“Alternative Food Networks” in China

China Study Group looks at new initiatives by Chinese farmers to create a local version of CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture):

The experiment that claims to be China’s first “CSA” (community-supported agriculture) – the North American model of the experiments with “alternative food networks” that have been sweeping the globe over the past few years – was set up in Beijing by a student of Wen Tiejun at Renmin University named Shi Yan (which, appropriately, is spelled like the Chinese word for “experiment”). It’s called “the Dondon Farm” (小毛驴农场 – literally, “the little donkey farm”), and from what I understand, it’s set up like a commercial enterprise, with the founder using funding from the government, Renmin U., and a trading company to rent 20 mu (1.3 hectares) at the foot of Phoenix Mountain (凤凰岭山) and hire farmers to raise organic vegetables, which are then sold directly to about 50 urban households, while a few households rent plots on the farm to use themselves.

It seems ironic that the founder of this farm went to the US to study the CSA model, and calls this “China’s first CSA,” whereas in fact it sounds less like the North American CSAs I’m familiar with than a project in Anlong village (安龙村), Chengdu, whose farmers actually reject the term “CSA” because they see it as implying a paternalistic relation of urban consumers towards the farmers. They haven’t settled on an alternative term for what they’re doing, but when I suggested “urban-rural mutual aid network” one of the farmers said that would be appropriate. They don’t have official certification as organic (hard to get in China), so they just say “natural farming” (自然农耕) and describe their produce as “ecological vegetables” (生态蔬菜). And they haven’t registered as a “cooperative” for various reasons, although what they’re doing involves some cooperation among 7 households in both production and “marketing.”

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