Our Programme Foci
Ecological Agriculture
Where We Work: National and Urban

Memories of the Body, Culture of Everyday Life

By Fongie (Facilitator, CSA Seminar 2012)

Editor's note: Fongie Chan Wai-fong worked in rural areas of Mainland China and was a part-time officer for PCD's Post-earthquake Reconstruction Programme in Sichuan until the end of 2009. She visited Cuba in 2003, 2005 and 2006 and volunteered in an urban farm there. From the vicissitudes of life in Cuba she co-authored a book, Knocking at the Door of Heaven —Cuba, in which she depicts how socialism is lived by Cubans. Fongie now works as a consultant for various NGOs in Hong Kong.

During the five-day seminar, we came up with many ideas about Community Supported Agriculture (CSA): the skills and technology involved, the relationships, the modes of operation… All elements are interconnected and affect each other, just like "compost" — the most important thing in agriculture—which has a rich variety of trace elements! When the compost is allowed to ferment in an appropriate way, it will release energy and become the vibrant soil that nurtures all things on earth. The outcome of the seminar "Touching the Ground and Taking Root" is the same. We hope that the "compost" will nurture practitioners in Mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan and that after fermentation, the flowers of imagination will blossom and delicious fruits will be borne.

Nong* (Farming). Memories of the Body

For our partners involved in CSA, "compost" is a very visual, direct and rich metaphor. Tsai Pei-Hui, a member of the Taiwan Rural Front, began her sharing with a photo of an old farmer sun-drying and turning over peanuts with his bare feet. The farmer uses his big toes to turn over the peanuts, all of which remain intact; none shows any defect. It is as though inside the body of the farmer there is a proficient and ingenious programme designed specifically for agricultural purposes. "Farming is not only about labour. It is memories of the body, and skills and crafts about nature and the environment!" What Pei-Hui wanted to say was that farming is something one experiences through one's feet and hands, by bending and ploughing. It is a kind of knowledge, a skill, a way of living evolved from a deep knowledge of nature and the environment. It is also a relationship of interaction and reciprocation between human beings, and between human beings and nature, which has a tactile quality and is unavoidable. It cannot be grasped by mainstream scientific reasoning and technology because it is the imagination of a different way of life and culture.

The Taiwan Rural Front was set up in 2008, subsequent to the enactment of the Rural Rejuvenation Act [1] by the Taiwanese government. While it is an alliance of people from different walks of life, intellectuals and students have been the main organisers. The alliance was formed in response to the new legislation which subscribes to the logic of the mainstream development model, in which the countryside is expropriated and battered by ever-expanding urbanisation, and the industrial, commercial and financial economy. The countryside has become an object for the gaze of urban dwellers who imagine rural life to be a pastoral idyll. So-called rural development is actually land acquisition, in the process of which diversified and small-scale farming is being turned into industrialised production to meet the needs of the urban population. Rural development is actually a process that gets rid of farming. "The absolute self-confidence of urban culture has resulted in human beings no longer reflecting deeply on the environment and farming," said Pei-Hui.

In 2010, in protest against their crops being destroyed by developers' bulldozers, Taiwan farmers planted rice on Ketagalan Boulevard, right in front of the Presidential Palace in Taipei. The image of Ketagalan rice is very vivid and echoes the predicament farmers in Mainland China and Hong Kong are suffering. Because of the Mainland's longstanding urban-biased development strategy that channels resources from rural areas in support of urban development, the "three rural issues" (farmers' livelihoods, the development of rural areas and the development of agriculture) have become priorities of governments at all levels. In recent years, there has not been a day when no land is being acquired in Mainland China. Dingzihu (families who defy orders to move out of their homes) and bulldozers are common scenes in the countryside. In Hong Kong, the local agriculture that once thrived and flourished is nearly completely supplanted by imported food. This has been done in the name of developing Hong Kong into an Asian financial centre. Villages scattered in rural areas around Hong Kong have been submerged in this enormous tide of development. The ghostly arms of bulldozers have awakened Hong Kong people and led them to rethink farming as a way of life. In Taiwan, Hong Kong and Mainland China, the distribution of social resources is heavily biased towards urban areas. Aside from land, natural resources such as water, forest and woods, as well as young and middle-aged people, keep moving to the city, leaving behind elderly people, women and children in the rural areas.

Geng (Cultivation).Love of Nong in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Mainland China

Taiwan: Taiwan Rural Front begins working on CSA after chudaizhi [2]. In their rural community projects, young people go to villages to work with villagers and farmers and learn a culture that nourishes themselves and the earth. Both urban dwellers and rural people are subjects in this interaction. Chi Mei Community College began even earlier. When it was established in 2001, it positioned itself as a "rural community university" and set down its goals and methods as follows: "The countryside is a university. We intend to learn from the rural areas and in the rural areas." The college organises rural workshops, rural exposure activities, farmers' fairs, urban-rural organic interactive networks, and so on. "Through farming, we get to know the land and human beings as well as the role of human beings on this land," Chang Cheng-Yang of the community college said.

Mainland China: Liang Shuming Rural Reconstruction Centre started sending university students to rural areas in the early 2000s. They conduct studies and research and "engage themselves courageously" [3] in rebuilding the fabric of traditional social relationships in the rural areas of Mainland China that are being rapidly torn apart. The Centre promotes a farming system that integrates farming and animal husbandry, and facilitates exchanges between farmers' mutual-help organisations and urban consumers. In this process, knowledge is shared, and relationships and values rebuilt.

Hong Kong: In the face of violence against land committed in the name of urban development, and against people's right to choose their way of living, the Land Justice League and Choi Yuen Tsuen Sangwoodgoon were set up in around 2010 to reflect on, build and identify with values that connect natural ecology and farming culture. The Land Justice League has been supporting Choi Yuen Tsuen villagers to resume farming in the new village at Pak Heung by launching a CSA project, "Pak Heung People Eat Pak Heung Vegetables". Community kitchens and tours are organised in the process. Sangwoodgoon was set up by a group of young intellectuals who took part in fighting against a government plan to build an express rail that runs through where Choi Yuen Tsuen was. They took up farming as a way of life and work and have been doing farming conscientiously.

"Farmers do not depend on money for their subsistence," said Chang Cheng-yang. "Their outlook on life is simple. They are humble, self-restrained and responsible. In the face of the exhaustion of natural resources, they provide another way out for human civilisation. Whether it is through CSA programmes that engage in farming, through actual productive labour, accumulating experience, observation or first-person interaction, we learn the knowledge and cultural systems that emphasise the interdependence of human beings and land. This is a simple, real, pure and entangled relationship, the thickness, warmth and taste of which have all been assimilated into our everyday life, whether as a result of major events or through day-to-day routines. The relationship has been deeply grafted into the muscles and veins of our bodies. It is a cultural homecoming—coming home to the origin and the spiritual home of civilisation.

Sheng (Give Life).Urban-rural love

Simply put, nong [in Chinese, nong simultaneously means farmer, agriculture and rural.] is not only an economic sector or a social group we are concerned with or are supporting. It is a life and a culture that has a wealth of wisdom. It is simple and down to earth, emphasising harmonious symbiosis with all living things. Persistence, willingness to share and to part with one's property, serving oneself and others at the same time, being grateful—all these characteristics of farmers could be observed in Liu Zhanhong from Pangzhihua in Sichuan and Hung Hsiang from Wanbao in Miaoli, Taiwan. When Hung Hsiang said she "accepted her fate", she meant her relationship with the land was clear to her and she would do her duties as a farmer. Hung Hsiang has taken part in struggles against land acquisition and started doing ecological farming more than a decade ago. In this process she has built a close relationship with urban supporters and consumers. Liu Zhanhong started doing CSA to improve his livelihood. He hopes he will one day win the tasty "cake" [4] he has in mind. He used to grow vegetables and deliver them to consumers all by himself while also organising exchanges with consumers. However he soon gave up fighting alone and chose to cooperate with other villagers: "One mustn't think only of oneself… I have learnt to exchange with others on equal terms, to reciprocate. Other than money, there are more important things: love, friends, environment…" Both Liu and Hung are emphatic about their identity as farmers, maintaining a healthy environment and protecting the land, building a caring relationship with urban dwellers, passing on the rural culture and upholding nong as a way of life. "Let's make sure that our children can choose to become a farmer," said Tseng Rui-Sheng, a member of Taiwan's Jiasian Township Association.

During the seminar, Ding Huaming and Liu Hujia, two PCD veteran interns who now work for Ainong Hui in Guangxi, talked about the culture of nong—small is beautiful, the more local the healthier, conserving and passing on local crop varieties and handicrafts, gaining knowledge of and learning about traditions, building a sustainable, ecological farming system that integrates farming and animal husbandry and that is appropriate for local development. Their thoughts might well be summed up in a couplet they brought along: "Wonderful mountains, marvelous water, barricade the river to rear fish; native chickens, local ducks, encircle the mountain slope to raise pigs."

Tushengliangpin is a restaurant opened by Ainong Hui in response to urban dwellers' quest for healthy food. Its supplies come from small farmers in the neighbourhood. On the basis of mutual support and collaboration, Ainong Hui has been requesting their farmer partners to retain seeds, cultivate indigenous crop varieties and build an ecological farming system. In Mainland China, small farmers scattered all over the country have not yet been completely wiped out by modernised agriculture. They are still working hard, farming and preserving traditional crop varieties and handicrafts. Ainong Hui responds to the unfolding problems like food safety, the urban-rural divide and industrialisation of agriculture by establishing an economic platform for "CSA restaurant + farmers". From running a restaurant they have gone on to organise CSA tours, community farm fairs, traditional food processing, farm visits, farmer festivals, etc. By building a number of interactive platforms, they help to meet supply and demand for agricultural products and to build an urban-rural relationship and interaction that is based on reciprocity.

"What are the alternatives to the industrialisation and modernisation of agriculture? Is there something we still believe in? Where is our spiritual home?" The two young men replied: "Here, we use the mainstream economic model as a means for alternative goals. Local agriculture, restaurants, CSA internship and tours have become exploratory platforms and the space where we start realising our dreams."

Huo (Alive)Realising our dreams

What is ironic is that farming is now becoming a way out and a dream for some young people while rural areas are faced with the aging problem. This is true in Taiwan, Hong Kong as well as Mainland China. Hung Hsiang and Liu Zhanhong expressed their hope that farming and the countryside would become a choice for a beautiful life for the next generation. Liu has two teenage sons. They love the fields and will help out with farming. The second child of Hung Hsiang, a senior high-school student, does not fit in very well with the mainstream educational system. He and a few university students have joined together to contact CSA consumer groups and organise farming activities for consumers. He has also got funding to make a documentary on Wanbo, his home village. Because of the restaurant and related activities, Ding Huaming and Liu Hujia have been able to return to the land and to strive step by step towards realising their dream that is a departure from mainstream ideology. "Flee from alienation, reflect on materialism, and search for social reality;" so a commentator at the CSA Forum described the situation of young people today. Because of CSA, young people have been experiencing human interaction filled with warmth and depth.

Many students engaged in the rural support work of Liang Shuming Centre are from farming families. Their parents have dreamt that knowledge would change the fate of their children. While bearing their parents' expectations, the students are also facing problems of the alienation of modern education from everyday life, the urban-rural divide and the "three rural issues"… They go to villages hoping to contribute to rural regeneration. The reality they see with their own eyes is disheartening. Rural support work therefore has become an education to rejuvenate the farming culture. It involves the exchange of resources, a paradigm shift in knowledge and a modification of the relationship among people and between people and nature. To sum up, the young people are trying to search for a new direction with the farmers. Since land, food and nong are connected to our cultural roots historically through time and integrated with social groups and across different academic disciplines, what might have appeared as a simple relationship between producers and consumers and a relationship of supply and demand has become rich and colourful again. Liang Shuming Centre has given birth to Green Union, an organisation that markets the products of farmers' cooperatives directly. It also supports a group of young people to live the life of an urban commune.

Zhen (Genuine)The Subjectivity of Nong

Some people believe that human bodies are connected to the land genetically. This is why urban dwellers are often nostalgic about their home in the rural area. In Mainland China and Taiwan, the concept of xiang (in putonghua, xiang means both countryside and 'native place') is very strong because it is where one's roots are. Even though there are exchanges and interaction between the city and the xiang, in general the city is given priority. Now people want to reclaim the right to a voice on behalf of the land. The subjectivity of nong has emerged. Compared with Taiwan and Mainland China, Hong Kong is less nostalgic. Hong Kong has only the countryside (and not xiang as a native home in the rural area). The urge to return to xiang is probably merely a kind of primal call of the body, though it might also be a fermenting of relationships within a social group as well as the decomposing of the strong feeling of alienation inside oneself.

Every weekend at Star Ferry Pier in the Central District of Hong Kong, at the street next to Taipei's 101 Building and at Breeze Market in Kaohsiung, people visit the markets for agricultural products. In these markets farmers and consumers meet each other in joy. Sichuan's Green Heartland has opened a new window for consumers and producers. It is no longer simply a relationship of sellers and customers. There is no border between the city and the countryside. Identity may shift. Farming can be a choice. The "x" in "half-farmer, half-x" is open. Coming back to CSA, we realise that community and social group means not only a group of people or nature in the same geographical area, but also people who share, pursue or care for or reflect on similar issues and values, and who are going towards the same direction using different means.

Mei (Beautiful)Market Gatherings

St. James Settlement, a social welfare agency in Hong Kong, started promoting a community economy in the early 2000s as a way to respond to the issue of poverty in marginalised groups. First they tried barter, then they tried community currency, then the exchange of urban and rural labour, local food shops, CSA, and then food processing. All the initiatives aim to reintegrate resources and labour, and to produce and exchange economic and non-economic goods. The project "Pak Heung People Eat Pak Heung Vegetables," that was started not long ago, aims to revive and sustain Hong Kong's agriculture. Breeze Market in Taiwan is doing a great job serving small farmers and related social groups. Starting from a market that serves as an outlet for farmers' produce, Hope Market in Taichung City advocates "cultivating the land conscientiously, studying conscientiously, and eating conscientiously". According to Hope Market's Chen Meng-Kai, they want to become a solid economic body. Members of Hope are learning different kind of life skills, such as farming, producing beancurd, making coffee, and producing daily necessities. They make what they like and use, and exchange among themselves for what they need. In this way they create their livelihoods with their own hands and rebuild their livelihoods in everyday life.

Hao (Good)Cultural Transformation

A clear loud message reverberated in the seminar: "To respond to all kinds of doubt, despondency and difficulty, we have to change our minds and communities and to prevent the further deterioration of everyday life. We need grassroots actions that are both personal and collective at the same time and a cultural transformation vis-à-vis modern scientific reasoning and market capitalism. Cultural transformation can only be brought about by persistent, even if small, work. It demands that everyone practise and reflect in their everyday lives." Professor Zhang Heqing of Guangzhou's Sun Yat-Sen University expressed his wish that we start building a simple, free, real, varied and diverse way of life by paying attention to the details of everyday life and we learn to be willing to give away, to persevere and to feel grateful. By so doing, the subjectivity of the community, including the small farmers, will emerge, and local knowledge and wisdom, such as that of nong, will gain respect.

For those of us who have been taking part in composting, tilling, harvesting, cooking, selling, buying and touching the earth conscientiously, apart from gaining theoretical knowledge, we have also experienced an indescribable feeling—a feeling that body and soul cannot be separated. This is the important link that is missing in modern societies. CSA developed under different circumstances provides all sorts of links for connection and contact, for being seen and being felt. We had wanted to find a more accurate Chinese term for CSA, or to give our initiatives a proper name. However in the end everyone brought home a heap of compost filled with trace elements. The elements may feel a bit chaotic and a bit heavy but they also have all sorts of flavours and qualities. We hope they will continue to ferment and nourish our practice and reflection in our everyday life.

Translator’s note:

* For the subtitles of this article, the editor has used one word from a line, nong geng sheng huo zhen mei hao, to begin each subtitle. The sentence actually means "the life of farming is beautiful and good" and the editor has picked out the words one by one from the line in consecutive order. Readers may read the whole line by looking at the subtitles vertically. In the English translation of this article, the pinyin for each word is retained followed by a translation in brackets. However, a word usually has more than one meaning; the translation is therefore provided merely for readers to have a sense of the connotation of the word as it is used in the subtitle.

Photo sharing:
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After the inauguration ceremony and in a relaxed atmosphere, we listen to the PCD's staff's briefing on the meaning of "Touching Ground, Taking Roots".
During the three days from 17 to 19 October, 120 CSA practitioners from Mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong gather at the CSA Seminar to share their experience.
Besides indoor studies, we also visit various fields in Hong Kong which are practising CSA.
CSA Seminar participants visit the new Choi Yuen Village, understanding how the farmers are resuming their farming lives after moving the village to this new site.
On the evening we visit the new Choi Yuen Village, we get to know more about each other by having food together from the "Community Kitchen".
On 20 October, the last day of the event, participants review and conclude what they have learnt from the Seminar.
On the last day, participants sit on the lawn in bright sunshine to reflect on what they have learnt.
 
 

 


 

  1. In 2008 the Rural Rejuvenation Act was passed by the Taiwan's Legislative Yuan. It was criticised by people concerned about rural development for using "rural sustainability, revitalisation and rejuvenation" as a pretext to destroy rural villages to make way for large-scale land development projects. The law is also criticised for not having any vision for agriculture or for rural development. Some people call it the "Rural Elimination Act" while others call it the "Rural Village Farewell Act".
  2. Chudaizhi is a colloquial term used in Taiwan to mean "something bad has happened".
  3. This is how Tsai Pei-Hui described the rural support actions of the Liang Shuming Centre when she commented on the centre's experience.
  4. Liu Zhanhong kept using the term "the cake" to describe his imagination of a good life, which for him is affluent, warm and full, beautiful and happy.

 

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