Taiwan Urban Agriculture (Page 2)
By Robin Turner
[Robin is a University of British Columbia student who is travelling in Taiwan for a few months. He will send us his research material from time to time. (Ed.)]
January 23, 2003
Had an interesting day yesterday. I went out to Taipei county, and met up with Zhang Tsan-Ru, the woman who wrote one of the articles in Urban Fringe Agriculture.
Urban Fringe Agriculture
Asian Productivity Organization 2002
Part 3 Country Reports
"Republic of China 1" by Tsan-Ru Chang p. 102
She took me to see three farms in the urban fringe area around Taipei. On the way we passed several pipe farms, which make up most of the agriculture on the outskirts of Taipei. These resemble green houses, but are designed more to keep the rain and sun out rather than in. In these pipe-houses, farmers can get between 9 and 13 crops a year! Although this type of agriculture depends on some chemical input, the government is actively promoting the use of non chemical pest and disease prevention. More on that later...
The first farm we visited was a bean sprout and organic compost farm. This was the most innovative and high tech farm I've seen in a while. Sprouts were grown in palettes indoors, under a greenhouse type plastic roof. The farmer assured me that the roof was to keep the sunlight and rain out, the opposite of a greenhouse in Canada. The sprouts are grown in water alone, and are harvested by a machine on a mobile
horizontal beam that runs along tracks above the sprouts. The harvesting therefore requires no human labor. The roots and stems of the sprouts are then dumped into lots. Rice husks and either egg shells or seafood shells are added to the mixture, and it is turned with a tractor.
Until it looks like this:
The farmer could then sell the compost to other farmers in the area, mostly for their pipe-farming.
From here on in, the pictures on my camera would not download, and so I will have to wait for Ms.. Zhang to send me some of her pics before I can send them on to you. I will give you a synopsis of the second farm, as it is probably of more interest to you then the above one.
The second farm grows completely organic vegetables. As we entered the main building, there were several people taking freshly picked produce from a box, and putting them into plastic packaging by hand. There are around ten people involved in the operation, and they are all family. The manager of the farm, Mr Chen, took us around to the various plots. They were in pipe houses, similar to the ones shown above, and they were growing 14 different varieties of leafy vegetables. There was cabbage, celery, and western styles of lettuce, and then bok choi, and chinese celery, and several types of Chinese lettuce which we dont have.
All of the produce looked amazingly disease and bug free. The consistent quality was what amazed me. Mr Chen told me they use crop rotation, chickens and essential oils for disease and bug prevention. They rotate crops after one or two harvests, and allow ground to lie fallow for one or two harvests a year. They get between 9 and 12 harvests a year, due to Taiwan's consistent sun and rainfall. In the summer, the pipe houses are covered in a dark mesh, which reduces the sun's intensity. Supposedly the sun is so hot in the summer that they can not grow crops outside from May until October!
From there we visited their little composting operation. They make their own fertilizer by baking rice husks until it is a fine coal, after which they add organic waste, egg shells, and unbaked rice husks to make a rich dark humus. The oven for baking the rice husks had an S-shaped chimney. At the lower angle a hole drained the oils from the smoke into a large bucket of foul looking stuff. This was the essential oil that Mr. Chen mentioned before, and it is a very powerful bug repellent. The bugs can't handle the smell. This is sprayed on the soil at a 200:1 dilution.
On our way back down the rows of pipe-houses, there were a few that were lying fallow. Inside, some fat and happy looking chickens were scratching at the ground. This was the third anti-pest measure that was mentioned before. The chickens roam free in the pipe houses for a month or two every year, and they clean the soil of bugs and larvae that are detrimental to the crops.
Finally we toured the gardens outside. Here they had carrots, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, taro, soya beans, peas, and green beans, yams, and lots of other goodies. The crops outside looked alot more like your typical organic veggies, much more tattered from bugs then the beautiful leafy crops that were in the pipe houses. I gathered that the majority of the outside crops were for their and their friends consumption, while the leafy greens were slated for the marketplace.
Part of Ms. Zhang's work is to help farmers such as the two mentioned above to enter new fields of agriculture by providing support, in the form of the governments own research. She is quite active in visiting these farms on a monthly basis to check on their progress and help them towards a sustainable and profitable future. Originally, this farm was a tea plantation, and big drops in the price of tea forced the owner to try something new. It took a lot of investment to get to the point where they are now, but they are starting to turn a profit every year, with a much more sustainable operation than the tea plantations, which are heavily chemical dependent.
The crops are all sold to certified organic produce stores in Taipei. Mr Chen informed me that the market is always growing for organic - Taiwan only produces about one percent of produce organically, compared to 2 - 2.5 in the States. More and more people in the cities are thinking about their health in this respect. The farm sells a 300g package of leafy greens to the retail outlet for about C$1.10, and they in turn sell it for about C$1.70. All the produce was packaged on the farm, and is sold as it arrives at the store.
One more thing, though. The workers at the farm are almost all family members, with only one or two exceptions. They are all Buddhist vegetarians, except one, and they view this farm as being in line with their belief systems. Mr Chen told me that they worked from 5 in the morning till 9 at night every day, and Im not sure if they actually get paid, or if they are all just investing in the growth of the operation. A few of the workers were refugees from some of the high tech companies that have begun to flee Taiwan to Mainland China for the choice cheap labor to be found there. But it was pretty clear by the smiles on their faces that they were happy in their choice of lifestyles. After seeing the monotony of the life of a typical office worker in Taipei, I had no choice but to agree.Some more notes:
- The entire farm took up about 2 acres, with the majority of the growing happening on about a half acre.
- Ms Zhang told me in the car that due to the number of companies fleeing Taiwan, over 20,000 laid off workers have returned to their homes or parent's homes in the countryside to take up farming again. They will be in for more of a shock as WTO tariff reductions start to put farmers out of business too.
Ms Zhang is a very dedicated and energetic woman who really believes in her work.
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