Heiress harmonizes hot pot with organic farming

Updated: 2015-03-27 11:38

By Xu Junqian in Shanghai(China Daily USA)

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Heiress harmonizes hot pot with organic farming

The farm has various ways to expel insects as pesticides are strictly banned in organic farming. For example, herbs that give off a special smell believed to drive away bugs are planted together with others that lack this quality.[Photo by Gao Erqiang / China Daily]

The growing market for organic food is also attracting investors. One of these, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told Caixin, a leading Chinese business weekly, that people can buy a license to run an organic farm in China for as little as 20,000 yuan ($3,225). Only some of the land has to grow organic food for the whole farm to benefit from the organic label, he added.

But putting the integrity of their food above profit may be a bitter pill to swallow for some. First, the land must be left barren for three years to restore its fertility, as this is usually lost during years of over-plowing through conventional growing. And even when the crops are harvested, there is no guarantee they will sell.

"It's hard for consumers to trust farmers these days because of all the stories of corruption in the food supply chain," said Chang Tianle, who runs Beijing Farmer's Market.

The non-profit organization selects small farms in and near the capital and runs a regular fair in both the capital city and Shanghai so that consumers can get to know the farmers they are buying from in person. It serves as a crucial trust-building exercise.

But the jury is still out when it comes to just how beneficial organic food really is. A 2012 study by Stanford University discovered that on average it is no healthier than regularly grown produce, despite the fact that the latter shows much higher levels of pesticide residue.

For some, like Li Shuguang, a professor at Fudan University's School of Public Health, it is just another form of comfort food.

Ho's father, Ho Show Chung, was diagnosed with hepatitis B in the 1990's. The chronic liver infection "completely deconstructed the life" of the businessman and his family, as he told local media in Taiwan after his condition improved a few years later. He serves as chairman of the conglomerate, which also has interests in finance and scientific technology.

After he was diagnosed, the family embarked on a strict diet to improve their collective health, drastically cutting down on their intake of salt, oils and processed foods. In 2005, they turned this interest into an enterprise: Yuen Foong Yu Biotech Company. Stephanie, who graduated from Brown University's political science department, took over as CEO.

Qimin, her first restaurant, proved an immediate hit. It was named after Qi Min Yao Shu, a Chinese culinary encyclopedia compiled in the 5th century.

Ho said she opted for hot pot because having raw meat and vegetables dipped in simmering stock best preserves the original taste of the food. She attributes her success to her early entry into the market while also putting premium food above profit.

"At the end of the day, organic farming is a business, so we need to make money and get recognition from customers. But we want to do it in a sustainable, environmentally friendly way," she said.

"The major difference between me and other successful businesspeople is that I'm not greedy."