Erenlai - Items filtered by date: Thursday, 15 November 2007
Thursday, 15 November 2007 23:09

Taiwan's first organic farmer's market

[dropcap cap="W"]hen he returned to Taiwan with an American Ph.D. and began teaching agriculture at National Chung Hsing University in Taichung, Ray Tung never guessed he would go on to establish Taichung’s first organic farmer’s market. He taught his students as his professors had him — that agricultural chemicals in the appropriate amounts do no harm. [/dropcap]A student came up after class one day to ask why he wasn’t considering that even if applied in safe doses, those chemicals accumulate in the soil, the riverbeds, and even the human body — until they reach levels where they do cause harm. A farmer may apply herbicide to his orchard only twice a month. But that’s 24 times a year. This student was a farmer and invited Ray to come see his organic farm.
It turned out to be a big surprise. Ray saw that organic farming wasn’t just about putting no dangerous chemicals in the soil and the water and no poisons in the food supply and the body. It boiled down to an issue of basic integrity: Do we care more about profit or about the health of the environment and the value of human life?

Thus began Ray’s decade-long odyssey to the many small-scale organic farms in the mountains and in the countryside all around the city of Taichung in central Taiwan. He got to know the farmers, learned from them, and began buying and using their products. At that time an organic trend was sweeping the agricultural market in North America, Europe, and even, to a lesser extent, Taiwan. Upscale consumers demanded farm products without poisons and large-scale agri-businesses began supplying them to supermarkets.

In Taiwan small-scale organic farmers didn’t really benefit from this. Even though their locally-grown produce was superior in freshness and quality to what the big companies delivered to supermarkets, these farmers didn’t have the marketing skills or the distribution networks to compete. Ray got a sense that in this he might step in and make a difference. He suggested setting up an organic farmer’s market in Taichung. The farmers said it wouldn’t work.

Everything Ray knew about organic food and the value of organic practices for the environment and for human health he learned from the small farmers, not from any teachers, professors, or agricultural experts at any of the universities he’d attended. He saw these farmers as a resource not just to provide chemical-free food products to upscale urban consumers — but to educate the broader public as they had him about an entire way of life that was wholesome and regenerative to the individual and the rural landscape. The big businesses supplying the supermarkets, in contrast, were just concerned with turning out an agricultural product as cheaply as possible that fit the organic specifications. It was Ray’s genius to see that the unique advantage of the small farmer would present itself in the face-to-face setting of a farmer’s market; and the farmers, in such a situation, could become an agent for change. He never gave up on his dream of the organic farmer’s market. But for ten years it didn’t happen.

Then, last Fall while on sabbatical in Tampa, Florida, he went around looking at farmer’s markets in Florida. They got him all fired up. When he returned to Taiwan his mind was decided. He begun reaching out to the organic farmers to let them know he was going ahead with that old dream of his. He invited them to a preliminary meeting to work out the specifics.

At one farm, the farmer’s wife was furious at him. “Because of you my husband turned this onto an organic farm,” she lashed out. “Now look at us. We’ve become a poor family. The neighbors ridicule us.”
“She’s going to divorce me,” the farmer confided sadly to Ray. “The neighbors have got these ideas into her head. She says I’ve betrayed the family for some stupid idea of mine that doesn’t make any sense.”

Ray invited them both to the meeting. To his surprise the wife came. Almost sixty farmers and their families were in attendance. The mix included vegetable farmers, fruit farmers, tea farmers, and rice farmers. Ray noticed the man’s wife listening in surprise as the stories poured out on all sides.

Farmers told how they initially turned organic after seeing their parents poisoned and crippled for life by farm chemicals. Taiwan’s small farmers in years past were uneducated people of low socio-economic status. They didn’t know better than to trust the fast-talking salesmen who came around promoting agricultural chemicals. Then, even when it became apparent that the chemicals did real harm, farmers kept using them because they knew of no alternative.

Other farmers poured out their stories about how organic farming takes time compared with conventional agriculture because it involves improving the quality of the soil and the environment. It may take a few years just to get started. They told how it’s not just about the immediate financial reward, but about leaving the land and surroundings better for the next generation than the last generation left it for us.

There was talk how in rural Taiwan there used to be all kinds of snakes, frogs, fish and birds. At night, a naked light bulb attracted a cloud of moths, beetles and flying insects. No more. So many living things had been poisoned and are not seen anymore. Taiwan has the highest rate of liver cancer in the world. In places the island is turning into a wasteland. It was once named for its beauty.

As the meeting broke up Ray happened to catch sight of the man’s wife and could see the change in her and in the way she was with her husband. She laughed and smiled and had made lots of new friends — individuals that unlike her ignorant neighbors could make her understand what her husband was trying to do and why.

Ray saw that this dream of his wasn’t just about marketing these farmers’ fresh organic produce in Taichung, and it wasn’t just about educating city dwellers to a new and more wholesome lifestyle. It was perhaps most importantly about community building. He scheduled a succession of other planning meetings. Then, in April he sent out the final invitations to join Taichung’s first organic farmer’s market. Of the initial sixty farmers, only thirty-three attended the opening of the market in September.

A representative from one of Taiwan’s big agri-businesses approached Ray with a desire to be part of the market. If that company had a booth at the market they would staff it with salespeople hired just to sell vegetables, individuals who wouldn’t themselves have undergone the change in consciousness that occasions a shift to the organic lifestyle the small farmers had undertaken, sometimes at considerable expense to themselves and their families. Ray turned the big company down. It wasn’t what he wanted for the market. He wanted the people of Taichung to have the chance for a face-to-face encounter that might possibly let them see — organic food is not just about fruits and vegetables that are free of poisons. It’s not just about a product that meets organic specifications. It’s about a change in lifestyle, and a change in consciousness — a way of living that doesn’t damage the environment or other people and is wholesome all around.

These farmers had lived isolated lives on their small farms, tending their land and crops, largely out of contact with each other and any larger community. Now they arrive at the market early every Saturday morning, energetic and excited to see each other and connect with all the different people thronging the stalls, asking questions, and buying things. One really does get the feeling at the market that the farmers have come not just for the money, but to feel part of a larger community that cares about the same things they do.

Many Saturdays in the first early morning rush around 8 a.m., when the market is at its busiest, some farmers sell out. Instead of packing up to leave, they stay the whole rest of the morning, socializing with farmers at other booths, assisting them with the customers, answering questions, and sharing their enthusiasm about the wholesome way of life they’ve chosen, and its benefits.

The market is held on the campus of Taichung’s National Chung Hsing University. It peaks early, between 8 and 9, but goes on until noon. A walk among the stalls and a talk with some of the farmers is enough to give a whiff of hope that environmentally-ravaged Taiwan might yet be turned back into the pristine paradise it once was.

Ray is always there, walking from stall to stall, talking with everyone — a big smile on his face. It’s not many men who can say as he can, that their dream has come true.

(Photo by B. Stimson: Dr. Ray Tung, the founder of Taiwan’s first organic farmer’s market, which takes place every Saturday morning on the campus of Taiwan’s National Chung Hsing University in Taichung)


Thursday, 15 November 2007 21:34

Asia needs more maturity

Asia’s big growing economies need to gain maturity to lead Asia’s development
Businessmen and politicians act at different levels
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When you are a businessman, you go where the opportunities are, wherever the country is situated in the world. Recently, more and more Taiwanese are investing in the newly opened markets of Brazil, Russia, India and China. Capitalism teaches you, in a globalize world, to be ready to cooperate with countries, even if you do not agree with their national system. In this sense, economic exchanges go beyond political barriers, but do not promote political integration. Governments use economic cooperation to maintain their position in the foreign affairs of that country. Through economic exchange, Taiwan tries to ensure other countries will not attack the country, even though they do not have diplomatic relations with Taiwan. It is a political game.

Culture travels without borders
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TheTaiwanese adopt with a special ease other habits and life styles of other cultures, especially the ones from developed countries like Japan or the United States. I am ethnically Chinese, but I am also a local Taiwanese whose culture has changed and evolved through the stages of national development since the 1970’s. I use a very cultural approach to define my identity, and I can hardly say I am an Asian, because I would need to understand more the Hindus before I can assimilate with them. I think it is because we do not communicate enough with them that we think we are different. To improve common understanding, Asians should read and travel more.

The strong economies in Asia are not mature enough to form a union
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Europe could successfully build the European Union because there were stable and strong developed countries which could lead its construction, such as France and Germany. They were even able later to support developing economies of other European countries. In Asia, the economic development of the two major powers in Asia, India and China, is a new phenomenon and they need more time to grow mature and learn to work together. It is a necessary pre-condition to think about establishing a union. Japan is geographically too small to lead, and Southeast Asian governments are too unstable. The current crisis in Myanmar illustrates this problem. In this situation, I think we cannot realistically think of building any union in the next twenty years.

Taiwan could be the ‘Asian Brussels’ to hold the headquarters of the Asia Union institutions
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Because Taiwan fails to establish diplomatic relationships with other Asian countries, the country needs to be given a strategic role to convince the people to invest money and efforts in constructing an Asian Union. Taiwan is a stable and developed country, at the border of South and North East Asia. I believe Singapore would pretend to play this role as well. However, I believe if Taiwan is given this opportunity, it could also help to ease the tensions between the island and China. Everyone wishes one’s home country can develop and gain more power on the regional scene. I think Asia can face the Western powers only through cooperation which could be achieved in the form of a union, involving for example the two leading economies of China and India..

Wish for Asia in twenty years:
There are many latent conflicts in Asia. Perhaps if they could all be resolved as soon as possible in twenty years, there will be no more political tensions and Asia will be able to establish the basis for the construction of a peaceful union.

Reporter:

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Thursday, 15 November 2007 19:17

水到渠成

羊圈,2007年夏天

2007 年暑假,我们又再度来到熟悉的羊圈,一群来自成都、台湾、法国与美国的志工,已经是连续第七年聚集于此。由于准备的计画一直在改变,出发前几个月是有一点混乱的,但最后一切都顺利…

自当初我们在羊圈开始进行小型的水利工程,我们就依靠法国「水利无国界」组织的义工来帮忙。有一位志工在2004年夏天挖了一个公用的水井,次年夏天从山上的小溪引水到村庄的一角,给20户的居民饮用;但今年夏天他无法前来。因此我们开始寻找台湾原住民志工来帮忙。后来证明如此做是正确的:云先生正是我们2007年夏天工作的理想人选:从山上找寻泉源,引水给村里第六队的30个住户。

我对于今年的水利工程有许多顾虑,从山上到村庄的水塔一路土质多不适合将水管埋在地底。理论上,需使用比较昂贵的高级材料。我们发现在西昌找不到理想的材料;就算真的找到,安装需要使用电力。最后,我们只能依靠在离羊圈最近的地方找得到的材料。云先生很快的了解当地的土质,而且只花了一个早上就接通了水源。接下来是将1500公尺的水管,或是埋在地底,或是沿著悬崖边悬挂,直到水塔。水塔的建造,也耗了两三天的工。最后几天,我们在村内装上水管与水龙头。完工时,所有参与工程的人都受到邀请,宰杀了一头乳猪,大家大喝啤酒、大啖猪肉来庆贺引水工程成功!云先生给了宝贵的维修建议,在我们离去前,村民选出了一个人负责维修。

另一个计画是建造两座温室来栽培蔬菜,透过屏东科技大学校长的帮忙,介绍了一位教授,由教授的两位学生来羊圈帮忙,他们很衬职,教导当地居民新的栽培蔬菜方式。

之所以想要进行这些「水利工程」,源自于第一次造访羊圈时,两名护士检查居民的健康状况,发现当地饮用水的河流被猪马羊等牲畜排泄物所污染,需要大大改善饮水的品质。当时村民认为饮用的水并未造成他们生病。就某个层面来说,他们所说属实,因为比起凉山其他地区,该地水质算好的。但是,卫生仍需要改善。居民受惠于2004年所挖掘的水井。今夏,又有人告诉我人们很喜欢饮用该水井的水。这个水井并非完全成功,因为在秋冬会枯竭。但这口井却让两个家庭起而效之,他们在自家院子挖掘了水井。从经验里我们学到了不适合在七八月间挖井,因那时地下水水位最高,之后到次年三月,水位逐月降低。次年我们本来打算挖掘另一口井,但第三大队亲蜜地主动要求我们帮忙,让我们更改计画,改成从山上引水到他们家里。虽然这供水工程很简单、用的也是便宜的材料,但是我很惊喜的发现居民把它维护的很好,甚至还做了改善,这显示出居民们更积极于照顾自己的生活品质。

当第六队的村民在2005年我快要离开之前来找我时,我并不感到讶异,他们也要相同的工程。我去看了能满足他们所需的水源,但是由于法国的水利志工已经返国了,我不确定是否可行。2006年夏天法籍水利工程师人在海地,我们并未进行水利工程,我又去山上看那水源地。今年三月,趁著到南京旅行之便,我再度到羊圈去了解居民们实现计画的意愿,明白需要更多的人力。

今年的计画,就村民的参与度来说,是很成功的。开工前的第一次会议是在学校的一间办公室举行,村长出席了,而我的老朋友党书记也在场,(党书记的家受惠于2005年的工程)。一位村民被选为负责维修的人,也是好事一桩。

羊圈居民对水的品质的要求提升了吗?我在七月份收到两个请求,一个是第五队的村民要求凿一个水井,另一个是来自小学的校长:冬天时供给学校饮水的水井底部有著白色的泥浆;而从河里汲水到水塔的水管夏季淹在河底,我无法观察。虽然我不是专家,但我想在二三月乾季时,需要好好地维修学校的水井。

对于此行的另一个计画:建造两座栽培蔬菜的温室,我很难来做评估。在那无法找到公用的土地,一个村民提供土地让我们建温室,在那撒下第一床种子,那地主和其中一位台湾学生相处地很好,他希望这改良能有益将来收获。我们相信这温室能成为其他村民的好榜样。

自2000年以来,我们见证了羊圈的一些变迁:很多村民到外地工作,例如上海、北京、深圳,甚至到国外。目前没有迹象显示该村庄在数年内会被荒弃。藉著改善生活品质,就像是让取水更容易,可以减缓人们外移,至少可以让老人家照顾孙儿们轻松些。
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Thursday, 15 November 2007 19:12

水到渠成

羊圈,2007年夏天

2007 年暑假,我們又再度來到熟悉的羊圈,一群來自成都、台灣、法國與美國的志工,已經是連續第七年聚集於此。由於準備的計畫一直在改變,出發前幾個月是有一點混亂的,但最後一切都順利…

自當初我們在羊圈開始進行小型的水利工程,我們就依靠法國「水利無國界」組織的義工來幫忙。有一位志工在2004年夏天挖了一個公用的水井,次年夏天從山上的小溪引水到村莊的一角,給20戶的居民飲用;但今年夏天他無法前來。因此我們開始尋找台灣原住民志工來幫忙。後來證明如此做是正確的:雲先生正是我們2007年夏天工作的理想人選:從山上找尋泉源,引水給村裡第六隊的30個住戶。

我對於今年的水利工程有許多顧慮,從山上到村莊的水塔一路土質多不適合將水管埋在地底。理論上,需使用比較昂貴的高級材料。我們發現在西昌找不到理想的材料;就算真的找到,安裝需要使用電力。最後,我們只能依靠在離羊圈最近的地方找得到的材料。雲先生很快的了解當地的土質,而且只花了一個早上就接通了水源。接下來是將1500公尺的水管,或是埋在地底,或是沿著懸崖邊懸掛,直到水塔。水塔的建造,也耗了兩三天的工。最後幾天,我們在村內裝上水管與水龍頭。完工時,所有參與工程的人都受到邀請,宰殺了一頭乳豬,大家大喝啤酒、大啖豬肉來慶賀引水工程成功!雲先生給了寶貴的維修建議,在我們離去前,村民選出了一個人負責維修。

另一個計畫是建造兩座溫室來栽培蔬菜,透過屏東科技大學校長的幫忙,介紹了一位教授,由教授的兩位學生來羊圈幫忙,他們很襯職,教導當地居民新的栽培蔬菜方式。

之所以想要進行這些「水利工程」,源自於第一次造訪羊圈時,兩名護士檢查居民的健康狀況,發現當地飲用水的河流被豬馬羊等牲畜排泄物所污染,需要大大改善飲水的品質。當時村民認為飲用的水並未造成他們生病。就某個層面來說,他們所說屬實,因為比起涼山其他地區,該地水質算好的。但是,衛生仍需要改善。居民受惠於2004年所挖掘的水井。今夏,又有人告訴我人們很喜歡飲用該水井的水。這個水井並非完全成功,因為在秋冬會枯竭。但這口井卻讓兩個家庭起而效之,他們在自家院子挖掘了水井。從經驗裡我們學到了不適合在七八月間挖井,因那時地下水水位最高,之後到次年三月,水位逐月降低。次年我們本來打算挖掘另一口井,但第三大隊親蜜地主動要求我們幫忙,讓我們更改計畫,改成從山上引水到他們家裡。雖然這供水工程很簡單、用的也是便宜的材料,但是我很驚喜的發現居民把它維護的很好,甚至還做了改善,這顯示出居民們更積極於照顧自己的生活品質。

當第六隊的村民在2005年我快要離開之前來找我時,我並不感到訝異,他們也要相同的工程。我去看了能滿足他們所需的水源,但是由於法國的水利志工已經返國了,我不確定是否可行。2006年夏天法籍水利工程師人在海地,我們並未進行水利工程,我又去山上看那水源地。今年三月,趁著到南京旅行之便,我再度到羊圈去了解居民們實現計畫的意願,明白需要更多的人力。

今年的計畫,就村民的參與度來說,是很成功的。開工前的第一次會議是在學校的一間辦公室舉行,村長出席了,而我的老朋友黨書記也在場,(黨書記的家受惠於2005年的工程)。一位村民被選為負責維修的人,也是好事一樁。

羊圈居民對水的品質的要求提升了嗎?我在七月份收到兩個請求,一個是第五隊的村民要求鑿一個水井,另一個是來自小學的校長:冬天時供給學校飲水的水井底部有著白色的泥漿;而從河裡汲水到水塔的水管夏季淹在河底,我無法觀察。雖然我不是專家,但我想在二三月乾季時,需要好好地維修學校的水井。

對於此行的另一個計畫:建造兩座栽培蔬菜的溫室,我很難來做評估。在那無法找到公用的土地,一個村民提供土地讓我們建溫室,在那撒下第一床種子,那地主和其中一位台灣學生相處地很好,他希望這改良能有益將來收穫。我們相信這溫室能成為其他村民的好榜樣。

自2000年以來,我們見證了羊圈的一些變遷:很多村民到外地工作,例如上海、北京、深圳,甚至到國外。目前沒有跡象顯示該村莊在數年內會被荒棄。藉著改善生活品質,就像是讓取水更容易,可以減緩人們外移,至少可以讓老人家照顧孫兒們輕鬆些。
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