I’m almost embarrassed to admit that it’s taken seven years, but this spring I am finally checking out the local organic farm scene. My wife and I have ordered from two farms and taken one tour, and we already know that we are never going back to our old routine. Our quality of life here has just taken another empowering leap forward. We have the organics bug!
I’ve blogged a few times about my experiences with organics in Beijing, from select products at Lohao City and hypermarkets to making my own organic yogurt. For years I had heard about small farms like Derunwu and more recently had started to see a lot of Tootoo mentions. Now that my son is old enough to eat solid foods, my wife and I are determined to minimize his exposure to harmful chemicals, and we finally are seriously checking out the organics scene. I’m pleasantly surprised that there are many more options than even just a couple of years ago.
We first tried Derunwu 德润屋生态农场, a farm up in Changping which is often mentioned. They aren’t officially certified organic apparently due to the high cost of getting this, but I am told that they follow the same standards. You can easily order their foods and pay online at their new website, which is handily in both English and Chinese. We loved their greens, and their homemade tofu was simply outstanding. Their prices are very reasonable, averaging around 10RMB per jin before delivery fee.
Inspired by this first success, we next tried the big kid on the Beijing block: Tootoo 沱沱工社有机食品, a large farm out near Pinggu. They are owned by a NASDAQ-listed Chinese company so their infrastructure is quite deep, they have their own cold chain distribution, and they can also afford the annual organic certifications by China’s COFCC and also the European group Ecocert (their certifications are online here). Their website is definitely the best I’ve seen in Beijing for organic shopping, both in English and Chinese. But their organics selection is far easier to discover on their Chinese site, providing much clearer information about their farm’s large selection of organic vegetables and fewer organic fruits, so I strongly suggest you try the Chinese version first (plus Google Chrome browser to auto-translate if needed). Tootoo delivers every day, while Derunwu delivers on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Their homegrown organic selection is very large, with generally reasonable prices, and we’ve also been impressed by their professional delivery team. And of course the taste has mostly been excellent.
We took advantage of a rare blue sky Saturday and visited Tootoo’s farm near the Pinggu peach fields, and Alex had a ton of fun grabbing leafy greens and staring at a wobbly four day old lamb snuggling with his mom. The staff was very helpful and gave us an educational tour. After this inspiring outing, my wife and I were even more committed to ordering as much produce as we can from organic farms such as this, and we can’t wait to tour the other farms.
We also recently went to a Beijing Farmers Market, which rotates places but this time was at the Indigo Mall. We were quite impressed with the range of farms and products. I also was nicely shocked last month discovering my first permanent farmers market in China, this time in the basement of the Capitaland Taiyanggong Mall in Beijing. Both of these brought back wonderful memories of the farmers markets in San Francisco. And while they are only in rudimentary stages, I clearly see growing momentum for quality farms which may finally be hitting critical mass.
Safety and Certification
My chief reason for buying organics is for environmental safety, not better nutrition. The American Academy of Pediatrics, in their 2012 report on organics, state that “organic diets have been convincingly demonstrated to expose consumers to fewer pesticides associated with human disease. Organic farming has been demonstrated to have less environmental impact than conventional approaches. However, current evidence does not support any meaningful nutritional benefits or deficits from eating organic compared with conventionally grown foods”. Given the increasingly scary data about chemicals and health, especially regarding children, it’s a no-brainer to do everything I can to limit my family’s exposure to heavy metals, pesticides and who knows what other chemicals are out there.
But trust is a major concern, and as I follow the “trust but verify” doctrine, I would definitely choose Farm A over Farm B if they can prove to me that their soil, their water and their products are independently tested to be free from hazards. I’ve seen some of this data from Tootoo and Shared Harvest, and such transparency is a major deal-maker for me.
Many organics consumers prefer the intimacy of smaller mom and pop farms, and I certainly see the appeal of the new wave of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), based on trust and familiarity between farms and their customers, and exemplified locally by the Beijing Farmers Market. I also love the locavore philosophy of eating from nearby farms to help environmental sustainability (I shudder to think of the true environmental cost of those organic blueberries from Chile). If I were back in sunny California surrounded by happy cows I’d be a lot less strict about this. But here in China, I must admit that I would prefer to buy from a farm that’s big enough to pay for official certification from the national agencies in China as well as from international groups like EcoCert and IFOAM-accredited COFC. (You can search EcoCert’s database of certified farms here, which include Noah and Tootoo in Beijing).
The Journey Is Just Beginning
I’ve only in the early stages of my research and I’m quite excited to see so many sustainable or organic farms we may check out. Besides the many CSA farms represented at the Beijing Organics Farmers Market (weibo and blog), here are other farms my wife and I definitely plan to visit. It’s going to be a great summer!
- Organic Farm 有机农庄 — here’s a good video of them from Caixin. They’re a big one, selling in hypermarkets like Carrefour
- Organic and Beyond 北京市密云东绍渠镇 — certified by EcoCert, also IFOAM member. Another biggie, here’s their list of products available now
- Noah Organic 诺亚农业 — just up the street from Tootoo, they also have certification by EcoCert and also have an open farm (weibo)
- Green Cow 绿牛有机农庄 — run by the owners of Miss Shannen Bagels in Shunyi
- Little Donkey 小毛驴市民农园 — a CSA cooperative farm
- Shared Harvest — another CSA coop in Shunyi; here’s their taobao store and their published report of soil testing on their blog
- Tony’s Farm 多利农庄– I thought they were only in Shanghai but their website seems to say they also deliver in Beijing
- Sanfendi 三分地有机农场 — another CSA farm in Shunyi, with ordering online in Chinese
- UUlive 悠悠生活网 — not a farm but an online organic shopping site. I just heard about this, does anyone know more? Stay tuned…
What is your experience with organics in China and Beijing? Have I left any farms off of the list above? Please leave comments below.