PA Professor Does Fieldwork at the Beijing Farmers’ Market

      Posted On: February 20, 2018

They connected me to the Beijing Farmers Market and one of its organizers and passionate advocates: Chang Tianle. The market includes a large assortment of organic farmers and like-minded folks selling all kinds of produce; meat, eggs, and cheese; snacks; juices; and even apparel and bags dyed with organic dyes. Although it’s only three years old and rotates to various sites in one of the world’s most urbanized environments, it has a loyal following and attracts as many as 2,000 people each day it is held.

I went to the farmers’ market and spent a couple of hours with Tianle as she guided me around to talk to the participants, hear their stories, and sample some of their delicious products. Suddenly my head was buzzing in the way it does when we anthropologists find something that fascinates us. So many of the issues these Chinese farmers faced were the same as those in the US: young people wanting to go back to the land but having difficulty securing it; the need to build a culture and a community around small, organic farmers in order to ensure customers; the problem with regulations and government commitment to industrial agriculture. But other issues were so different: the lack of private property ownership, meaning that that a farmer might put years into building healthy soil only to lose that land to development projects; the general lack of awareness of environmental issues and the role of agriculture in them; changing consumption patterns making young Beijingers crave fast foods, restaurants, and home delivery rather than trudging to a farmers’ market and carrying food back home that must then be cooked. Even though there was a language barrier, I felt I understood the joys and worries of these farmers, their pride in their role in this burgeoning movement, their hope against hope that the movement would continue and grew. And I was fascinated by the unique-to-Beijing challenges that these farmers were determined to overcome and change.

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