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Cultivate One Acre for The Dream-Fields of The Heart
More and more people have chosen to leave the city and live in the country. Such a "home-coming trend" could either be they are tired of urban life, or they would like to look for a place to settle themselves physically and mentally, or it is because they long to return to the nature and conduct direct and profound connect with land, sucking the power to settle themselves in terms of heart and body. Or some would like to re-scale themselves as they consider Taiwan's agriculture from the perspectives of humanistic, natural, and ecological so as to learn to live in peace with Mother Nature. Agriculture provides these people the soil and nutrition to cultivate their field of dream land, which has also enriched the diversified facade of Taiwan's farmers.
On the day we pay our visit to field manger, Lai Chin Tsong, of "Ku Dong Club," it is grayish after rainfall in Ilan. Lai is sitting at the big and humble table in front of the house, and as we glance at the field that is expected to be planted and fertilized, .it is exactly that the planting of rice seeding has not yet come, the fields have demonstrated all kinds of scenes; some are filled with water color, some are shown with naked yellow and brownish soil, while some grow vegetable during the recess on their farmland for self-use and the greenery decorate in between, demonstrating variety of scenic views of the farmland.
Lai Chin Tsong, graduated from environmental engineering department of Cheng Kung University as well as law degree in master from Japan, could have easily found a job and become a white-collar, leading an easy life in the city. But he chose to live in the country, leading a life of farmer that works when sunrise and retires when sunset; besides, he also has to strived hard with the acts of Gods and weather, why did he make such a choice? He says, "It is because I find the power to settle myself physically and mentally for as long as you treat the land well it will return you well, and should never betray you." These few statements of words have profoundly elaborated his views towards land.
Lai remarks that his memory living in the country with his grandfather makes him to embrace strongly the love and sentiments for land and farmer. Ten years ago, when he visited Japan to learn about "joint purchase" and the management experience of cooperative, he began to think about "if there is way of livelihood that can sustain life and also protect the environment," and the emergence of “Ku Dong Club” is exactly the realization of such an idea l life.
Making the slogan as "eat the rice one grows" pursuit, Lai and his family moved to the mountain-side of Dong Shan, Ilan when he worked at the Housewives'Alliance in 2004 and knew Ho Jin Fu, his farmer good friend, who invited him. From then on, he has become the field manager of "Ku Dong Club."
Since Lai is without any land or any money, Ku Dong has accumulated capital, in order to realize his dream to take good care of land, for him to rent land, and conduct cultivation without using chemical fertilizer. Therefore, each part of the assignments from renting land, sowing, cultivation, harvest, crop-shining, crop grounding, and re-packaging products to Ku Dong are handled by Lai, and the portion of harvest distribution is done according their percentage of investment. During the process, aside from the responsibility working well with work of field manager, the risks of Ku Dong is shared among the investors as how good the weather should treat the land.
For the past three or more years, "Ku Dong Club" has accumulated more than 300 investors, and the capital everyone provided has now helped Lai with the land of six acres to cultivate. According to his estimation, he can only cultivate as much as only eight acres of land, and should it exceed the limit of his capability he can simply deny more requests because to sell more rice is not what he wants. What he originally wants is to revitalize land, and keep the land in healthy cycle.
From "Ku Dong Club," has managed to realize his ideal life style, while many investors of the club have also begun to show their attention and concern for Taiwan's farm and development of natural ecology through practical participation and experience. Kai says that what he tries to convey is that there is a chance for everyone to return to nature and cherish land in the mainstream value of fast economic growth; as a result, everyone can learn to be humble in front of the Mother Nature.
Lai has resorted to the concept of collaboration and cooperation to have cultivated the dream field of the heart, while the originator of the learning garden, Fung Hsiau Fei, chooses the other kind of method to fulfill his dream to get close to land.
Born in the country, Fung previously worked as editor in the newspaper agency. After 9/21 earthquakes in Chungliao, Nantou, he began to organize newspaper, participate in local re-construction, and community
learning. After several years, she finds that the soil has become highly acidic as of spraying chemical fertilizer and insecticide on the farmland, while the health of local farmer is greatly endangered as of such. Fung says with the following statement, "If farmers cannot treat themselves well, how can they treat the land well? If land cannot be well treated, agricultural products grown will surely not be happy, and will consumer who eat them be happy?" full of humanistic concern.
However, the deep-rooted idea and manner using fertilizer among generations of farmers would be hard to get rid of. After setbacks from several communications, Fung decides to try out by herself so as to demonstrate to others that it is workable. As a result, in 2003 she set up "Learning Garden of the Creek," and began to promote organic farmer free from using chemical fertilizer, and she turns herself into a farmer.
When speaking of working on agriculture, Fung has so many stories to tell, and since she writes very well, she has posted all of the process stories about learning agriculture via website, and how members of the garden try to get out of the previous model to work on cultivation and produce fertilizer-free and safe orange to everyone. She hopes that these voices can make people to again see the importance of Taiwan's agriculture and farmers, to respect the Mother Nature, and to learn to live in harmony with the nature.
And her efforts do have fruit because the number of local farmers who join her garden has increases to 4, Though the number is still insignificant, everyone knows very well what they do is not merely about agricultural production, but more about how to create benign cycle between nature, land, and human being. Many more people have supported their ideal as the orange is all sold out when it is begun to be reserved. Besides, their blog has also the first of prize of “Chinese Blog – Community Management Section," a great encouragement to everyone.
Fung is managing her learning garden at the creek purely as a volunteer, and when ask if she finds it hard? She says, "Never, when I am feeling well, I will to the garden and work, see how the orange grown, and talk to them. Then, I will turn for the better; therefore, I would feel hard but very much grateful." She thus writes on her journal, "food can be eaten, but the process of agricultural products cannot be eaten, but to be enjoyed in life. If we lose our agriculture, we have to pull out from the encounter-point of man and nature, and that is something most pitiful."
Fung indicates that she knows very well that she sets up the learning garden at the creek not to become merely a farmer for then she will have take over the job of another farmer. She hopes that with the establishment of learning garden at the creek it would make Taiwan's farmer and consumer to view Taiwan's agriculture and land from another perspective, and create some brand new values for agriculture.
Lai Chin Tsong and Fung Hsiau Fei use similar the movement of community reconstruction to create the diversified values of Taiwan's values. But Lai Chung Yau, owner of Chien Men ecological garden, Ta Tsaun Village, Changhwa, has found the new approach and direction at agricultural transformation for his four-generation family growing orange, and rendered his field dream wholly of his own.
Like many kids from the country, Lai grew up in the country and moved to the city to look for opportunity, fully loaded with his expectation of his parents. In 1997, since his father is quite aged, he packed up and returned as of the only son of the family to run the family-own orange garden. He says when he returns home, and then the harvested orange is still sold to distributor in traditional way, so that when it is harvest when the media report that orange is sold one kilogram for NT$1, he reckons all of the efforts are all wasted.
Lai remarks that since he was raised up in the country and feels most solid as he walks on the land barefoot, and it is such solid and firm sense of feelings to the land that make him always to remember about land. However, traditional way of agricultural production and marketing makes it difficult for him to see if there is any hope, and he thinks hard how he should work so as not to fall into such a vicious cycle.
At the time, the government is encouraging the development of organic and leisure farming, while the orange garden has been using fertilizer-free cultivation, which matches exactly with the agricultural development, Lai believes why not inviting consumers to the orange garden for sales, if selling orange to them can hardly make the ends meets. Then, it could solve the problem of sales, and help consumer to enjoy the fun of ecology as well as enhance their agricultural knowledge, increasing the added-values of agriculture, killing several birds with one stone.
After much communication and compromise between the father and son, the orange garden of Lai family has now become the ecological fruit garden of Chien Men, which plays as the platform between consumer and agricultural platform with the pursuit of humanity, education, nature, and ecology. And the title of Chien Men is obtained from the title of Lai's grandfather, Lai Yuan Lung, symbolizing the spirit that one should always honor and respect the origin and root.
Lai, a photographer fan, has personally taken all the precious photos and records of bird ecology in the garden so that when visitors come and buy their fruit they can also learn something about ecological knowledge to appreciate the power of nature, to respect Mother Nature, and cherish agriculture. When the Council of Agriculture is to facilitate wandervogel project last year (2006), six lots of participants are arranged to visit Chien Men ecological garden to learn, indicating the recognition they have received.
The management of Chien Men is like, as described by Lai, "the clients earn knowledge, while farmer the money," while retaining the breathing space for land. Such an illustration is considered as modern farmer who embraces field and country dream, and has found the best balance between ideal and reality.