On 9 June, the DCZ visited Yuefengdao Organic Farm – a leading producer of organic rice and vegetables located near Yangcheng Lake in Kunshan city, Jiangsu province. Since 2015, the farm has been using organic principles to farm an area of 230 mu (approx. 15 ha).
Reviving the region’s agricultural heritage is one of the key purposes of the farm, general manager Xiumei ZHU explained during our visit. Kunshan has been traditionally known for its rice and fish farming, but the expansion of modern agriculture has led to a decline in traditional farming systems, knowledge, and crop diversity. As traditional food products continue to disappear from the local diet, Yuenfengdao Organic Farm dedicates particular attention to enhancing biodiversity.
In addition to planting 70 to 80 different crops each year, the farm has expanded local tree species and integrated diverse landscape features into the farming area. The farm also cooperates with experts from China Agricultural University to measure the impact of its organic farming methods on biodiversity. First research results show that the farm boasts 30% more biodiversity in terms of insects, birds, and plant species than conventional farms.
Farmers' seed bank
Yuefengdao Organic Farm operates one of 43 farmers’ seed banks currently in existence across China.  It stores germplasm resources of 165 traditional crops and local varieties and plants 103 different rice varieties in local trials to assess their characteristics such as environmental adaptability, resilience, yield potential, as well as taste and aroma. Together with the Farmers’ Seed Network, Yuefengdao Organic Farm has made particular efforts to bring back disappearing rice landraces used in traditional dishes and niche products. For example, in 2017, the farm cooperated with Jiangsu Academy of Agricultural Sciences to repatriate a particular “lost” variety of local sticky rice and reintroduced it on the local market, where it is used to make a range of traditional glutenous rice products. Yuefengdao Organic Farm also regularly participates in seed fairs to exchange seeds with farmers from other regions. Through regular classes and workshops it helps educate children and local consumers about the contributions of farmers’ seed banks to preserving agro-biodiversity and building resilient agri-food systems.
DCZ expert Ahmatjan Rouzi speaks with farm manager Tang Yaozhong about preserving farmers’ seeds
Following initial challenges with pest and weed control, the farm has been gradually expanding its organic rice area, technical manager Yaozhong TANG told the DCZ experts. While local farmers had initially been skeptical, the village community has now joined the farm in switching from conventional to organic rice farming. Villagers sell their harvest to Yuefengdao Organic Farm at a price three to four times higher than that of conventional rice. In exchange, the farm is in charge of overall marketing, selling the final product at its own local shop and through its network of members based on a community-supported agriculture (CSA) model.
In addition to support from the local government and agricultural extension service, the farm has been cooperating closely with the Farmers’ Seed Network (FSN) and Beijing-based think tank Food Think (食通社). The DCZ visit had been arranged with help from Ye SHEN, farm member and expert at FSN.
Impressions from the farm
More interviews with farm representatives
General manager Xiumei ZHU speaks with DCZ expert Ahmatjan Rouzi about organic farming principles at Yuefengdao