In Japan, Kimura Akinori, who managed to produce a crop of apples without using any pesticides, said: “One has to be a fool at least once in one’s life.”
However, in Taiwan there are the “two-and-half fools” who grow oranges without pesticides.
Former Taichung county agricultural department chief Chao Ling-shi (趙令熙) and his wife, Chen Ting-chun (陳亭君), a retired junior-high school teacher, embarked on their quest to grow oranges without using pesticides with one thought in mind — not using pesticides would not only save money, it would also help protect the environment.
The idea of not using pesticides came up because of Chao’s familiarity with agricultural laws, the sales system, high manpower costs and a drop in income from orange harvesting.
While 5 jin (3kg) could pay the daily wages of one worker, the gains from selling 100 jin of oranges would not be enough to pay a slew of workers.
Since Chao retired in 2008, he and his wife, together with his father, Chao Shih-tung (趙世通), a farmer who has more than five decades of experience growing oranges in Greater Taichung’s Dongshih District (東勢), planted oranges on the father’s land.
However, their first attempt to implement their ideals ended in disaster. The pesticide-free oranges posed an open invitation for fruit flies, causing a high number of premature drops, as well as ugly-looking fruit.
However, the disaster did not change Chao Ling-shi and Chen’s ideals. They made a fly trap to catch the fruit flies and after that also failed to be of much use, the couple thought of bagging the oranges, a procedure usually reserved for higher-priced fruits, such as persimmons.
Chao Shih-tung and other farmers use pesticide and other chemicals, and when the other farmers heard that the couple would be bagging the oranges, they said they had never heard of such a thing before and even called it “fool’s orange.”
Nonetheless, those farmers offered helpful advice, saying that if the couple wished to bag their oranges, they should spray them at least once with pesticides.
“We don’t want to spray pesticides, that’s why we’re bagging them. If we spray pesticides, then bagging would have no meaning,” Chen told them.
They hired workers to bag the entire field — about 0.5 hectares — but found ladybugs inside the bags during harvesting. The bugs had been using the bags as safe havens for reproduction.
They lost NT$600,000 on the damaged crop.
Now saddled with a crop of oranges they could not sell, the couple thought of making the oranges into jam to solve the problem. After looking up the recipe online and performing numerous experiments in the kitchen, the couple finally found that the key to successfully making jam was to boil off all the water before adding sugar so the mass would congeal.
During the experimentation process, Chao Shih-tung occasionally discouraged them with choice comments, but mostly he allowed his son and daughter-in-law to do as they wished.
Gradually, Chao Shih-tung’s support for the couple’s efforts increased. He even began to teach them how to pick long-horned beetles off the leaves, protecting the orange trees’ roots with netting so the long-horned beetles they missed would not be able to sink their mandibles into the tree.
On leaf miners, the general term applied to young moths and flies, Chao Shih-tung also said to “let them eat first, and what they leave for us is ours.”