Learning from and Reflecting on the Farmers’ Market Co-Learning and Exchange between Taiwan and Mainland Practitioners

Xue Mei, a stall owner, makes steamed cold cake, a local food made from dried tofu. (Zhang Xiaomao)

By Li Wenxin (Former staff of Wanshi Nature Education Centre in Gaoxin District, Chengdu. The Centre, a partner of PCD, was one of the main organisations that launched the Chengdu Daily-life Market.)

Editors' Note:

Supporting farmers’ market initiatives is one of the programme foci of PCD, the purpose being to promote a form of community economy that connects people, especially to create mutual support between consumers and producers, and to build a platform to explore sustainable ways of living, including producing and selling ecological food and handmade daily necessities.

Over the last two years, PCD has been supporting the farmers’ market initiative of Wanshi Nature Education Centre in Gaoxin District, Chengdu. During this period, the centre has seen many exchanges with Taiwan’s Hope Market. Here Li Wenxin, a PCD-supported intern from Chengdu, shares the insight she gained from these exchanges.

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A scene at Chengdu Daily-life Market. (Zhang Xiaomao) The stall at Chengdu Life Market where visitors are taught how to make enzymes. (Zhang Xiaomao)
Xue Mei, a stall owner, makes steamed cold cake, a local food made from dried tofu. (Zhang Xiaomao) There is a “Classroom of Everyday Life” at Chengdu Life Market where participants learn how to live a green lifestyle, such as making your own cleaning agents from enzymes. (Li Wenxin)
Participants of Chengdu Daily-life Market posing for a photo together. (Zhang Xiaomao) Interns from Chengdu and friends from Taiwan discussing ecological construction at Hope Market’s Nongzhi School. (Li Wenxin)
Ecological farm products sold at Treehope Eco Hub run by Taiwan’s Hope Market. (Li Wenxin) At Hope Market, to ensure that visitors consume in a more environmentally-friendly way, they can borrow eating utensils and are encouraged to bring their own shopping bags. (Li Wenxin)
At Hope Market, visitors are encouraged to protect the environment. Those who bring their own shopping bags or who use utensils leased by the market can accumulate points which can be converted into small gifts. (Li Wenxin)  

On June 22-23, 2016, I was fortunate to be given the opportunity to take part in the “Farmers’ Market Co-learning” held by PCD, and to hear Dr. Chen Meng-kai, founder of Taiwan’s Hope Market [1], share his experience again.

The first time I heard about the small and beautiful community of Hope Market was at a talk on December 17, 2013 in which Dr. Chen gave an introduction of Hope Market. From his speech, one felt that Hope Market was not only a venue to buy and sell agricultural products, but also one which was alive, full of vitality and human warmth. At the market, farmers sell the crops that they cultivate themselves, with no middlemen who seize a part of their earnings. Meeting consumers face-to-face, farmers can understand their needs and hear their feedback while consumers get to know the farmers personally and learn directly from the farmers about how their food is produced and cultivated. In this way, mutual help and friendship are developed.

Farmers’ markets bring people together

At Hope Market, everyone is connected. As I listened to Dr. Chen, I hoped that our market, Chengdu Daily-life Market would be the same.

Chengdu Daily-life Market was launched on 22 March, 2014. I never thought that I would have the chance to become a member of the organising team and be part of such a meaningful venture.

From 16 to 19 May, 2014, I took part again in a workshop organised by PCD on how to build a farmers’ market based on mutual help conducted by Dr. Chen. The objective of the workshop was to use Chengdu Daily-life Market as an example to help participants learn about the operation of a farmers’ market, drawing on the experience of Hope Market with the goal to build happiness for a community.

We learnt that a farmers’ market can be something more than merely a “farmers’ market”. Learning from Hope Market’s ideas of the path to happiness, we realised that we could be more creative with Chengdu Daily-life Market. Dr. Chen also shared with us how they dealt with problems they faced over the last 8 years. From his talk, we gained insights into the operation of a farmers’ market that catered to people’s daily needs. At the Q&A session, Dr. Chen said something along the lines of: “An 8-year old market and a market that is 1-year old or 3-year old face different problems. The solutions to problems that one faces when one is at the age of running may not be used to solve the problems that one faces when one is still crawling and walking.”

Visiting Hope Market in Taiwan

From 5 to 14 January, 2016, I joined the Taiwan Exchange Exposure on Community Development coordinated by PCD’s Sichuan Programme Office. During our trip, we visited Hope Market. Around this time, Treehope Green Hub, a new venue for producing food and handicrafts and for holding meetings and exchange on sustainable living, had already been opened by Hope Market. In the meantime, Chengdu Daily-life Market was going to be 2 years’ old in two months.

Once I understood the significance of Hope Market as a community focused on symbiotic growth and mutual help, I was inspired in terms of the possible development for the Chengdu Daily-life Market to which I belonged. For example, the market could have more functions than we’d imagined and there could be a wider variety of activities. I wanted to implement my ideas immediately, but then I realised that it was difficult for a farmers’ market to have all kinds of functions right from the beginning. Below are all the possible functions of a farmers’ market.

The diverse functions of a farmers’ market

  1. Display and sale of farm products (such as locally produced organic vegetables and fruits, healthily processed food with no additives, environmentally-friendly daily necessities);
  2. A platform for face-to-face exchange between producers and consumers;
  3. A classroom on everyday life through which we may promote ideas of sustainable living and a practical venue where participants may learn about ecological farming and a green lifestyle;
  4. Community building and development (for developing the theory of happiness, education and training courses, community currency, collective development, a farmers’ school etc)

It is hard to put on a lot of weight by eating a lot in just one day. Similarly, to develop all the functions as mentioned above takes time and experience. When the time is ripe and all the necessary conditions are in place, these objectives will naturally follow. One cannot hope to build the whole simply by putting parts together. If we force ourselves to do something, what is achieved will not last.

During the co-learning programme in June 2016, I felt I understood what Dr. Chen said in 2014 better. His case study of Hope Market was in-depth and brought together diverse perspectives. Even when it is about the same case, you learn a different lesson each time you hear about it. The first time I heard Dr. Chen, for example, was when I had not started to work at Chengdu Daily-life Market, the second time was when I had worked there for three months and then it was after I had worked there for over two years. They were three different stages and the challenges and problems we faced were very different. That was why even though I had listened to his experience of Hope Market three times, the depth of what I heard and the aspects that caught my attention were different because what I was concerned about was different.

Moreover, the experience of Hope Market is like a living being which grows over time. Just like when one reads, some books become shorter the more you read it while some become longer. Hope Market belongs to the latter type, in which one sees how time and experience contribute to their growing depth.

A classroom on sustainable living in Chengdu Daily-life Market

Chengdu Daily-life Market shares the philosophy of Hope Market and wants to achieve the same goals. We want to support ecological farmers in Sichuan and to promote a sustainable culture and way of life through which the farmers’ markets may become a school that fosters ecological farming, sustainable living and mutual help between urban and rural areas.

At the site of Chengdu Daily-life Market, consumers can bring packaging materials that can be recycled, such as clean paper boxes, shopping bags, shockproof packaging materials (bubble wrap used to wrap goods to prevent them from being damaged during transportation) and eggs cartons to the service counter so that stall owners may reuse them. To reduce the use of disposables, consumers are encouraged to bring their own eating utensils and shopping bags when they visit the market. They are also invited to learn to use environment-friendly enzymes and to make it themselves.

In Chengdu Daily-life Market, a consumer who used to shop in the market and a few volunteers who are members of a high school green group share a common goal in environment protection. They hope that more people can begin to use kitchen waste to make enzymes and to practice a sustainable way of life. They met each other at the farmers’ market and began to promote making and using enzymes in the market at a stall,. motivating many people to join them.

Building a community for symbiotic growth and mutual help

Groups, which are formed by volunteers based on their shared interest or common dreams, are emerging in Chengdu Daily-life Market, and they may one day become organisations like the “tribes” in Hope Market. They may also develop into some other forms of organisation. We do not know yet what is going to happen in the end, but it seems to us that it is worthwhile to explore such possibilities. To build a friendly atmosphere and environment so that more of these kinds of relationships may develop and grow naturally in the farmers’ market and to provide support when it is necessary—this is what the organising team of a farmers’ market should do.

Since the market enables people to connect and as the relationship between people grows stronger with increasing interaction, mutual trust will gradually follow. In this way, organisers and participants of the farmers’ market, farmers and consumers join forces to build an urban-rural community of mutual help and symbiotic growth. Trust and mutual help are the cornerstone of the development of Chengdu Daily-life Market. The farmers’ market is a means for building such a community as it brings us together and enables us to search for ways to develop a small, local, cooperative and fair economic model based on local production and local consumption (such as CSA- Community Supported Agriculture). Such a community built on trust and mutual help can, vice versa, help to sustain the future development of the farmers’ market.

“Community economy” vs “mainstream market economy”

Chengdu Daily-life Market does not yet have the capacity to sustain itself economically as income from leasing the stalls and selling eco-friendly meals is minimal. The economic model of the farmers’ market is like a community economy in the sense that its viability depends on the power of a community. Unlike a mainstream economy that emphasises sales competition, large scale production and maximisation of profit, community economy relies on mutual help and advocates community cooperation, diversity over size and the importance of individuals.

I would like to rephrase the words of Ryo Yamazaki, Japanese expert in community design, in the preface of his book Community Design, to express my dream about Chengdu Daily-life Market: “Instead of having a million visitors each of whom visits the market only once, I’d rather have ten thousand visitors each of whom visits a hundred times!” In the former case, the market may look busy and crowded, but after such a scene, nothing remains. In the latter case, it is small but beautiful. Only when people visit the market more than once will they have a chance to interact with each other and then build a relationship which may evolve to become bonds of friendship. Only when people of similar minds assemble can there be a community.

Translator: Cheung Choi-wan
English Editor: Dominique Hua


(1) Hope Market is a non-governmental organisation in Taiwan that explores the path to happiness through organic farming, running a farmers’ market, encouraging people to learn farming and advocating mutual help between urban and rural areas.