Monday, October 1, 2012

E-farm – 川上農莊 : a local organic farm

E-farm or chyûn-seuhng nùhng-zhông in Cantonese (川上農莊lit: river-up/above- farmstead) is an organic farm located in Fanling in the village called Hok Tau Wai 鶴藪圍 [lit: crane-marsh-walled/encircle].
I met its owner, farmer and educator, Teresa, a lovely lady at Island East Markets’ happy hour at the end of August. Teresa kindly proposed to bring me to visit her farm and this took place last Wednesday.
Here is some info I’d like to share on this organic farm and its owners who are growing healthy produce for us to enjoy.

Teresa at IEM on 30/09/12

Although farming is quite physical and dependent on the weather Teresa likes it better and finds it less stressful than her previous city jobs. I met Teresa after typhoon Vicente had savaged her crops*, yet she was upbeat. “Each day is a new picture and this new picture needs to be accepted and dealt with.”

* You can view photos of the aftermath on Teresa's blog.

Having first experienced urban farming Teresa explained that she and her husband decided 5 years ago to set up their own organic farm.
Finding the right location was crucial and meant: 1) easy access by public transport yet not too close to the main road to avoid the land being littered (many people are hiking in the vicinity on week-ends), and 2) water availability.
The couple found a piece of land they liked enclosed in a valley surrounded by landscape companies, about 5-8 min-walk away from the nearest bus stop. A river is crossing the land and provides irrigation during 12 months of the year and there is also a reservoir in the area.
The 3rd important point was to get connected to the electricity network.

Bus stop in the nearby village
The property they chose had been left uncultivated for 30 years and before was a rice field. It took the couple 2 years to make the land looks like it is today. Besides organising and arranging distinct fields for different crops and trees they also built a shed, toilets, and an outdoor kitchen. Pointing out the stones under our feet Teresa proudly said:” each rock weighs 25 kg! I carried each one of them to build this path!”

Stone path built 5 years ago by Teresa
Distinct fields are allocated to specific cultures and there are an herbs garden and 2 ponds where fish are raised for an aquaponics project.

Besides helping with the farm chores Teresa also gives talks to schools. Visits and gardening activities are organised. Wood-fired clay oven party can also be arranged at e-farm. Seems like lots of fun!

e-farm clay oven
The temperature can reach up to 400º C.

e-farm is employing one staff but at certain time of the year more people are recruited. They also get assistance from volunteers such as Wwoofers. The couple is renting a small village house where helpers are accommodated.

e-farm’s fruit and vegetables are sold to a food store run by St James Settlement in Wanchai as well as individuals and restaurants. And starting from yesterday (30 September 2012) you can buy e-farm's produce at IEM.
Teresa noted that local (organic & non-organic) farming accounted for 3% only of the local needs (meaning that 97% of our fruit & vegetable are exported). Small organic farmers (like them) rely more on seasonal products and cannot produce a wide choice of vegetables as this requires knowledge and costly equipment. 
e-farm is running organic sweet corn programmes in which individuals can get involved and thus support small-scale farmers.

Corn field (December harvest)

Farmer at work

After the visit it was time to think of preparing lunch - not only for us but also for Teresa’s husband and the workers who had already worked ½ day in the field. With fresh vegetables and fish nearby it did not take us a long time to decide on the menu.

Papaya* & jade perch* soup
Chinese chives* omelette
Chinese style (loúh-séui 鹵水) chicken wings
(Served with Steamed rice)

Rosella* and lemon grass* tea

* e-farm organic produce

Outdoor kitchen


Jade Perch
This was a very simple yet friendly lunch that I will never forget. I killed the fish and cleaned it! 
In the afternoon I did some weeding. An excellent exercise! It had been such a long time since I did not touch a sickle. It reminded me of when my siblings and I had a small parcel of land in my parents’ garden to take care of.

Dragon fruit (pitaya) trees
(Need 3 more years before they can produce fruit)
At the end of the day I asked Teresa about the meaning of “e” of e-farm.  Teresa replied: “Ecology, environment, and easy.” I would definitely not describe farming as easy (as the opposite of difficult) but certainly as simple and unpretentious.

Thank you Teresa and Augustine for this wonderful day at your farm!

Rosella and lemon grass tea

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