Published by City Farmer, Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture


Taiwan Urban Agriculture (Page 4)

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.)]

April 24, 2003

Components of Liang Shan Organic Farm

See photos of Liang Shan Organic Farm

1. Human component: This will be explored in the community section below. Briefly, this organic farm is labor intensive, and would not survive without the genuine commitment of an extensive family to work long hours to maintain the farm. From planting to harvesting to packaging, almost everything is done by hand on this farm. Other than an electric seeder, a roto-tiller, and a backhoe to turn compost, everything is done by hand.

2. Soil, compost and nutrients: Because the farm is organic, all of these inputs must be organic as well. Composted soil is imported from Greece, which is combined with roasted rice husks (from Taiwan). Fish soluble liquid from Japan is added for nitrogen, as well as out of date soy protein supplements. Soil for the seedlings is also imported, from Holland, and is low in nitrogen.

3. Pipe houses and irrigation systems. Most of the growing takes place in pipe houses, which are basically tubular greenhouses made from PVC tubing with light filtering mesh stretched over them. The side walls are a very fine mesh which keeps bugs out, and the upper portion's mesh is designed to reduce the intensity of light without removing any part of the spectrum. It also allows some rain entry but protects the crops during a downpour. The irrigation system is powered by electricity.

4. Pest removal. Pests are dealt with using a variety of complementary methods. First of all, the soil is turned with burnt rice husks, which raises the very acidic Taiwanese soil to a pH of 6.5. This helps to sanitize the soil, and the smell of the burnt rice husks discourages pests, while the pH is not conducive to breeding diseases. Secondly, While baking the husks in an oven, the smoke is distilled, and the oil from the smoke is collected, as shown below. This oil is combined with water at a 1:800 ratio, and sprayed on the crops. While it is completely organic and non-toxic, its extreme smell repels most pests. The careful application of disease is used to control caterpillars, which are the major nuisance for leafy vegetables. This disease attacks the spinal chord and nerve system of the bugs, and kills them very quickly, but is not transferable to humans.

The ground is left to lie fallow for about a month a year, and during that time chickens roam free in the pipe houses, and they feed off the bugs and worms left in the ground. This is the "spring cleaning" for the ground, and refreshes it for another year of planting. These chickens are high quality organic, and are sold along with produce from the farm.

5. Packaging, marketing, distribution: Vegetables are carefully hand wrapped in 250 gram portions by workers on the farm. Customers can buy directly at the farm, for 30NT (about C$1.20), or at a recognized, government certified organic produce store around Taiwan (of which there are about 20 in Taipei alone). At the moment, these methods are sufficient to sell all the veggies grown on the farm, with little waste.

6. Government Support: The government was active in the establishment of this farm, offering both financial support and technical expertise. At this point, the farm is starting to be self sufficient, and couldn't have begun without the support. The government will provide loans and training for certified organic farmers.

Diagrammatic Representation of Liang Shan Organic Farm


What is the community context for the farm?

The farm is run by an extended family, including in-laws. All of them are buddhist, and all of them are vegetarian. The buddhist vegetarian ethic is fairly strict, and doesn't allow for drinking, and they are believers in the early to rise, early to bed, work hard all day lifestyle, which is quite suited for a farm. The owner of the farm is not a family member, but he is also a strict buddhist, and I got the feeling that this was an essential element in the creation of the farm. Basically, the farm is not a big money making venture, and required dedication and sacrifice from the workers (in the form of long hours, little pay, in return for an idyllic on-the- land lifestyle) financial support from the government, and the lending of land from the buddhist landlord. When I asked the farm manager who owns the land, he said "It's god's land." What he meant, his step son later told me, was that without the common bond of buddhism between the owner and the workers, the farm wouldnt exist. So in essence, it is an exercise in spirituality as much as anything. The owner himself is making a substantial sacrifice, as this land could easily make much more money as a chemical and fertilizer intensive tea farm, which is what most of the land around this farm is used for.

Another element of community with this farm is the growing community of organic food consumers in Taiwan, which are connected through the organic co-op system through which Liang Shan sells its produce. Zhen Zhong, my friend at the farm, told me that many people would drive several hours in order to see the farm and ensure the pure organic nature of the produce. After coming the first time, many would return because they enjoy visiting the farm. It seems that the family has made an extensive network of friends this way.

How does the farm system relate to its physical/biological environmental setting (Agroecology/Land Stewardship)? Include climate, landscape, soils, vegetation and wildlife?

The farm is situated on a 4 acre piece of land wedged between a small cloth factory, a road, and tea fields. Although this sounds very small, the actual growing takes place on probably only 1/6th of this space. All of the leafy vegetables are grown in the pipe farms, which allow for intensive food production, even with organic methods. Because of Taiwan's climate, the typical pipe house allows for between 9 and 13 crops a year, a phenomenal amount of produce. As described above, all the inputs are organic, and thus have little effect on the surrounding environment. Because of the intensive food production, there is of course a heavy butterfly/caterpillar population, which thus supports birds. Of the land which is not pipe houses, half is root crops, and the other half is forested. Zhen Zhong told me that a good population of owls lives in the trees around the farm, along with birds of many types.

As reported previously, the government is actively supporting organic farming, in the form of grants and technical expertise. One of the main reasons for this is the protection of Taiwan's natural environment, which has been devastated in some areas by industry and intensive farming. As you can imagine, a climate that allows for thirteen crops a year would also need thirteen applications of various herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers, thus intensifying the impact on the ecosystem. Liang Shan farm is definitely a good step towards promoting independent land stewardship, as individual organic farmers depend on the "cleanliness" of the land to earn a living - and there is no greater incentive in Taiwan.

How does government domestic (supply management) and international policy (NAFTA and GATT) influence the dairy system? (10%)

As Taiwan opens its agricultural market to foreign competition, it realizes that it simply cannot compete with their neighbors in producing some commodities, particularly rice. The government has thus realized that agriculture, which was once the foundation of the economy, must adapt and specialize, producing not the cheapest possible vegetables and fruit, but higher quality produce for a Taiwanese market which is getting more selective in its tastes. The interest in organic produce has been growing, as the now affluent Taiwanese are paying more for safer food. The government promotes this interest, as it is one way for farmers to compete, and at the same time it protects the environment. Thus, I would say that the WTO is very influential in promoting local organic farms.

At the same time, the WTO works hard to undermine government attempts to protect the domestic supply of food, by whittling down import tariffs on agricultural products. And while there may be government support for organic farms because of the WTO, the overall price of food has been dropping, which undermines anyones attempt to make a living growing food. In the past, farmers would have moved to organic produce to bring in more cash, but now they're doing it just to survive. People are willing to pay a premium for organic produce, but there is a limit to that, and the WTO lowers the bar for everyone. Again, it is the environment that pays and the consumer who wins, but if by winning you are just supporting a foreign farm using detrimental farming methods, are you really winning??

List important characteristics of raw milk quality and briefly indicate how dairy farm management affects the quality of milk entering the processing sub-system.

As this farm is not a dairy farm, that is a little difficult to answer, but I will warp the question in the following way

List important characteristics of pure organic produce and briefly indicate how farm inputs can compromise organic food, and how organic farms force upstream suppliers and downstream retailers to be environmentally friendly.

Any inputs of chemicals at any step in the growing of organic food can remove compromise its organic status. A regular farm relies on many external inputs, such as fertilizers, compost, nutrient supplies, soil, methods pest removal and control, etc. An organic farm is no different, and in any one of these inputs exists the potential to compromise the organic nature of the entire farm. Because the purity of organic food can be compromised so easily, it forces all providers of inputs to organic farms to prove that their products are also chemical free, which leads to further protection of the environment. Further, as consumers become more educated about organic produce, it teaches them to think about all the other products they buy and the potential consequence of their production. Thus organic farms have a far reaching effect on the environmental health the world. As many suppliers are in different countries around the world, these effects may be isolated, but with time and increased popularity, organic growing techniques could have a big impact on the environmental health of the planet.

On Liang Shan farm for example, the consumers who buy food from the farm are not only supporting an environmentally clean area in Taiwan, but an organic fertilizer producer in Holland, and an organic compost producer from Greece, thus creating a small but important global network of environmentally friendly "hot-spots."

Infectious Diseases (such as mastitis, BSE, Food & Mouth Disease): what are the options for prevention, intervention and farm sustainability?

For this question, I will apply the ethics of organic farming to the problem stated above. A huge factor in the transmission of diseases such as those listed above is that farm animals are increasingly fed the waste parts of other farm animals in a bid to increase protein and not waste any part of the animal. The gains in economy that this allows are clearly compromised by the losses in food safety, as there is no way to keep track of what is in the system and what is outside of it.

Organic farming, whether it be organic beef or organic carrots, implies a rigorous knowledge of the purity of all inputs and outputs to the system. Thus it would allow for an intricate knowledge of where any possible impurities or disease are entering the system, and what to do to immediately halt it.

Organic farming is not simply one method among many. What it implies is a strict adherence to nature's own methods of nutrient supply and pest control, and what this means is that it is the only ultimately sustainable farming practice. All other methods that use artificial means eventually break down the system, as is indicated by problems with soil erosion, water pollution, and diseases such as those listed above.

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Revised Wednesday, May 17, 2003

Published by City Farmer
Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture