|Young farmers are selecting seeds in the Modern Agriculture Park in Langxia Town, Jinshan District. The park is a model base for a wide range of Jinshan-grown fruits and vegetables. (Photo source: Shanghai Daily)|
A new project “incubates” would-be farmers and teaches them to grow unusual, heirloom and miniature veggies for high-end clients. Tan Weiyun reports.
Watermelon as small as a thumb, purple rapeseed, black potatoes and haricot beans more than 30cm long are among proud farmer Gao Ming’s “weird fruits and vegetables.”
And they are making him rich.
“See, the giant haricot bean even bigger than cucumbers,” says the 40-year-old farmer entrepreneur of his experiment in growing big beans and unusual varieties of produce for high-end customers.
Gao is one of a growing number of new farmer entrepreneurs who are cultivating miniature, rare and “new, fine-provenance” vegetables. The project is underway in Langxia Town of Jinshan District. Some are heirloom vegetables.
But prospective farmers, mostly university graduates, are also being cultivated. The Jinshan project of incubating agricultural entrepreneurs has been named one of Shanghai’s top 10 young entrepreneur projects, and the only one in agriculture.
Around 90 types of vegetables are grown commercially every year. Gao himself also grows 100 varieties experimentally.
Sustainable farming methods are used and the main customers are high-end hotels and restaurants.
Farmers invite hotel chefs and restaurant owners to visit, see and taste the produce and try different cooking methods. Based on feedback, more of the chosen crops will be planted.
The vegetables, many with traditional medical functions, include red lotus, black yams, fruity white gourd, white cucumber and a range of tomatoes.
In 2005, Gao retreated from the high-profit construction industry and moved to suburban Jinshan District to become a farmer. He traded his suits and leather shoes for work clothes and boots and rolled up his sleeves.
“I saw the opportunity in agriculture,” Gao says. “Today it’s clearly a wise decision.”
In recent years, Jinshan has been attracting young people to farming. Since 2005, family-style farms and associations of farmers have developed; small plots have been consolidated and rented out to big farms.
Gao was a pioneer.
“I’m now a farmer, but not an ordinary one,” he says. “What I’m doing is raising healthy foods in an environmentally friendly way.”
His 100-mu (6.67-hectare) Gaolaozhuang (Gao’s Village) has developed new types of fruits, vegetables and medicinal herbs, including fruity white gourd, black yams, and white cucumbers.