To Shih Kuan-lun (石冠倫), a senior at NTU, visiting places like Meinong (美濃) in Kaohsiung has changed his viewpoint from that of an urban consumer to a grower of rural produce.
“Understanding is key to breaking existing ideas and stereotypes,” Shih said. “You must understand first in order to know why you take action and have the courage to carry it out.”
Some past participants of the camp did just that, forming activist groups to campaign against land seizure in Siangsihliao (相思寮) in Changhua County’s Erlin Township (二林) and “land grabbing” by Kuokuang Petrochemical Technology Co (KPTC, 國光石化), also in Changhua County.
Lin said that farmers’ rights advocates were not aware that government takeover of farmland to make way for various development projects was a common threat facing the country’s rural villages until students and activists visited places including Siangsihliao, Erchongpu (二重埔) in Hsinchu County’s Jhudong Township (竹東), Dapu Borough (大埔) in Jhunan Township (竹南) and Wanbao Borough (灣寶) in Houlong Township (後龍), both in Miaoli County.
“We went to these places without having specific agendas. Only when we started to discuss our experiences together did we realize that what happens in each village is not an isolated case. It is a structural problem. So we began to pursue legal and institutional reform,” Lin said.
While others organize campaigns and march on Ketagalan Boulevard (凱達格蘭大道), some young advocates like Chang Su-wei (章思偉) choose to stay in villages, learn to farm and work with community-based organizations. Along with several other members, Chang answered the call of organic farmer and agricultural advocate Lai Ching-sung (賴青松) to learn traditional farming methods on a rice paddy in Yilan.
“We did everything manually from growing seeds, planting seedlings to harvesting,” Chang said. “Local farmers have watched what we have been doing ... Things have started to change. Our landlord, for example, is trying not to use chemical pesticides and fertilizers.”
The group of novel farmer successfully produced and sold 600 kilograms of rice this year. To strengthen their connection with local residents, these activists will team up with local NGO’s for a series of environmental education programs and establish a platform to market locally produced green products next year.
“Some farmers want to switch to sustainable farming but can’t afford to do so because the price controlled by wholesale dealers is too low,” Chang added.
Back in Taipei, Chen Yi-chun (陳怡君) from Hao Ran Foundation pointed out that most of the products available at Bow to Land are not certified organic since smallholder farmers don’t have the “time, money and energy to go through the process.” She added that certification costs a farmer NT$20,000 to NT$30,000 each year and has to be renewed every one or two years.
The farmers’ market carries mostly “environmentally friendly” products, which means they are grown and produced without chemical pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers.
“The business is built on trust between consumers and growers. We want to encourage human connection and mutual understanding,” Chen said. “We want consumers to buy the banana because they know the farmer who grows it, not because of the label stuck on it.”