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  Chinese Way>Life

Nostalgia fuels demand for honest food in China

2013-03-18 11:23:11


Lin admits that even by strictly following organic rules, his products may not be necessarily "organic" by the strictest standards due to elements beyond his control, such as the contaminants in air and water.

"But I promise our products are the best you can find under the current conditions. To win consumer trust, I just tell them everything. It's easier, simpler and more straightforward," he says.

In this regard, the Beijing Country Fair is more than a platform for trade.

Consumers taste the food, listen to the farmers explain the farming process and hopefully become friends who trust each other.

The other driver is the power of word of mouth, as friends bring more companions each week.

This creates what many producers in the market jokingly describe as "emotional certification", which they believe is more effective than paper certificates.

This emotional connection, coupled with the Country Fair's relatively stable prices, as opposed to fluctuations in markets outside, has nurtured a growing number of regular customers.

According to Qi, many farmers are finally seeing profit after making losses for many years. And if current trends continue, Qi is hopeful that the farmers will finally be able to sustain a decent livelihood.

Lin Jian is one of the more fortunate. He now makes some profit after suffering a succession of losses since 2004 when he started his farm. He now has about 100 regular member-subscribers whose purchases account for most of his sales, with the remaining income coming from the weekly market.

His members enjoy more than just a discount on his products, they also have the privilege of participating in the farming process.

Lin plans to launch more interactive activities, such as farming classes for children and field practice for young mothers - all aimed at giving consumers a chance to develop trust in the farm's organic principles.

"When you see the farmer's daughter run barefoot and fall, only to pop up again with a hedgehog in her hand, you'll know where the trust comes from," Qi says, painting a pastoral scene.

"This is what we have been pushing for.

"We want to connect each farm with regular members that will stay with the farm a long time. That is what community-supported agriculture truly means."

Professor Wu from the China Agricultural University believes the smallholder farms are still a niche market and the membership system is still their most feasible business model.

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