With a growing number of organic farms around Shanghai, day trips to these rural retreats are becoming ever more popular with city dwellers. And considering the scandals that have emerged in China in recent years, food safety is of growing importance to the country's populace which is becoming increasingly health conscious.
"People in Shanghai are definitely becoming more interested in organic farming," said Kimberly Ashton, founder of a new health food store and kitchen demonstration showroom, Sprout Lifestyle, (unit 412, 570 Yongjia Road, 3250-9103) and who has been organizing organic farm tours in Shanghai for almost two years.
"People are curious to see the farms, to order fresh vegetables and also they just want something fun and new to do on the weekends," she said. "And a farm excursion is a great way to get out of the city and to get some fresh air."
Organic farms in Shanghai differ in the variety of produce they have to offer. But most of the farms provide the option of lunch for visitors, made with their own fresh produce.
"It is important that people visit the farms and decide which ones they trust and want to buy from," said Ashton, who is also a volunteer for Slow Food Shanghai a global movement that promotes fair trade goods. People also need to consider the pricing and delivery options that suit their family's needs."
Opened in 2004, the 33-acre BioFarm is close to Pudong International Airport and is one of the oldest organic farms in Shanghai (visit www.biofarm.cn for details). The business hosts a monthly farmers' market, workshops on organic farming and also cookery classes.
"In the classes we teach participants how to wash produce properly because some don't even realize that organic vegetables don't have to be soaked," said BioFarm PR director Jane Tsao.
A one day tour to the farm is available by appointment for members only. The day trip is 120 yuan ($19) for adults and 80 yuan for children under 12 (transport not included). Membership costs 1,188 yuan for three months which entitles holders to a weekly delivery of food during that period. Alternatively members can buy a pre paid card with credit of 1,200 yuan and which can be spent over the following 12 months. Members are also entitled to order home delivery vegetables from the farm's online shop.
The Mahota Farm (www.mahotafarm.com) is a new 106-acre organic farm on Chongming Island. And apart from vegetables, Mahota also boasts a pig breeding farm, Chongming white goats and an aquarium. A day trip to the farm costs 280 yuan and 140 yuan for children under 12 which includes a guided tour, lunch and grow-your-own-vegetable activities and animal feeding. Transport is not included. Mahota also has a store and a hotpot restaurant.
There are also a number of smaller farms in the city. Shanghai native Li Weinan opened Yunjian Daziran (meaning "nature in the clouds" in Chinese) in July in Songjiang district. The site was originally a demonstration area to teach farming techniques. Li rents 6.3 acres of land for 100,000 yuan a year and hires nine local farmers to work there. "There are less and less farmers in Songjiang, so the local government agreed to rent this to me," Li told the Global Times. "And working on this organic farm gives me the joy of laboring and a peace of mind."
And all of these farms are an ideal way for children to learn more about nature and to appreciate the food on their dinner table. At BioFarm, children are shown how the roots of vegetables can be made into nutritious soups, and how apples that have been kept in the fridge too long can be turned into apple pies.
Organic vegetables at farms also cost less than many people imagine, with Tsao pointing out that an average bag of 250g of vegetables at BioFarm costs between 6 and 7 yuan. She added that the prices of vegetables from organic farms are competitive with supermarkets because they don't have the extra costs of packaging, promotion and transportation.
While most of the visitors to organic farms are foreigners, Ashton says the number of interested locals is growing all the time. Tony Lu, marketing supervisor from the Mahota Farm said that during weekdays tours of pupils from international schools are becoming a regular fixture. And for the past eight years a team at BioFarm has been teaching students from 300 schools in Shanghai on how to carry out organic farming as part of project organized with Roots & Shoots, an conservation organization started by the British conservationist Jane Goodall.
"We want to teach the next generation how to lead an organic life," said Tsao.
Choosing an organic farm
Study the background of the founders. Why did they start the farm, and is their produce really organic? Make sure the surrounding area is not polluted as this will affect the air, soil and water. What is their water source? Do they filter the water they use? Composting and recycling. Do they practice either or both? And if they have animals, do they use natural fertilizers? Consider the variety of vegetables and other produce on offer. - Louise Ho, Global Times