Last Sunday, our group made a visit to a farmers’ market in Shanghai. The famers’ market we visited is an outdoor market featuring fruits, vegetables, and even handmade crafts such as soap. With tables and stands outdoors, the market looks more like farmers’ markets in the United States than traditional wet markets in China. The foods sold in the market were generally grown without pesticides and chemical fertilizers, and thus they are usually more expensive than foods sold elsewhere. For example, the tomatoes cost 10 yuan per 500 grams, which were approximately two or three times the price of tomatoes in regular markets. To sell in the farmers’ market, the sellers have to go through a strict application process. A woman who sold handmade soap in the market told us that a committee of six people examined her whole production process, and voted on whether her products were qualified to sell at the market.
Farmers’ market is called 农夫市集 (nong fu shi ji) in Chinese. In standard Chinese, farmers are usually called “农民 (nong min)” instead of “农夫 (nong fu).” The special way of naming illustrates that those sellers in farmers’ market, nong fu, are not typical farmers in China, nong min. Indeed, they are very different from the generational farmers in China, and usually describe themselves as “new farmers.” The new farmers are well-educated urbanites giving up their high-paying jobs in the city. They rent lands in the countryside and practice natural farming, which requires forgoing the use of any chemicals including weed killers. While most farm-owners start farming because of the lack of trust in food industry and mechanized farming techniques, there are many different incentives. For example, Tigress, one farm-owner in Chongming island, started natural farming because of his previous experience in South Africa.
The emergence of new farmers in China appears to be similar to the back-to-the-land movement in the U.S. since both share interests in DIY food cultivation and are responses to the growing threats of industrialization and urbanization. However, the two movements are radically different in many aspects. The core values of back-to-the-land movement—simplification of daily life, anti-consummerism, and anti-modernity—are not shared by China’s new farmers. For most new farmers’ families, one member of the family usually retain the job in the city to financially support the farm. Moreover, they also rely heavily on social media such as weibo and wechat to advertise their products.