Sat, Mar 14, 2009 - Page 16 News List

Meet your farmers and know your food

Located in the heart of downtown Taipei, the 248 Market offers urbanites a chance to become acquainted with where their foods come from and the people who grow and make them

By Ho Yi  /  STAFF REPORTER

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Sixty-year-old Hsu Hsin-chuan (徐辛泉) grew up on a mountainside farm in Miaoli County. Back then, there was no electricity. The little boy would catch fireflies and put them in a glass bottle to illuminate his room while he wrote his homework at night.

Hsu returned six years ago, and started growing banana plants to provide a favorable habitat for his childhood beetle pals, which had vanished from the area after the soil was polluted by herbicides and pesticides.

Now the bugs are back, and Hsu has carts of bananas and other fresh fruits and vegetables to sell at the 248 Market (248農學市集), a weekend farmers’ market held in a parking lot in a bustling alley off Zhongxiao East Road in Taipei.

Opened in July, the market is the brainchild of Yang Ju-men (楊儒門).

Formerly dubbed the “rice bomber” by the media for planting explosive devices in trains, parks and telephone booths to draw the government’s attention to the plight of local farmers, the angry young man became a farmers’ rights advocate following his release from prison in June 2007 after then president Chen Shui-bian pardoned him.

He has traveled the country visiting smallholder farmers who reject the use of artificial chemicals on the soil. Currently, there are 16 such agricultural producers hawking their wares at the market.

“The primary aim of the market is to communicate and build trust between consumers and growers … The initial challenge for the farmers is to learn to speak for themselves after plowing fields for 50, 60 years, just like their fathers did before them,” Yang said.

Li Yan-sen (李衍森) is learning to share his years of experience in cultivating native medicinal plants such as Chinese mahogany and ailanthus prickly ash.

“Nature has great wisdom. But it won’t tell you. You have to observe and discover it,” said the farmer from Taitung County who uses fermented taro and cassava as compost and simple farming tools such as rakes and shoulder poles to till the land.

Seasonal, fresh vegetables and fruits from several Aboriginal tribes in Hualien, Nantou and Hsinchu counties that have converted to organic farming with assistance from World Vision Taiwan can be found at the market.

Spring Trading Company’s (春一枝, www.fruit-ice.com.tw) fair trade ice lollies are popular with shoppers. The manufacturer ensures that fruit growers in Taitung benefit from a system that promotes sustainability and pays a fair price for their produce.

Red on Tree (在欉紅, www.redontree.com) makes high-quality jams with an emphasis on exploring indigenous varieties of fruit, such as cape gooseberry and guava, that have much stronger aromas than cultivated strains.

“Known as the poor man’s fruit, cape gooseberries are part of many people’s childhood memories ... Those cape gooseberries are the best free fruit one could find on the roadside,” said staff member Wilma Ku (顧瑋).

Other participants at the 248 Market promote social causes.

Initiated by a retired elementary school principal as a way to help Aboriginal children and elders in Wulai Township, Taipei County, Fushan Grange (福山農莊, www.eq.org.tw) collaborates with small farmers and runs a community-supported agriculture operation that aims to build mutual support between growers and consumers.

While selling a fresh catch from her hometown, Keelung’s Badouzih (八斗子) fishing port, NGO worker-turned-entrepreneur Hsueh Li-ni (薛麗妮) is eager to talk about her protest against Taiwan Power Company’s plan to construct a port for unloading coal and renew the Shenao (深澳) coal-fired power station.

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