Safe & Healthy Agriculture

The Field-side Stories
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Healthy Taiwan
From Farm to Table

The Field-side Stories

The Farmer and the Tadpoles

   When you see a cute little dark tadpole struggling and paddling right by your foot, other than picturing it becoming a big frog, does it occur to you that the little creature in the pond is actually so fragile that even the beautiful elegant white egrets have their eyes on it?

   Well, in the eyes of a farmer, tadpoles will not just grow to be big frogs and eat certain pests. Lai Zhaoxuan, owner of Yinchuan Sustainable Farm and a devotee of organic farming, has his own view of the relations between the tadpoles and the land.

   The story begins in midsummer just after the July harvest. Water will soon be drained from the paddies for landscaping and sunning. The first to report in are frogs and leeches. The frogs lay their eggs and soon after the seedlings are put in, little tadpoles are swimming around in the paddies. Thirty days later, the front legs come out and you can see the cute little creatures paddling away casually looking for food. rice

   But when the paddies need to be drained to aerate the soil to help the roots grow, the tadpoles face the most serious threat. As the water level lowers, the tadpoles struggle toward the little pools made by the farmer's footprints to stay alive. The farmer sees it, hesitates for a short while and walks back to the head field and opens the water sluice again. He's thinking, "Oh well. Wait till the tadpoles' hind legs grow out so they can hop away." Delaying his own sunning schedule to protect the tadpoles'  lives, the farmer apparently is a considerate and compassionate human being.

    The old saying goes, "Good deeds get good returns." The little tadpoles that have luckily escaped drainage eventually grow into big frogs and come back to return the favor and eliminate for the farmer the nemeses of their childhood- spiders and other pests. From this experience, Lai Zhaoxuan sees in the farmer a tacit agreement between good deeds and the silent cycle in nature and learns to have a kind heart.

Some Anecdotes about Organic Food
The Harmonious Symbiosis of Ducks and Rice

    "Duck-rice"? What kind of rice is it? Is it duck or rice? Most people must be confused when they hear such a name the first time. In fact, this is a new Taiwanese agricultural project that combines rice and ducks. Try to picture a scene back in the mid-40s with around 71 Taiwan ducks eating rice. Why did they eat rice? This is their story:

    The Shanshui Organic Rice Production and Marketing Group in Yuanli, Miaoli County, led by Ye Shuhui, started in 2003 the program of combining rice-farming and duck-raising when the crew members all remembered the childhood scene of big ducks swaggering and pecking at little worms in the paddies. On July 21, the newly planted seedlings and the just-hatched little ducklings met for the first time in the cool summer evening breeze. Three weeks went by. The seedlings were rooted and the ducklings began pecking at rice leaf beetles, borers and apple snails, etc., and knocking pests off the ice stalks as they flapped their wings.

    The big webbed feet did not remain idle. As the ducks stumbled in the paddies, the water got muddied, the air pores got clogged up and the weed could not go on with the photosynthesis process. Then the ducks started to eat up the weeds. Their excrement was stirred, scattered and blended into the soil and thus improved the benign cycle of the soil's fertility. One of the crew members Zhong Xuliang commented, "When you step on our soil, it feels like sponge. It sinks in and then fluffs back up."

    By November, the fat golden organic rice waved in the wind. When the "Duck-rice Natural Eco-rice" passed MOA's organic certification, the lively pest-and-weed-eating ducks, without taking any antibiotics, also grew up into organic ducks. While farmers were busy preparing for winter storage, these two agricultural miracles stood in the bright sunshine of November to tell the story of success.

The Guards That Lure and Trap Pests

    The proprietor of Beixin Organic Recreational Farm Jian Liansheng once drove an expensive sedan. When he started the organic agriculture business over ten years ago, the expensive car became his vegetable transport. Not only did he have to get on the front line everyday to push his organic vegetables that cost twice the price of regular vegetables, he also developed his own special technique to prevent diseases and maintain the quality of his organic vegetables.

    Fighting pests is a common practice among organic farmers. Some farmers do it with moderation, while others take preventive measures to minimize damages. Jian Liansheng is the second type. To continue his organic farming that was harmless to nature, he started to deploy plants that really act as guards outside the greenhouses that contained fragile organic vegetables. He used plants from the cruciferae family that most pests like to eat, as the testing device to attract flea beetles and exterminate them. He also planted culinary herbs such as rosemary for their repelling effect and placed yellow sticker boards inside the netted orchards. The success rates were over 90%.

    This unknown creative proprietor had switched from making a high annual income running his own furniture business to battling little pests and weeds. The support behind came from the shadow of his farming father’s passing away from use of agricultural chemicals. Yet what’s more important is his faith in organic vegetables and persistence with things beneficial to human health.

    Feeding on organic fertilizers made of vegetable leftovers mixed with microbes, rice husks, soybean pulp, and anise seeds, garlic, onions and spices discarded by vinegar factories, and dregs of spices made of Chinese medicinal herbs, the vegetables grow big and healthy. Jian Liansheng fulfills his job as the proprietor, but at sunset he never forgets to squat down in his farm to tend to his vegetable guards that entice and trap pests. The long slanting shadow of his body is a proof of his efforts to protect the organic vegetables from pest invasions.

"Let It Eat to Its Fill"-- an Organic Farmer's Philosophy

    Down the long road of organic agriculture management, in addition to counting on the climate, the hardest part is actually the never-ending work of worm-catching and cutting endless weed.

    Someone joked once that before the invention of weeding machines, one bent down to cut weed from one end to the other. By the time he reached the other end and looked back, weed had grown again. The use of chemicals began 50 years ago, but when organic farmers chose to say no to chemicals, they have made the decision to shoulder the hard work themselves.

    While others fight pests for the crops, Mr. Lin, the proprietor of Organic Watermelon Orchard in Miaoli, opted to live in peace with insects and weed. His lenience even made him hold no hard feelings against the torrential rains that took two thirds of his crops. Even the good watermelons left were chewed on by wild rabbits before he could sell them. As the harvest was about to end up fruitless, Mr. Lin was still able to say calmly, "Let's just regard these rabbits as a source of entertainment. When at harvest we put the watermelons down and started chasing the rabbits in the field, it was really fun!" His optimism is what most touched Huang Rendong, general manager of Organic Food Grocery Store.

    From Mr. Lin's view, the crops and the weed always co-exist on healthy soil. Not only is there the campaign with weed at planting time, at harvest you might have to search for watermelons in the grass. He believes that although weed may fight for nutrition with the watermelons, it could also be the target for insects. The philosophy of "Let it eat to its fill" might just keep some watermelons safe until harvest.

Ladybug – the Tiny Insect Predator

    In the organic world, most people advocate sustaining the natural ecological food chain and the biggest headache for farmers is pest attacks. Ye Boqing, owner of Lyufeng Organic Farm, has his unspoken suffering. During the dark days of having to tend to everything, Mr. Ye and his wife thought through the idea that every living thing has its nemesis and set up the "Nemesis Cultivation Lab".

    In the kingdom of insects, 50 percent are plant-eating insects, such as weevils, butterflies, beetles, grasshoppers, katydids and aphids that feed on tree seeds or sap. Thirty percent are carnivorous insects, such as mantises, dragonflies, ladybugs, mosquitoes and gadflies. Insects that eat decayed matters make up the remaining 20 percent, such as crickets, cockroaches, and omnivores like beetles and rhinoceros beetles, etc.

    Fed up with pest-catching night and day for two, three years, the couple started to raise aphids, aphidlions and ladybugs that eat bugs but not vegetables. The red ladybug likes to feed on seeds of golden rain trees and the sap of other species, but in difficult times they also eat the eggs and suck the juice of dead companions. They are perfect natural janitors. With the help of these carnivorous armies, pest-control was easily achieved.

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