A volunteers experiences as a remote worker helping with online marketing in a Northern Sichuan farming town. Walden Farms is platform for creatives and volunteers who care about ecology and sustainability in China and the world.
It’s my last day here in the idyllic Walden Farm. I was not able to stay as long as I would have liked, but one should count themselves fortunate to stay any amount of time in this nest of peacefulness. It is a small, on the grander scale of farming as a whole, beacon to farming in China to set the bar higher; an example of a farm, though not fully sustainable, trying to get there and unshackle themselves from the binds of modern farming that sees nature as only a resource to exploit, opposed to what it should be, a resource to be cared for even as it provides us with a return of its bounty to feed us- therefore, enabling it to care for generations to come as well, or better, than it did for current generations.
Lack of foresight and vision is a huge problem for modern farming. These might not be the first things that come to mind when you consider: all the pesticides, herbicides, over using antibiotics, oil consumption of machinery, habitat destruction, erosion, to name a few, because who has time to name all that is wrong with modern farming? I think in large part it goes back to foresight and vision though. In todays fast pace, me me me, results now environment, society is not mature, wise, and maybe even compassionate enough to consider the long term effects of this type of farming (profit today, destruction tomorrow). As Paul Hawken likes to put it we are stealing the future, and selling it in the present.
What stops someone from seeing the world like this, and doing farming a better way? A vested interest in the land is what. One way you get that is staying in a place for a long time. This starts the connection in you that the health of your land is strongly connected to your own family, and your ability to take care of that family. If your going to stay in a place for an extended period of time, and I’d say 400+ years is pretty extended (how long Walden Farm has been family run), you want to make sure that you care for the land as it provides for you and your family in the present, and so it can continue to provide for your family in the future.
This China trip was mainly to reconnect with my roots and to experience life of Chinese ethnic minorities, who tend to have the closest relationship with Nature. Many of these 55 ethnic groups congregate around Yunnan & Guizhou, but finding a Workaway/HelpX host in these 2 poorest provinces has been challenging… Instead of staying at Xi’an before my Yunnan family trip, I gave Sichuan a try despite of my spicy-food intolerance. Afterall, China is a huge country with vast diversity to be experienced, and Walden farm turned out to be a very pleasant surprise!
It started with a rather uncomfortable bus ride for 10 hours from Xi’an, with swifts of faecal smell and our driver honking every 5 minutes. But I was happy finding fruits to be a common snack option at highway rest stops, and even happier to be offered the sweetest pear by a fellow passenger!
As I arrived Walden farm, I was warmly welcomed by the big Lin family over dinner, for a luxurious 2-weeks stay in the bamboo strawhouse built by old local craftsmen, spending after-work time in the swimming pool, and most surprisingly, having access to a clean sit-down toilet.
Coming from the biggest concrete jungle in the world,New York City, I am grateful for the breath of fresh air that is Walden Farm. As a volunteer I have been able to get in contact withthe local Chinese culture and work with the village workers as we strive to create a more harmonious and sustainable relationship with the environment.No one day on the farm is thesame, each with its own challenge and excitements.
I wake up each day in a traditional bamboo straw house and grab breakfast with the local village workers during sunrise. After conversing with the Chinese volunteers and ﬁnishing my meal, my day begins with whatever task I would like to complete. On Walden Farm I have the freedom to choose any job, or even create my own.Having some experience in gardening, I sometimes decide to cut the grass alongsidethe lake and the pool.Although I have done this work before, I have never thought to have recycled the grass and weeds that I have just cut. Walden Farm has taught me a new way torecycle the grass—feeding it to the hungry pigs or placing it under the Maple trees as fertilizer.This practice on Walden Farm is just one of many ways how the farm is devoted to giving back to nature what it takes from it. The trees look more healthy and the pigs are very happy when I feed them. Truly nothing goes to waste.
Since China is known for its slow or non-existing internet we are running a bit late with the posts. Now it’s time to catch up and update this blog.
Our journey was about to head next to a farm in Jiuling town in Sichuan province. We got a volunteer position at the farm as us exchanging work for food and accommodation. This is a handy way of getting closer to the local culture and naturally stretching your own travel budget.
We left the city of Chengdu and started heading towards Mianyang with the train and from there to Jiuling town with the local bus. We had agreed a pickup with the farm employee (our host Lin) from the Jiuling town bus stop. When we got there we were a bit surprised that no-one was there to pick us up. And naturally we do not have a Chinese phone number, or his phone number, so we could not call him either. After 2h waiting we asked some locals if they knew where the farm was. This was no help either. We gave up on the idea to reach the farm as it was already midnight. To add to this Jiuling town is considered as a small town (In Chinese scale), it has no tourism at all. Which means no hotels or hostels either. We did manage to get online with the help of our new Chinese friends that lived next door to the bus stop. No common language, but we ended up getting the help we needed and they even got us beer. Gladly, as we were in the middle of nowhere, they manage to call someone that has a “guesthouse” to arrange us a room. Room itself hadn’t been cleaned for probably months, toilet hadn’t been flushed either and all bed linens were wet… They were so bad that I did not want to put my sleeping bag on them. Then out of nowhere we got an email from the farm and agreed a pick up for the morning. Success story indeed.