Food safety concerns drive Chinese back to the farm

Updated: 2011-05-02 10:30

By Xu Junqian (China Daily)

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Food safety concerns drive Chinese back to the farm

Modern farming methods, with their reliance on pesticides and chemicals, have caused concern about food safety among the younger generation.  

Shen remembers the most frustrating moment one suffocatingly hot summer day, when he drove two hours to a market in downtown Hangzhou to sell his first crop of Chinese lettuce, only to find that the ordinary version, treated with pesticides and chemicals, was going for such a low price, no more than 1 yuan a kilo, that there was no way people would touch his.

When Shen got home, he told his wife to just leave all the lettuce in the field to rot. "At least it would be used as fertilizer," he explained.

After that, Shen learned to be more tactful in selling his produce, by, for example, recommending it to members of online health clubs or peddling it in rich neighborhoods.

"Business is picking up, even if it's at a very slow pace," Shen says philosophically.

And, sometimes customers stop by to place an order because produce deliveries cannot be guaranteed, on account of the weather or lack of experience.

In fact, 30 families stop by regularly, once a week, to put in an order, and Shen delivers his vegetables door-to-door every Friday from his Volkswagen, the only asset he has from his busy Beijing days.

Shen thinks he will have 60 families as steady customers by the end of the year, and 90 or more by 2012.

The most difficult part of this life, Shen says, has been the problem of finding someone to help him with the farm work. Most young people are like his "former self", busily making money in the big city, while the elderly farmers still there in the countryside are not strong enough to do the heavy work.

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Food safety concerns drive Chinese back to the farm Food becomes a hot issue in China

"Anyway, being a farmer isn't really a glamorous thing, generally speaking. And I don't want to force an idea that even my parents can't accept on others. Besides, I don't have that much money," is how Shen puts it.

That lack of help is a major obstacle for the business. Only a third of his land is under cultivation, even though his disapproving parents have offered to lend a helping hand.

"If it were fully used, the land I leased could be worth 2 million yuan a year, and that could be a successful business mode, one that could attract more young people," he said, with his tan face and surprisingly optimistic tone.

But, after all, he attributes that accepting attitude to the peaceful, contented life that the hard work has brought him.

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