Name: Erica Huang
Job: Owner of Farm 2 Neighbours
How did you come to the conclusion that Beijing needed a Food Revolution?
We all know that there is a serious air and environmental pollution problem in Beijing and in China, but not many people talk abut the even more serious public health issue happening. As Chinese economy getting better, more and more people are following the fast-food, industrialized, unhealthy Western lifestyle, which is leading to the rise of obesity and more diet-related chronicle health issues in the past years. Seeing this problem more than 10 years ago, the Food Revolution lead by famous chef, Jamie Oliver, has already been making an impact in US and UK and around the world to teach people about the importance of eating fresh, healthy and balanced food. I think its about time now to happen in Beijing and speed in China.
How did you start F2N– What was the most difficult and what was most rewarding? Describe a typical F2N event you have these days – who comes? who’s involved?
I started Farm to Neighbors out of my own desperate need for clean and nourishing food in Beijing. I started to develop severe acne on my skin and joint pain in my knees after living here for two years, and no skin expert or doctors was any help. Through doing a lot of research, I learned that what we eat how we eat directly effects our bodies and emotions, and by changing my lifestyle and diet I would be able to cure myself without taking medicine. So I started to visit farms that practice organic agriculture and sought out traditional hand-crafted food that didn’t have any chemical or additives. I needed my own trusted marketplace where I could get these things conveniently and that’s how I started Farm to Neighbors Farmers’ Market.
There are many difficulties in starting and running a farmers’ market in Beijing: we couldn’t rent a place because we don’t have a lot of income. It’s rare and difficult to find a like-minded location who is willing to host us for free. Also, making sure the quality is really what the producers say it is, is something we put a lot of effort in managing. Education and building trust with the public is a huge challenge because not many Chinese people understand why they should support local, because local products usually means bad quality to them. The most rewarding thing is when you began to see more than more people visiting the market who really appreciates the existence of such market and support the work we do.
One special thing about Farm to Neighbors is that we are the only permanent (fixed time, location and date) farmers’ market in Beijing. We open the market on every Saturday and Sunday from noon-6pm at the B1 floor of The Grand Summit. The farmers’ market has three sections, 1.) farm produce, meats & eats, 2.) artisanal, none-additive foods and 3.) handcrafted daily goods such as skincare, clothing and accessories. We usually have around 40 vendors participating on each day and our customers consist of both locals and expats alike.
Where do you plan on taking Farm to Neighbors in the next 5 years? Do you plan to keep it just to Beijing or expand to other cities?
In the next 5 years, we hope to build up an efficient local supply chain to help support more local small farms (now we only support around 10-15). If we could build this supply chain system, then we could supply more sustainably grown-produce to more people at a more affordable price. We also hope to have location that could serve as a community shop/center for education with classes and activities to teach people on how to live in harmony with nature and self. After we are established in Beijing, we will be very happy to expand into other cities.
What worries keep you up at night?
Doing organic/sustainable farming and honest food-production business is actually very very difficult in China. When people’s buying habits are already shaped by misleading advertisement and cheap products, when there are so many counterfeits products saturating the market, so many shortcuts you can take to just survive, you need to be willing, brave and patient enough to bare much higher costs and risks when you choose to do the right thing. Being good is a test to human nature. Doing a farmers’ market is not only testing ourselves to be good, but also managing everyone involved in the market, finding effective ways control the quality, is something that keep me up at night.
What motivates you?
I think knowing that we are all far from being perfect and anyone who is willing to work hard for what they believe can contribute to making things a bit closer to perfect, is what motivates me. Even though we might fail or make mistakes, it will be lessons for us to become better. This is also why we never label or promote Farm to Neighbors as a “organic” farmers’ market, because we are just not there yet. Unfortunately, at the moment in China, nothing can be truly organic, even some farms that we visited that shave organic certifications were not organic. So we have a long way to go, and this thought is quite humbling and motivating at the same time, because we know every little step will help us get closer to our goal.
How do you think the industry will change in the next few years? What do you think will catch on fast and what won’t?
I think more and more people are starting to realize that sustainability is the only way to go for our future, or else we will not have a very bright future… We don’t have to wait for our children to suffer, we are already all suffering from it – air pollution, drastic climate conditions, cancer, chronic health disease, social disability… these are all related to our collective choice on how we want to consume and live. I think those with innovative ideas on how to better utilize sustainable resource or create sustainable systems will catch on in the future.
How can people find out more about your events? How can they get in contact?
They can follow Farm to Neighbors wechat at: farm2neighbors. Or contact us via our email: [email protected]