By Trista di Genova
The China Post
A few minutes from the Tucheng MRT station in Taipei County, there’s a magical place. At a site that used to be an ammunition depot five years ago, 15 farming families have turned 80 hectares into a rare, beautiful urban landscape — an organic farming community.
“The Taipei County Government and military had plans to move the Tucheng jail here, and developers want to build, but there’s enough housing and prisoners in Taiwan. And this is a special place,” said Robin Winkler, a prominent U.S. environmental lawyer with Wild at Heart Legal Defense Association, who invited The China Post to take a tour recently. “The wetlands here and animals are something which we don’t find anywhere else close to Taipei.” But the county’s application was rejected by the EPA, based on a faulty environmental assessment.
“That buys us time,” said Winkler.
Pierre Loisel, a Quebequois who’s been in Taiwan 45 years, once successfully convinced the Taiwan government to start an islandwide program recycling table scraps into feed and fertilizer. Now, he’s turning farm waste into gold. Visitors come from around Taiwan to learn how to run their own organic farm. They make a half-day presentation about every step in the process of organic, sustainable farming, from 10-3 p.m. for NT$500 (lunch included; to register, call (02) 2636-5700). Then, there is live-in farming instruction in BaiShaWan. Pierre dreams of a school to teach 100 people at a time, “for a greater impact.”
“We will start our school on organic farming in March, and will require students to live at the farm for a minimum of three months, six days a week,” he says. “They work from morning till evening, picking up table scraps, composting, packing, the whole cycle. If you have a farm, that’s what you pay in labor — 8 hours a day like all other farmers.”
Many are agricultural students, in the military or in their 50s and want to start a second career. The program is self-sufficient. People come from far and wide and are willing to spend 3 or 4 times as much for the 15 or so types of “Superveggies” grown there. Already monthly income at the farm tops a healthy NT$150,000. Pierre calls it “a beginning, that by next year will double.”
“What we’re trying to do is present a new kind of agriculture. If you’re going to oppose development, you have to propose another type of development,” Pierre remarks. “Actually it’s old farming wisdom with some modern techniques; and it’s not certified organic.
Taiwan has a special cultural and historic advantage, of being primarily farmers who are close to the land, “still very close to an agricultural society.”
Ahwei Chyou is one of the farmers there, a fourth-generation farmer. Instead of using chemical fertilizers and pesticides, they use nitrogen-based liquid fertilizer — and let the lizards, snakes, birds and frogs do the rest.
In the 1980s, when farmers started using chemical fertilizer, the fireflies disappeared, he says. But when they changed to organic farming, the fireflies came back. And most farmers know that ís an indicator of a clean, non-toxic environment.