Our Programme Foci
Ecological Agriculture
Where We Work: Guizhou

Sharing, Fun, Sustainability—"BeeCo Co-Farming", An Urban Farmers' Market in Guizhou

A poster made by a host of the farmers' market, Zhou Xiaoliao, for publicity in the neighbourhood.

By Jin Fangmei (Practitioner of sustainable living, urban farmer and founder of BeeCo Farmers’ Market in Guiyang, Guizhou Province)

Editor's note:

Jin Fangmei was a consultant for PCD’s Urban Programme in Guiyang City, Guizhou Province. As a practitioner of sustainable living and an urban farmer, she has been sharing her experience on the internet with other urban farmers in Guiyang. Through these exchanges, connections were built which then evolved into offline activities, including the opening of a farmers’ market, BeeCo, that promotes DIY and handmade daily necessities and home-grown food. It is also a platform for sharing products and exchanging tips on methods of production, as well as a platform to reflect on everyday life, on others' and one's own worth and the practice of sustainable living. Below, Jin Fangmei explains how BeeCo came into existence, the changes it brought to the community, and her vision of its future development.

PCD has given support to BeeCo in its activities, including promotion of the market, helping in a study on the future development of the market and exchanges with other farmers' markets, etc.

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A poster made by a host of the farmers' market, Zhou Xiaoliao, for publicity in the neighbourhood. Yiyi Ma, another host of the farmer's market, has designed a logo for the market.
Bean sprouts sold by an urban farmer in the farmers' market. Uncle Lu selling chives he grew.
A parent-child handicraft session in the market facilitated by two caiyou, Yi Ma and Xiaoyu Ma. Qingqing, a caiyou, teaching paper cutting in the market.
A New Year cake and other delicacies made on-site in the market. A Hai, a caiyou, brought a dessert made from plums and demonstrated how it was made, which impressed many.
To show PCD's support of the market, Chang Zhuqing, a former PCD staff, took part in the market and taught participants how to make enzymes. A potluck held after the market ended.
 
Everyone poses for a photo after the market ended.  

It was in the spring of 2016 that urban farmers of Guiyang first met on Wechat. We called each other caiyou (fellow vegetable growers), and in the Wechat group, we exchanged our experience of farming and cultivation skills and were happy to share surplus seeds and seedlings too. As we shared what we learnt from farming, our exchange deepened and we went on to discuss the philosophy of sustainability of permaculture [1], i.e. "care for the earth" and "care for others", discussions from which we have expanded our knowledge. It was significant that our exchange started in spring, the season for sowing. As we had more of this kind of exchange and as we got to know each other better on the internet, we began to go from one end of the city to the other end to get seedlings and seeds from each other. Many of us became friends. This is the background for the birth of "BeeCo Co-farming Urban Farmers' Market" which evolved from online exchanges into a real life venture and acts of sharing that were once scattered across the city now take place at the same venue.

Wonders in the farmers' market: Home-grown vegetables, homemade cakes, home-brewed beer, and papers craft for kids……

BeeCo's first farmers' market was hosted by me and it took place in my neighbourhood. BeeCo Farmers' Market had a very clear orientation. It was a community event for fellow vegetable growers to exchange their experience and to share their harvest with others. There was trading in the market, one which usually involved the materials of production. "The market encourages everyone to farm, and your money ensures that the farmers can work better at home," was what we put in our promotional material. Urban farmers' products were sold or shared in the market. For example, Uncle Lu sold his home-grown chives at one yuan a handful while Xiao Zhuo gave out free cakes. Someone sold flowers and bonsais with ornamental snails, a young person sold home-brewed beer and a child who sold handmade plant pots even taught other children how to do origami. After the market ended, someone said the market had created "a feeling of community". Another person described how they had given away 36 strawberry seedlings and received a bottle of enzymes in return. Someone else said it was the first time they had taken part in something like this and were rather moved…

The market is hosted every time by a different person, all of whom have taken part in other farmers' market. They want to organise similar activities in their own neighbourhoods so they can meet other caiyou in their area. The one hosting the market has to organise it. The role of BeeCo is to provide support on the internet by mobilising caiyou from other parts of Guiyang to take part in the market. In short, no farmers' market in any neighbourhood is an isolated event. There are interactions with caiyou from the same neighbourhood as well as from other parts of Guiyang.

There are two levels of change that have been brought by BeeCo to the community.

Change No. 1: "Home-made, handmade, home-grown"

Firstly, people are emulating BeeCo's open style of organising community activities. The idea of "home-made, handmade, home-grown" advocated by BeeCo has won support and has been spread and sharing is encouraged.

The farmers’ market is held in different parts of Guiyang City. It was held twice in the district of Xiaohe (an administrative district of Guiyang) and was hosted respectively by two caiyou from two different neighbourhoods in Xiaohe. Because of the success of the market they hosted, Xiufang and Yiyi Ma became "addicted" and wanted to host other kinds of activities in their neighbourhoods. They decided to use parent-child activities as an entry point. The farmers' market could be a place for parents and children to grow together. They then adopted "Beidonghao" provisionally as the name of the series of activities they organised in Xiaohe. "Bei" means baby and "dong" means to move, while "hao" indicates a name of a train or a ship. Literally the name means to move together with one’s baby, which implies parents and children growing together.

Because of the various parent-child activities, Beidonghao has gradually developed its own community in Xiaohe. Participants are mostly young mothers who are concerned about their children’s growth and also want self-development. They take part in planning, brainstorming, identifying resources and facilitating activities. The way they organise themselves is an example of the mode of operation of BeeCo, and that is to facilitate mutual help in the community by maximising the use of community resources. The mothers have set a goal for themselves: "To help children to grow in their daily life and to help parents to grow through mutual help." Since it is open to the community, Beidonghao has tried various kinds of parent-child activities. For example, there are workshops for making handicrafts (such as handmade ceramics), outdoor walks in the countryside that enable participants to get close to nature and provide opportunities for parent-child bonding, and a cultural activity with Chinese New Year as the theme. Ten families took part in the Chinese New Year activity. Five mothers from these families joined in facilitating the activity. Mothers who were good at playing games facilitated ice-breaking activities at the beginning; mothers who were good at Chinese calligraphy taught participants how to write Spring Festival couplets; mothers who were good at paper cutting taught participants to make decorations at the festival.

After they gained more knowledge and understanding of the philosophy of BeeCo, participants supported the idea of "home-grown, handmade, home-made". Having experienced the joy of sharing, they also want to share their ideas with others. By involving themselves with their community, the organisers of BeeCo market continue to explore paths and models of LOHAS (Lifestyle of Health and Sustainability) that they want, and the area of their exploration seems to be expanding. For example, after learning about the importance of building links between daily life and the local community, they plan to launch a parent-child activity in spring to draw up "a map for daily life" which provides information about interesting early morning markets, expert urban farmers, vegetable farmers in the neighbourhood and districts nearby and a review of "the local happy daily life of Xiaohe" etc..

Change No. 2: Exchanging skills and life tips

The second change that BeeCo has brought to the community is the provision of a platform for people who grow their own vegetables and are engaged in other DIY activities to share and exchange their experience and knowledge. There are many areas and levels of exchange, such as methods of urban farming, tips gained from farming experience, reflections on daily life, on the pleasure in sharing with others and also how individuals have realised the worth of themselves and of others.

The caiyou of BeeCo initially shared their thoughts and experience on WeChat. Later some caiyou began to produce manuals with pictures and text to share their experience of production with others. Xiaoyu Ma, who has a stall in the farmers' market, produced a thorough manual after she had sold some honey locust enzyme at the market. She sent it to BeeCo’s WeChat so other caiyou could read it. On one occasion when a potluck was organised after the farmers’ market ended, the dessert brought by A Hai impressed a lot of people. She subsequently wrote down the recipe and shared it with everyone. A fulltime mother who shared her skills in the market, later told friends at BeeCo: "Since I got involved with BeeCo, a window has opened in my daily life. I felt I was living again and I am meeting new friends……" She said she will join BeeCo as a volunteer when her children start school.

School of Daily Life: Visitors to farmers' market delighted by the handicrafts of experts of daily life

BeeCo is a platform for people to share their homemade and home-grown products as well as to share their skills. As these products and handicrafts gain more recognition, other people want to grow their own vegetables or make their own stuff as well. They also become concerned with other aspects of their daily life and want to discuss issues such as garbage segregation and composting kitchen waste with the others. Some people start to encourage their own friends to do handicrafts with their kids to savour the good life. In other words, everyone starts in their own way to reflect on their everyday life and on the meaning of community.

Apart from being a platform for people to share and exchange things, the farmers' market has also given rise to other interesting activities that foster sustainable living. For example, there are sharing sessions where all kinds of experts are present. Some of them are great vegetable growers, others cultivate beautiful bonsai. Some are great bakers, others are skilful craftsmen. BeeCo’s caiyou are often struck by the art and crafts of the experts and want to learn from them. Each expert has their own skill. For example, Auntie You, who is a caiyou herself, is very proficient in growing bean sprouts and making maltose sweets. Kele Ma is well known for making handbags. Tong Ma and the caiyou Xiaoliao are great home bakers and good at cooking local cuisine. Yi Ma reveres everything homemade, so she studies and learns how to make her own lipstick and hand cream. Jiayi, a caiyou, makes beautiful handmade hairclips. When they displayed and shared their skills and expertise on a bigger platform, they gained a sense of achievement and their desire to share grew. This was how the "School of Daily Life" started. Its orientation is to provide a platform for urban farmers and experts of everyday life to share their skills and knowledge and the aim is to enable experts in the local community to come and share their skills so that people may connect with each other. The school also allows knowledge and wisdom hidden in the community to be disseminated and to be recognised. In this way, people see that not only are there different ways to live one’s life, there are diverse knowledge and skills as well.

The future of the farmers' market

There is a lot we can do with the farmers’ market. Some of the possibilities I can think of are:

  1. It can be a regular citizens’ event and a cultural event with local characteristics. Through the market, tourists and visitors can learn about the local life of Guiyang and its citizens;
  2. It can be a bridge between urban farmers, family-owned workshops, artisans and the market, and a platform specifically for them to share and distribute their products;
  3. It can be a platform for community activists to launch activities, such as organising community fairs in various districts of Guiyang, including fairs for parents and their kids, and fairs for people in the same neighbourhood to exchange second-hand stuff;
  4. The farmers' market and the School of Daily Life can become a kind of charity fair to raise funds for local charity groups. For example, the school can help introduce visitors to market handicrafts made by teachers and students of schools for children of migrant workers. This can be a new model for charity groups to raise funds and for citizens to take part in charity.

Translator: Cheung Choi-wan
English Editor: Dominique Hua


Notes:

(1) The word "permaculture" implies "permanent agriculture" or "permanent culture". The concept originated from the Australian environmental movement and is developed into a theory on ecological design of agriculture. The theory aims at mimicking ecological systems in nature and providing a set of principles that can be adopted in designing our environment in order to build self-sufficient human settlements. The new forms of society developed thus would reduce our dependence on industrialised production and distribution systems, and ultimately alleviate the threats that we pose to the ecology of the earth.

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