², choose their seed, have Little Donkey Farm staff tend the garden, and deliver the harvest to your door. If you wish, you can bring a tent and picnic through the day and overnight with your green-loving buddies. More information on gardening plots with Little Donkey Farm
CSA members enjoy the following benefits:
- Receive fresh, uncontaminated organic vegetable;
- Get organic vegetable at low price
- Trace back the sources of the vegetable
- Support and protect local agriculture and farmland
- Take your kids to experience organic farming
- Learn about the relationship amongst land, farm and yourself
- Build trust and understanding with the others
- Participate in activities, and conferences organized by the farm
- Understand nature and the land; start a healthy and sustainable life
Naturally, after a little noshing and research, we went shopping! I bought organic tea from Tranquil Tuesdays, cheese from Le Fromager de Pékin, sunflower oil from Ground Green Union, and wild Hazel mushrooms (野生榛蘑) grown in northeastern China. Lauryne recommends these mushrooms for making a vegetarian stock.
Exploring the grounds we stumbled upon greenhouses, a hut to buy seeds, and a booth to paint your own gardening hat.
Also on the farm are pigs! I was surprised at how seemingly clean the pigs are. Even the air lacked the stench of pig poop and smelled more like potting soil from a bag or of a hardware store nursery. The pigs seemed as happy as children in a sunny kindergarten classroom.
We stopped to see the cleanest donkey I have ever seen and I wasn’t sure if it wanted to kiss me or bite me. While posing, he snorted and a gust of his nose spray greeted me.
Happy chickens roamed, not cooped up in darkness, but sunning themselves in a fence-lined yard.
A drive out to the country did me wonders. Seeing this concept and awareness in China helps me feel more at home in Beijing. I finally saw one of Beijing’s organic farms I had always wanted to see. A huge thanks to my health-loving accomplices for bringing me out of the haze and into a little patch of sunshine.
Yan Nan blogged about this beautiful day as well on Education USA China’s Sina blog platform: http://blog.sina.com.cn/s/blog_650d6bc20100qp4r.html