Here are some of the highlights of an interview with Shi Yan by Phoenix Tso in a magazine called “Agenda Beijing.”
Promoting Organic: the Little Donkey Farm’s Shi Yan
In Dining & Nightlife, Interviews, Life in Beijing / By Phoenix Tso / 27 April 2011 / 0 comments
I interned at a farm in the United States in 2008. It was a CSA farm called the Earth Right Farm. I was there for half a year, and that experience changed my attitude towards food. After I came back, I joined the Green Ground Eco-Tech Center, and together we started the Little Donkey Farm, and that’s how I joined China’s organic food movement.
Green Ground Eco-Tech Center
Since Little Donkey opened, there have been 40–50 organizations that have also started similar farms, in places like Shanghai, Chongqing, Xiamen, and Xizhou.
Every farm has to determine how they can set up trust between themselves and the consumers, and we have a model that other farms can use.
From April-November we get 50 visitors a day from all over the country.
The Haidian government has let us use this land rent-free for three years. They’re a big source of support for us. As for Renmin University, they give us policy advice. The university also helps organize events, such as the national CSA conference that we have held annually since 2009, and they vouch for us with the government.
Before 2007, the central government’s policy towards agriculture was called “the modernization of agribusiness” (农业现代化).From 2007 onward, they changed the name to “modern agribusiness” (现代农业), which has marked a transition towards a more comprehensive agricultural policy, with an approach that is not only about production, but also about the environment, about health, and other issues. However, the local governments still mainly care about the bottom line.
From our research in rural areas, we have found many counties and non-modern cities that have realized the value of their ecology. They use their good environment for organic farming, instead of for industrializing. There are also more government and university researchers that are interested in this alternative movement, and in the future there will be even more.
Farmers of Forty Centuries of Permanent Agriculture in China, Korea, and Japan, written by F.H. King in 1911, an American agronomist, where he discussed how Chinese farmers have used natural fertilizers, crop rotation and other methods for thousands of years, without drastically decreasing the quality of the soil. In contrast, US agriculture has only been going on for 200 years, but the quality of the soil has eroded so much over that short period of time. Because of that, western countries have been interested in how they can learn from China in terms of organic agriculture, and this book has been very influential in Western organic movements, since the 1950s and 1960s.
Before we started the Little Donkey Farm, people didn’t know about organic farming’s heritage in Chinese history. Because of this, we have really focused on consumer education through newsletters, our website, and events. We promote the idea of how we can respect our heritage as farmers and produce healthier food at the same time. Organic food is not only related to consumption, it’s also related to our culture, and since we started, more and more people are realizing that.
People have gotten some strange diseases from their food, and blame it on the production process or the government. But I saw this movie called The Future of Food, and the last line said, “It’s up to you.” It’s our behavior that impacts what we get at the grocery store. If you always want convenient food, and you always depend on governments or corporations to tell you where to get it, then food safety scandals will continue to accumulate. So we encourage people to go to the source, see how it’s being produced. Then you will see the truth.