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Meet Beijing Farmers


Beijing's small organic farms offer fresh delicious produce

De Run Wu

Alison Wang and her husband Dr Ji Yunliang have been operating De Run Wu since 2004. De Run Wu’s name, House of Virtue, comes from the teachings of Confucius.

When Dr Ji was studying for his PhD at BeihangUniversity he also joined an environmental protection club, working with farmers and other students to sell vegetables, connecting teachers and parents as customers to the farmers. While studying for his post-doctorate at PekingUniversity he found himself placed working with and in the development of weapons of mass destruction. Realising his fate, he left the university and has since devoted his life to organic farming.

Ji states firmly that there is no such thing as 100 per cent organic food when the air, earth and water sources are considered, calculating that at least 30 per cent of a crop can’t be truly organic. He does not emphasise that there are no pesticides used; instead he plants crops 20 metres apart, so if there’s a problem he can control it by natural means.

The farm grows year-round in covered greenhouses with a large dug-out root cellar that stores produce for winter. Over 100 varieties are grown throughout the year, with a constant availability of 30 to 50 different types.

De Run Wu is one of the few local growers to offer varieties of fresh sprouts and that tries to meet the demands of customers; they also learn and challenge themselves by growing unfamiliar vegetables.

Soon, their first celery roots will be ready, and Dr Ji smiles when he says he has no idea if it’s growing right, or if anything’s really down in the soil. By the time it’s ready, he will have patiently waited six months to grow a vegetable he’s never tasted.

De Run Wu works with other organic growers to offer special items that they cannot grow themselves, such as crisp sugar heart apples. De Run Wu also offers organic and natural products including soap nuts for making organic laundry detergent; tea seed powder to naturally wash dishes; organic grains and flours, and bulk quantities of natural cleaners, such as white vinegar and baking soda.

De Run Wu Room 813, 60 Shunhuang Lu, DanshuiTown, Chaoyang district (8459 0809; No membership is necessary (but available). Produce sells for 20RMB per kilo with a four kilo minimum order and 20RMB delivery fee. Speciality items such as fruit by the case are specially priced. For more information, call or email Alison Wang to be included on the weekly produce list. Deliveries are twice weekly. 朝阳区顺黄路60

God’s Grace Garden

Zhang Zhimin (pictured), or Therese Rose as she’s also known, always dreamed of having her own farm. Born during China’s great famine, and having survived leukemia, Therese has a strong hold on life, with both feet firmly planted in the earth.

In 2001, God’s Grace Garden was founded an hour south-west of the city in Fangshan district. The farm system is sustained through hard labour, true grit and a touch of wisdom from the ancients.

She gained her knowledge through both trial and error, and through wisdom gained from the old text Qi Min Yao Shu (or Principal Skills of Farmers), written by Jia Sixie over 1,500 years ago. This played a fundamental role in Therese’s understanding of crop rotation and allows plants to proliferate and attract the right organisms to naturally remedy any pests and sustain the soil homeopathically.

The farm is now completely self-sustained. In 2008, the farm was certified organic, with government approval to help the mostly female farm workers understand the ways and methods of natural farming. Acknowledging that farmers with little education are a social problem in many countries, Therese teaches and trains her farm hands with patience and understands that organic land agriculture is also a ‘mind culture’.

Members of the farm pay 1,000RMB as seed money to an account that doesn’t expire and can place orders for organic products and vegetables in season (10RMB/kilo): orchard summer fruit (including cherries, peaches, apples, dates, persimmons and more), fresh, handmade tofu with a distinct smoky hint from the fruitwood that heats the fire where it’s prepared, fresh soy milk, wheat flour, fresh wheat noodles, and handmade vegetable dumplings.

Duck, chicken and goose eggs are available as are the birds and lamb. Eventually milk production will begin from cows and goats that are about to give their first milk, and every once in a while, honey can be had.

God’s Grace Garden Jiang Village, Liangxiang, Fangshan district (137 0127 7398; Email: Membership is free with a 1,000RMB deposit. Minimum 100RMB with free delivery (less than 100RMB incurs a 10RMB delivery fee). Deliveries are once a week. Call or email for prices and details. 房山区良乡江村

Green Cow Organic Farm

Since 2004 Lejen Chen and Shan En have been farming in Shunyi with cows, pigs, chickens, geese and honey bees. ‘We are not biodynamic but we work on a closed system that is as organic as possible. We grow most of the feed for our animals and make our own compost using organic material from the farm,’ says Lejen.

It all started with the quest for a caesar salad at their nearby restaurant Mrs Shanen’s in Shunyi in 2003, when romaine lettuce was scarce. The idea to grow vegetables and herbs for the restaurant always sat in their plan and came to fruition shortly after.

Theirs is a member of the Model Farm Project and they are both certified organic by their members and follow organic growing standards set by the Soil Association based in the UK.

Buildings on the farm are made from recycled materials, while compost toilets have also been installed.

Green Cow has availability for 20 members of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), where members pay an annual fee to the farm and are required to work in the fields at least three times per year. Each week, a box of not less than ten varieties of fresh produce is delivered with an abundance to feed a family of three.

The farm is open to all members and open to the public during Green Cow’s annual harvest festival in October. To date, the farm has supplied organic vegetables, herbs, milk, eggs, peanut butter, and occasionally honey and soup chickens to Mrs Shanen’s. Call ahead for details.

Green Cow Organic Farm North of DonggezhuangVillage (about ten minutes north of the NewInternationalExhibitionCenter), Shunyi district. Email: Annual membership with a weekly box of vegetables for a family of three: 16,000RMB.

Mrs Shanens 5 Kaifajie, XibaixinzhuangVillage (three blocks north of the ExhibitionCenter), Shunyi district (8046 4301). Open Mon-Fri 7.30am-8pm; weekends 7.30am-8.30pm. 顺义区东庄村北

Little Donkey Farm

Just two years ago, Little Donkey Farm was a rural development project until 28-year-old Shi Yan, a young PhD candidate at Renmin University, returned from an internship with a US-based CSA farm and joined in a team specialising in farmer training in Hebei province.

Eventually she convinced officials to let her turn it into a CSA. The Chinese government is required to support a number of eco-agricultural projects making Little Donkey a demonstration farm and Beijing’s only government-supported CSA.

Its farmhands are comprised of an equal blend of local villagers and university students. Most interns stay for around a single season, and this year there were only ten spaces for 80 applicants.

The farm had a generous starting budget of 3 million RMB, allowing it the space to serve its greater purpose as a functioning teaching model and demonstration farm.

All crops are grown outdoors in soil and the greenhouses are for seedlings only. Pigs are penned indoors under a controlled environment and chickens roam all over, keeping the soil healthy.

Two types of membership are available for a season that lasts 24 weeks. Delivery members can opt for home delivery either once or twice a week, or can come directly to the farm for pick-up.

The other is known as a working member; this is where each member is assigned a plot of land to farm and is expected to come each weekend to maintain their little garden. The farm maintains members’ gardens during the week, including irrigation, and provides everything from seed to compost and tools.

There are 300 delivery memberships available this year, and 110 working share memberships that have sold out for 2010.

Interested parties for working memberships should contact the farm for next year. There is still room for delivery memberships.

Little Donkey Farm West of HoushajianVillage, Sujiatuo Zhen, Haidian district (138 1095 6036/186 0102 2820; Email: Annual CSA memberships (24 weeks), delivered to your door once or twice weekly (2,000RMB/4,000RMB). Direct pick-up on the farm available (1,440RMB/2,800RMB). Other pick-up options also available, call for details. Working CSA memberships: 1,200RMB for a 30 square metre plot (sold out this year; reserve for next year). 海淀区苏家坨镇后沙涧村西

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