Nature Education THROUGH Food

This past week, Xiaoyun, Lucy and I took a two-day trip to Chongming Island to conduct follow-up interviews at Xingeng Eco Farm and DreamLand Farm. At both farms, there was emphasis on nature education as a core component of each Farm’s Mission Statement. At DreamLand Farm,  Zhang Lu talked about how the biodiversity of the land is important in the production of food, and therefore should be respected through the use of natural farming. DreamLand Farm has education classes for it’s cooperative members that help explain the importance of natural farming and why going back to traditional Chinese farming practices from thousands of years ago is better for not only the land and biodiversity, but the health of the farmers who work the land.

Before heading to the second farm we all spent the night at a hotel that is part of an project called Design Harvests started by students at Tongji University. I was interested in the mission behind the project because it attempts to reconnect the urban and the rural through revitalization projects and nature education. The project has two components: a remodeled villager house that acts as a hotel for visitors and a renovated greenhouse that hosts community dinners, craft workshops and farming education programs. We visited the greenhouse and I got to see the renovated space. I was impressed with the ideology behind the project and was amazed at how many projects there are going on in Chongming Island centered on nature education and food.

At Xingeng Farm, we met with the wife of Hongium Yang, who quit her job in the cooperate world to focus entirely on the farm. She mentions in her interview that Xingeng Farm is interested in educating its consumers as well as other Chinese citizens from Shanghai. The lack of young people in rural villages due to the movement of youths in the city leaves a problem that must be addressed. Without a new generation to continue farming, rural culture is lost. Xingeng Farm is interested in closing the dichotomy of thought between the “unban” and the “rural” by saying nature and working the land is beneficial to everyone’s health.

Hongium Yang’s son is a “free-range kid”, a term used by his dad to explain the differences in his upbringing with other Chinese youth (particularly youth that live in the city). By spending time on the farm, Hongium Yang believes his son is growing up healthier both mentally and physically compared to his agemates that grow up in downtown Shanghai. His son is not suffering from nature-deficit disorder (for more information look at Richard Louv’s Research).

All in all, the trip was a huge success. We captured a lot of great footage that will help in the editing stages of our video ethnographies and I personally learned a great deal about efforts being made on Chongming Island, that are all backed by unique motivations and interesting people.