Growing and learning from vegetables

Updated: 2013-12-27 09:53

By Deng Zhangyu (China Daily)

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Growing and learning from vegetables

Tong Jia shows off vegetables harvested from his farm in suburban Beijing, where he practices safe and natural farming. Photo provided to China Daily.


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It was a weekend venture motivated by the desire to feed his children pesticide-free greens, but he definitely reaped more than what he expected when the farm started growing. Deng Zhangyu talks to a natural foodie.

On a bright sunny day before winter's chill arrived, two dogs and a cat are enjoying a siesta under the shade of an old peach tree with branches weighed down by fruit. The fragrant bouquet of soil, tomatoes, cucumbers and corn floats through the warm air from nearby farms.

This little farm in Beijing's suburbs is a small world far away from the city's clamor, smog and gray skies. It's also an experimental station for Tong Jia, 41, in his pursuit of a green and sustainable lifestyle, and his desire to share safe food with family and friends.

An advertising executive for 10 years, Tong founded Dandelion Farm with some friends in 2010, originally as a weekend hobby. Soon however, it took on more serious intent as food safety became a major concern for urban dwellers separated from the source of their food.

When Tong and his friends first laid eyes on the farm rented from a local farmer, it was full of dandelions-so Dandelion Farm seemed an obvious choice for a name.

"I was an outsider, and I knew nothing about farming," says Tong, who is now a proudly self-taught famer after years of experimenting with how to grow different types of vegetables.

Initially, Tong kept his job as creative director at a top advertising company while working on the farm on weekends. He soon found more satisfaction from growing fruits and vegetables than from thinking up fancy concepts for his clients.

He resigned from his job in March and decided to devote his full attention to the farm.

Perhaps as a result of hearing too many buzzwords in his previous job, Tong spurns the "organic" label. He is more interested in "natural"-as in waiting for food and vegetables to grow at their own pace and time.

"See, you can tell directly from the color of a tomato whether it is mature or not," Tong says.

Tong still remembers his shock when farmers from nearby villagers tried to persuade him to use ripening agent on green tomatoes.

Tomatoes need time and light to turn red but consumers can buy tomatoes on the market as much as a month earlier because of ripening agents like ethane, says Tong.

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