(Mandarin version at bottom)
Lyfegreen works with more than 100 smallholder farms across Taiwan, supporting them both directly and via our collaborations with various Taiwan organic and sustainable farming NGOs and social enterprises. So each week, we rotate the farms that we work with, which allows us to constantly bring you different organic veggies and fruits to try. Some of these farmers operate tiny plots of land and literally grow only one type of veggie or fruit – such as the Hsiu family who brought you the delicious Earl’s Muskmelon this week. So when it comes time for packing, we need the support of larger farms with the expertise, manpower and facilities to handle our large and complex orders each week. We call these farmers the “big dragon”. And they demonstrate why the organic farming community is such a close-knit and supportive family as they happily agree to lend their resources to help us prepare, package and sell not only their own produce but those of our smaller farmers, who we call the “small dragons” or 小龍.
We want to introduce you to one of our big dragons – the Wu family of Peifang Organic Farm. Mr Wu is a third-generation farmer who grew up admiring his father’s sweaty, sun-baked skin, feeling that it was “very manly”. He recalls graduating from Chiayi Agricultural College, with many people feeling “if you want to be a farmer, why bother going to university, you could have started from middle school”. However, Mr. Wu firmly believes that scientific knowledge and further education is key to improving agricultural techniques and better understanding the causes and consequences of the planting process. He never wanted to settle.
When talking about why agriculture fascinates him, Mr Wu’s voice is full of energy: “It’s all about the process, from preparing the land to planting vegetables, everything is from nothing, and even the customers give joyful feedback after eating the vegetables. The whole process is exciting and joyful.”
Of course, each stage of this process will face unique challenges, says Mr Wu: “at the beginning, it is difficult to find out how to plant it. If it can be planted, it will be difficult to sell it. When it can be sold, one will worry about insufficient output, insufficient funds, limitations on expansion and so forth.”
Organic agriculture in particular is challenging and subject to many cases of force majeure outside of his control such as natural disasters, climate change and insect pests. “New farmers trying to convert to organic methods ask me all the time, what can I do? I am working at 100% but still the harvest output is only 30%”, smiled Mr Wu, “I try to encourage them and remind them that 30-40% is already very good!”
Mr Wu emphasizes that this is a challenging profession. At the beginning, the hardship is physical: squatting all day, carrying heavy loads etc. However, over time, the test becomes mental, as one endures bad harvests and failure. He recalls that of all his classmates at the Chiayi Agricultural College, only 10% remain in farming. “The average age of Taiwanese farmers is over 58 years old” says Mr Wu. When he first entered the industry, he was only 22 years old. At that time, he thought, "If I do it seriously, I can at least lead the show in 10 years time!”
Asked about the secrets of success, Mr. Wu says modestly that whatever small successes he’s achieved should be attributed to the fact that everything can be "painless like tonic" and his mentality that there’s "no other choice". “If there are too many options in life, it is not easy to calm down and solve the difficulties” says Mr Wu, “because there are not too many other runways to change, it makes me stick to this road and figure it out”
These days, Mr Wu’s veggies are renowned for their quality, being stocked by Breeze Plaza (Taiwan equivalent of CItysuper), SOGO and other established organic shops. Along the way, Mr Wu continued to learn, undertaking a Masters degree in organic agriculture at Taiwan University. He has been praised as one of Taiwan’s Top 100 Farmers by the Agricultural Committee and has visited Japan to share his agricultural management experience.
Regarding his produce, Mr Wu holds a simply belief: provides healthy and happy ingredients for family and friends. Treat all customers like his family and friends. “I hope our HK friends will enjoy my vegetables, please tell them they are welcome to visit anytime” Mr Wu said, smiling broadly.