Wed, Jan 04, 2012 - Page 2 News List

Organic farming helps employees through furloughs

Staff Writer, with CNA

Tyi Sheng Co was one of the Taiwanese companies hard hit by the 2008 global financial crisis, but Tyi Sheng chairman Chang Yu-ho (張鈺和) did not want to see his employees laid off because of poor business.

So he did something unusual to help them, despite having put them on unpaid leave: He rented a farm on which they could grow organic vegetables.

Some of the employees, who found themselves in the position of being “accidental farmers,” chose not to go back to their previous jobs after the crisis was over.

It was a flexible and innovative way in which a high-tech industry company helped its furloughed employees after putting them through financial difficulties.

Tyi Sheng specializes in providing heavy machinery services to high-tech companies at Hsinchu Science Park, the hub of the nation’s high-tech industry and home to Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co and other big names.

When the financial crisis hit three years ago, Tyi Sheng’s business plummeted. Chang then rented a 15,000-ping (49,590m2) plot of land and encouraged his furloughed employees to grow vegetables. Some of the revenue from the produce was given to the “new farmers” as their salaries and the project also turned out to be a new revenue source for the company.

The company’s -machinery--service business has since returned to normal, but its “furlough farm” continues to generate an income of about NT$300,000 a month and has received certification as an organic farm.

Ten of the employees who worked on the farm said they would stay there instead of returning to their old jobs.

On one sunny day, Chang, 48, worked with his employees on the farm, weeding, picking worms from vegetable leaves, chatting and laughing. Few outsiders would have thought that Chang, sporting rain boots, is a multimillionaire whose company offers cranes and other machinery services to many major semiconductor, LED and wafer manufacturers in Hsinchu.

His parents were farmers who taught him never to till the land because it was a low-income, low-prestige job. Instead, he was told he should seek his future outside of rural areas. So, at age 28, Chang started his business as leader of a three-person team working for the Industrial Technology Research Institute.

Within 12 years, Chang’s -business had expanded into a 300-strong company serving not just Hsinchu-area high-tech companies, but also those in China and Russia.

Chang, a vegetarian, began growing his own vegetables seven years ago on a plot he rented in Jhudong (竹東), Hsinchu County.

He said he did so to satisfy his own personal wish to eat “self-grown” vegetables on the grounds they should be cleaner and healthier than what supermarkets sold.

The 2008 global financial crisis, which prompted him to reduce his staff by 80 percent, gave him an opportunity to try out his idea of inviting his employees on unpaid leave to grow vegetables.

“Heaven perhaps showed us some favors — our harvests that year were exceptionally good and the income just made up for the employees’ salaries,” Chang said.

Just half a year later, business was back and most of the “farming” employees returned to the office to continue their jobs.

Lin Shih-min (林士敬) and Tseng Neng-yen (曾能演) were among those who chose not to resume their employment and stayed on as farmers. Both of them said they used to be in poor health and that their new lifestyles — tilling the land and being vegetarians — improved their health.

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