The idea of fresh vegetables for me, a born and bred city girl from Singapore, is having my produce vendor pick out crisp greens at 7am in the morning in a crowded wet market. Ok, who am I kidding, my mother does the shopping. But surely that is fresh enough, no? After all, that crate of bak choy was merely a truck ride away from the farm in the suburbs … or Malaysia.
Organic was a term that entered my lexicon after I arrived in Los Angeles and a nice stockboy/man at Whole Foods was trying to convince me that I should pay USD 1 more for the same pound of vine tomatoes. No pesticides! Sweeter! Juicer! It’s just that much better.
So scoff away, you people who grew up with vegetable patches in your front yard. Mock me, people who buy organic produce at three times the price. I just found myself a nice farm with fresh leafy vegetables with low pesticide application. After all, it only took me about 1.5 hours to get there.
I was riding along Line 5 one day (an extension of Line 1, interchange at Xinzhuang (莘庄)) and toward the end of my ride, I came across a 4 block wide vegetable farm right by the metro stop. Interestingly enough, the area was made up mostly of factories and new houses (villas, flats, farm houses etc).
The landscape of neat rows of edible greens was managed by a few surrounding residents. The area was, at one point, a collection of village homes but they have been been flattened and all residents except one family had moved away to nearby flats. Mostly elderly folk – retired, self-sufficient and very healthy – tended this farm. Almost all were born and bred Shanghainese. Migrant residents had their own farm elsewhere.
Trailing them, I watch them fondle and select ripe greens, dip their knives into the soil and tug out whole bak choys and lettuce. A little flick of the wrist removed loose roots and then gently packed away into bags and crates.
Little pesticide is used on the vegetables, they proudly tell me. And they sell what they cannot finish at the markets or on the streets. How much? I inquired. RMB 2 (USD 0.30) a kilogram to vendors, one very tanned lady replied. Alas, it became clear that my nearby wet market has been profiting modestly.
My friend and I sat in the farm for a while, awashed by the pleasant colors of green and yellows, surrounded by bees and flies, and basking in brilliant weather. The farm ladies laughed at our cameras and shook their heads, oh you city folk, and carried on.