Hello! This is Jocelyn Durkay, concentration year, community track student at GSSW. I’m spending 6 weeks this summer in southwestern China studying global social work practice with Visiting Professor Sarah Bexell. I’m blogging about my experiences this summer- this is post number 2. During this past week I had the amazing opportunity to visit a co-operative farming community in Anlong county outside Chengdu, Sichuan province. I’ve always had a penchant for gardening and growing produce and held my foundation year internship with GreenLeaf, a youth-led urban farming program in northeast Denver. I found this week to be a valuable social work experience, as well as a valuable farming experience.
The co-op community of Anlong Village was launched in 2006 with the help of Chengdu Urban Rivers Association (CURA) and other NGOs. The project involved collaborating with farmers, who lived upstream of a major river that feeds into Chengdu, to switch from chemical farming (using of pesticides and herbicides) to eco-farming. Eco-farming in China refers to a number of different practices including organic farming and high land productivity in order to avoid pollution and environmental degradation, to conserve resources, and to create healthy food. In practice this means creating almost zero waste, growing organic produce, and selling the food to urban residents while educating them about the importance of chemical-free produce. Even human and livestock waste is converted into clean-burning methane gas and organic fertilizer! One of the larger farms in the village offers eco-tourism opportunities where visitors can stay at the farm in order to work, explore, or play on the nearby river’s beach.
Anlong Village is a pilot project that many organizations hope to duplicate. I learned a great deal about Anlong and its farmers during my stay there from Monday – Saturday of last week. I stayed with the Quan family (pronounced Chen): a grandfather, grandmother, and their teenage granddaughter. It was a fantastic homestay experience where I was able to enjoy local, fresh, organic food at every meal and had some opportunities to work on the farm.
As I mentioned earlier, this was not just an opportunity to experience nature, culture, and agriculture but also a social work learning experience. I had the opportunity to speak with four heads of households about their switch to eco-farming, through the translation assistance of a colleague. These farmers had spent all (or most) of their lives as farming– initially participating in traditional farming techniques, then chemical farming, and now eco-farming. Chemical farming rose to popularity in the 1980s because of the high demand for food to combat mass starvation from a population boom. Chinese colleagues informed me that with the rapid rise in China’s urban development and modernization, farming has become somewhat synonymous with peasantry. These farmers are reclaiming the occupation, however, through technical knowledge and concerns for public health. Young people in Anlong are remaining on their family farms instead of moving to cities, helping slow the loss of a generation of Chinese farmers. As mentioned, the initial impetus for the formation of Anlong Village stemmed from river pollution. This river is used for laundry and for swimming by residents and guests alike. The river water is also diverted to water the fields and has a direct connection to human and animal consumption.
Health benefits extend to farmers’ daily lives as well. One farmer spoke of the positive health his mother has experienced since switching to organic farming. Previously, she’d needed daily medication and had poor reactions to breathing pesticide-ridden air. Now her health has improved enough that she does not need medication. Another farmer spoke of how he made the decision to protect his family’s health, helping feed others healthy food was a secondary consequence. That same farmer spoke of the concern he now felt for others who consumed chemically treated produce. He’d seen farmers spray food with pesticide in the morning and sell the same produce later that day. All four farmers spoke of feelings of pride they’d developed for their produce and their customers. Previously they’d sold their produce to wholesalers while now they know their CSA customers by name and feel a concern for their health. Farmers also spoke of their connection to their land, wildlife, and the act of farming—aspects they did not speak of when explaining their previous use of chemicals. Several of them spoke of new responsibility they felt to the larger environment, demonstrating feelings of empowerment. Farmers discussed the sense of community they felt with other eco-farmers, recognizing they had collective power and strength. Additionally, all four farmers spoke of how they enjoyed their lifestyle and would not choose another occupation than eco-farming. After completing my Research Methods & Design assignments on horticulture therapy, I found this last point particularly interesting and wondered if this supported research on positive mental health affects of horticulture experiences.
The Anlong Village co-operative was incredibly inspiring but they are currently fighting a losing battle against hyper-industrialization and urbanization. The Chinese government is attempting to buy farmer’s homes in order to demolish them and relocate families to urban high rises (requiring a long commute to their farmlands). Additionally, I could not see the sun through Chengdu’s smog clouds until my fifth day on the farm. When showing my hosts’ granddaughter photos of Denver, she commented on how blue the sky looked and how she’s never seen sky like that in her hometown.
MORE ON ANLONG VILLAGE:
CURA’s official site, http://www.rivers.org.cn/en/
An article about the community, featuring the eco-tourism farm, http://zesterdaily.com/world/travel/going-organic-in-china/.
WORKS CITED & RESOURCES:
Dammon Loyalka, M. (2012). Eating bitterness: Stories from the front lines of China’s great urban migration. Berekely, CA: University of California Oress.
Wang, H., Qin, L, Huang, L, & Zhang, L. (2007). Ecological agriculture in China: Principles and applications. Advances in Agronomy, 47(10): pp. 181-208. DOI: 10.1016/S0065-2113(06)94004-8.