Over the weekend, Valerie, L’Jean, Alex (our very wonderful cultural guide), and myself went to the Anlong Organic Farms. The Anlong Sustainable Development Community consists of a few families in the village that have chosen to practice organic farming in order to reduce water pollution. The goal of Anlong farms is to develop ecological agriculture techniques in order to achieve a sustainable, closed-loop nutrient cycle, as well as ongoing educational events to teach these skills to farmers from the surrounding villages. By using these methods, they have been able to raise environmental awareness while also establishing a greenbelt around the river that helps to safeguard Chengdu’s waterways. The farm we stayed at was Mr. Gao’s farm which was run by Mr. Gao and his parents. It was a really cool experience to learn about the many benefits of organic farming and how it provides a much healthier and sustainable lifestyle. The Gao family are Buddhists and therefore are vegetarian and mostly vegan. When playing with the three dogs that lived on the farm, Mr. Gao explained to us that they had just showed up or been given to him. He takes care of any dogs that come to his farm, but sometimes in the winter they go missing. Many people in the villages often eat more meat in the winter to stay warm, and oftentimes, the meat comes from the neighborhood dogs. He said that the best way to keep this from happening is to become a vegetarian. The Gao farm promotes not only a healthy lifestyle for people, but also for all living creatures.
On the first night, we went and picked vegetables that we wanted to eat for dinner. We tried lots of new vegetables that I had never had, such as the bitter melon. And it was bitter, but I actually enjoyed it! I immediately felt a sense of community as we cooked a meal that would be shared by everyone. I loved that how on the Gao farm, the Gao family, members of the community, and any guests all worked together to plant crops that they then shared. Making dinner is also a task that is shared by everyone. When it came time for to eat, the beautiful and delicious food was set out on the table and enjoyed by everyone. I think this type of simple and healthy lifestyle is one that is often missed in Western cultures. They make almost everything they use, from soybean sauce to wheat flour. On the Gao family farm, they are sure to waste nothing. The last tiny grain of rice was used to feed the dogs. Even the human waste from the toilets are saved to convert to electricity (which I admit it was a little difficult to get used to due to the smells). At first I thought they also used it to fertilize the vegetables and I was SO relieved to find out they only use it for the trees on the second day! The leftover vegetables are used as fuel to cook and also for electricity. The water they use for crops is irrigated from the surrounding river. The amount of zero waste was the most impressive sustainable environment I’ve ever seen.
The next day was our work day. First, we weeded the large plot that we would later be planting vegetables in. It was a lot of work in the hot and humid weather, but working beside us was Mr. Gao and his father so we got it done pretty quickly. We were happy to take a break and go pick more vegetables to prepare lunch. After lunch, we took a break (the Chinese really love their resting time here, which I also love) and we decided to relax by the river at Mr. Gao’s brother’s tea house. It was very busy all weekend at the tea house because of the Chinese Dragon Boat Festival. Although this is mainly celebrated by the Cantonese and the coastal population, all Chinese take the time to spend with their families and enjoy the four-day weekend. After our rest, we were back to work with Grandma Gao to plant the eggplants. Grandma Gao is definitely one of the hardest workers I’ve ever known! At 71 years old, she was plowing the field while we had the easier task of planting the vegetables. Just when we thought we were finished, she motioned us to follow her across the farm. We got to an area overgrown by what looked like weeds and she started filling the basket with these vegetable vines. After loading what seemed like an endless amount of vines, she informed Alex that we would be planting them beside the eggplants. Although we were a little disappointed that we still had so much work to do, it felt great to see what we had accomplished when we were finished. And the food tasted even better that night!
On our last morning, Grandma Gao taught us out to make traditional Chinese meals. I was so grateful to have the opportunity to learn from one of the best cooks! For breakfast, we learned how to make the steamed bread. Inside the dough, we put spicy chopped green beans with vegan meat. Although our rolls were not as pretty (and twice as big) as Grandma Gao’s, they were delicious. For lunch, we learned how to make tofu. First, we had to grind the soybeans and then we had to strain the soybeans through a hanging cloth until the soybean milk was completely drained. Next, we dumped the milk into a giant wok. The Gaos had a traditional village-style kitchen with a brick fireplace under the giant woks. This meant that we had to be really careful not to overheat the woks with the amount of sticks put in the fireplace–which did happen and the soybean milk went everywhere. Grandma Gao, of course, just smiled and laughed. We then added in minerals to make the milk harden and stirred it until the tofu started to form. It was actually quite magical. The Chinese make several dishes out of this substance. Tofa is a softer form of tofu which they eat for breakfast and dessert. In this province, they also tend to eat it as meals. The tofu is formed when condensing the tofa. I must say that, hands-down, it was the best tofu I’ve ever eaten. I was sad to leave such a nice, loving family, not to mention the wonderful food!