One can grow beautiful sponge
cucumbers, even without the
help of chemical fertilizers and
Urban farming: Taichung city residents return to the soil
Words and photos by Ruby Wu
Translated by Angel Pu
Although Taiwan's residents enjoy the benefits of a developed society that provides all sorts of edibles in an uber-convenient fashion, they also face fears of potentially-unhealthy pesticides, artificial ingredients, food additives and other chemicals. As Taiwanese focus on an improved quality of life, an increasing number are beginning to grow their own vegetables instead of buying them. As these folks are finding, cultivating your own food can be not only healthier, but also enrich life in general.
Without a doubt, it is far from easy for city-dwellers to find a place to grow fruits and vegetables. However, if you are really interested in becoming a weekend farmer, a good place to start is on-line, where it is possible to find suitable land for rent near Taichung city. This writer recently visited a citizen's farm that provides small plots of land for rent and cultivation on a year-by-year basis. All one needs to get started are some basic farming tools and vegetable and fruit seeds. This puts urban farming within reach of just about everyone.
As early as 1999, the Agricultural Experimental Station of National Chung Hsing University's College of Agriculture and Natural Resources had already organized a citizens' farm in Taichung's Wufeng district. This farm has 109 plots for rent, each measuring about 66 square meters and costing NT$5,000 per year. These have attracted a large number of renters interested in organic farming. According to Mr. Chang, a worker at the agricultural station, most of these individuals have a basic knowledge of cultivation and embrace the idea of organic farming. He notes that his organization also teaches them how to use non-chemical pesticides in such ways that protect crops from insects without damaging the environment. Chemical fertilizers, pesticides and weedkillers are strictly forbidden in this area.
On a Saturday morning, I ran into Mr. and Mrs. Huang, who manufacture trumpets. They come here every weekend to check on the vegetables they are growing. "We have rented the land for a long time," said Mrs. Huang while she weeded her plot. "Growing vegetables is never an easy task, but at least we know what we are eating, and we love the feeling of watching our vegetables grow healthy and beautiful. Just take a look at our asparagus, ginger, Chinese yam and chop-suey greens." While she was busy introducing her vegetables to me, another couple also surnamed Huang cheerfully worked on the adjacent plot. "It's hard for us to exercise on workdays," said the second Mr. Huang, an office worker. "So I always love coming here on weekends as a workout."
Besides retirees and housewives, weekend farmers include couples bringing their children to experience the hard work of farming and be closer to nature. One mother says, "This is my first time renting land for growing vegetables; they are not easy to grow, because of the hot weather, I guess, but we still have sweet potato leaves. I haven't bought vegetables for a long time since I began growing them myself and it's really good to know what you're eating." She also says that the land next to hers belongs to a businessman who works in China, but who visits the farm every time he returns and even dug a small lily pond. Most people here help each other out, but their most important vegetable-growing virtue is being patient.
Because of Taiwan's hot, humid climate, there are not many vegetables grown in the summer, whose seasonal vegetables include amaranth, okra, water spinach, melon, squash, and legumes. Starting in September and October, a wider variety can be cultivated, including Chinese cabbage, baby bok choy, lettuce, chop-suey greens and cabbage. If you want to grow seasonal vegetables, besides consulting the lunar calendar, you can also pick some seedlings up at the seedling shop yourself. Or you can choose to only raise sweet potato leaves, which is an all-season vegetable.
Located in Tanzi district, the Big Wood Eco-Farm also provides farmland for rent, at a rate of NT$3,300 per year for a 50-square-meter plot. "Most of our clients are retired or local residents, they all agree to the concept of organic farming that we promote on the farm, and they all want to eat healthier," said farm owner Ms. Chang. One grandmother here not only grow vegetables, but also had a playground slide built for her grandson so that she and him can both have fun here.
In addition, the Taichung city government has organized a similar farm in Xitun district's Buzi village, offering 400 30-square-meter plots for an annual rent of NT$3,000 each, and plans to open more land for rent in the future.
Left: Renters make use of limited space to grow vegetables.
Right: The Agricultural Experimental Station holds "best farmer" contests every year, with last year's competition being a radish contest. (photos provided by Chung Hsing University)
Left: When sponge cucumber plants begin bearing fruit, they are covered with paper bags to protect them from fruit flies. Insect glue traps are also used.
Right: A covering net over vegetables can protect them from insects, wind and light.
Left: Spraying some sticky pesticide onto plastic bottles and hanging these near the farm will lure
harmful insects and cause them to stick to the bottle.
Right: Organic farmers use insect sex pheromones and other attractants to lure harmful insects into containers and protect their crops from harm.