Fri, Feb 01, 2019 - Page 13 News List

A market for all seasons

For the eco-conscious consumer, the monthly Yongkang Farmers’ Market features an abundance of local organic produce and household goods made from natural materials

By Davina Tham  /  Staff reporter

Samuel Yang’s hands, stained orange by turmeric, holds powdered and whole turmeric at the Yongkang Farmers’ Market last month. Yang also makes fruit vinegars that he uses as health tonics.

Photo: Davina Tham, Taipei Times

One of the best ways to get to know a country is to spend time at its markets. From a visit to Yongkang Farmers’ Market (永康小農市集), it’s clear that Taiwan is blessed with growers and makers for whom farming is much more than crops and livestock. It’s a distinct way of life, founded on a reverence for what their native environment, traditional wisdom and the natural passage of time can achieve.

What started as a collaboration between 248 Farmers’ Market (248農學市集) and the community service corps of the Rotary Club in July 2016 has since become Taipei’s largest farmers’ market, with more than 30 stalls each month.

“Taiwan has excellent agricultural produce and artisans, so we wanted a platform for small-batch producers to promote and sell their products themselves,” organizer Lee Chien-cheng (李建誠) says. Lee personally cultivates relationships with farmers and artisans, visiting their farms to see whether their work matches the market’s fun, friendly and relaxing spirit.

“It takes some time to understand the producers’ values, practices and beliefs,” Lee says. The selectivity means that the market is a carefully curated gathering of producers from all over Taiwan, and there is a waiting list of interested vendors. But the organizers are in no hurry to expand, choosing instead to focus on ensuring the market’s longevity and fostering meaningful exchanges among the producers, their customers and the surrounding neighborhood. They hope for more diverse activities, such as performances, art exhibitions and cooking lessons, to become part of the market’s ecosystem.

“If the market is just a place where things are sold, then only people who want to shop would come here, and that would be a real pity,” Lee says.

HERB LIFE (花滿蹊農場)

Owner Huang Su-hsin (黃素馨) runs an organic farm in Pingtung, where she grows flowers such as rose geranium, honeysuckle, ginger lily, white michelia and jasmine. The flowers are used in tisanes, body oils and creams, but Herb Life’s signature product is a floral essence spray, which can be consumed orally or spritzed on the body. Huang believes in the medicinal properties of flowers, immediately dispensing an anti-inflammatory chrysanthemum spray to a customer who came by with a cold and sore throat.

James & Erika’s Garden Handmade Sauces

All of the herbs and vegetables used are grown at the owners’ permaculture farm in Wulai (烏來). The mostly Western-style spreads and sauces include a herby chimichurri, piquant chilli sauce, cashew “cheese” and pesto that adapts to the seasonality of ingredients — in the summer, basil is used for a traditional pesto, but in the colder months, it is replaced with arugula, imparting a peppery, bitter kick.

NATURE MIFFY (綠兔子工作室)

Owners Chen Jen-chuan (陳仁全) and Hung Min-hui (洪閔慧) have traveled around Taiwan to find the best handmade household products, in the hopes that people will make more space in their busy lives for items made with thought and care. These include grass slippers woven by a nonagenarian grandmother, bamboo containers from Miaoli, organic cotton towels and wooden brushes made with animal hair. Creators in their own right, Chen and Hung also sew reusable, eco-friendly cotton sanitary pads, dye yarn and shawls and carve wooden spoons.

WU SSU FARM (無思農莊)

Blending Japanese techniques and Taiwanese ingredients, Wu Ssu Farm specializes in fermented goods such as miso and shio koji, a Japanese seasoning of inoculated rice, salt and water, which they recommend using to marinate ingredients and deepen the umami flavor in dishes. They also make amazake, a sweet, mildly alcoholic fermented rice drink from Japan. The fermentation process accentuates the distinctive characteristics of different Taiwanese rice varietals, resulting in amazake with startling differences in flavor and aroma.

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