Jiuling town – volunteering at a farm

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.

We reached the farm and got settled down to our beautiful 100% ecological bamboo & straw built house. We had a double bed in a dorm and there was already 2 British, 2 French, 2 Italian at the house. We also had a house cat Walden (named after the farm) that became Juhis’ new best buddy. We also had the chance to meet the family running the farm. There is 3 generations living in the complex and running the farm at the moment, typical Chinese. The family has hosted volunteers for around 5 years now.

The farms main product is pigs. On the side they have ginger, grape, pumpkin etc. produced at the farm. Gotta say that picking up fresh ginger straight from the ground for your tea is quite nice. The farm itself is striving to reach a more ethical and ecological way of producing its products. At the farm there are several aspects that fight against our principles, as much of the production is factory producing. This is a sad sight, but on the other hand we had the chance to be part of the process to improve the way the farm works in the future. The Chinese culture and way of thinking makes it hard for a farm to produce organic ecological goods and make a decent profit. The fact that Chinese can’t rely on the freshness and the source of the meat sold in the shops makes it even harder to bring out ecological/organic products to stores and sell it. Simply no-one believes it is organic due to massive mass production and lack of any kind of officials regulating or supervising the meat production in the country.

 

As this was volunteering, the deal was for us to work approximately 4 hours a day and we get to use the farm’s equipment, 3 meals a day and free accommodation. Meals were either with the 100 farmers at the farm canteen or if we were lucky with the family at the main building of the farm. Both options were good as dining with the farm workers gave a good chance to get in touch with the locals and family dinners like local hot pot, was fecking delicious! Only thing was that as vegetarians we had bit of a struggle at the canteen as the farm (it is a pig farm) mainly cook and eat meat. So many days we had pumpkin rice with ridiculous amounts of chili and garlic, win.

Work itself was brilliant. We did trash collection, cutting weeds, photography, construction work, PR etc. while we were there. There is loads of freedom and pro-activeness is highly appreciated. You never really had to stress and you always got the farms and our host Lin’s support.

For fun parts we also got to arrange Halloween party for local university students. All the volunteers of course arranged pumpkin carving, drinks and games. To end the night we took the students to a night walk. The guys were waiting at the bushes for the students to come in order to scare them properly. The plan was perfect and we had costumes and everything. Students were told that there was a farmer that got lost at the farm years ago and he was haunting during nights. The plan was a success until we realized that one of the Chinese girls got a panic attack. She did survive and after a while the situation got a back to “normal”.

Main aim was when there was a special event in November when people from the University of Beijing were invited to the farm for a football game. The event was promotion for the farm as they are trying to find investors for the future. The preparation was humongous and there was a lot of things to do. They planted the whole farm full of new flowers, laid grass on the spots that used to be natural and covered weeds etc. They also tried to “clean” the irrigation ponds with some shitty white powder which ended coloring the ponds white and, as it was extra oxygen they threw in, killing the fish in the pond. This is apparently how things are handled in China at an Eco farm.

Reading in the sun, building a texas hold ‘em poker set out of wood(naturally you have to gamble when in China), daily basketball sessions and drinking beer where good ways to spend the days. People were nice and atmosphere was good. Except the fact that the farm is producing pigs in factory way and that they really don’t get the ecological way of running the farm (yet) the stay was a definite success. The family was lovely and we were treated well. This is definitely a volunteer workers paradise. It is 100% save on your budget while travelling. There was also several experiences that you just can’t run into accidentally. Sitting in the trunk of a van that has no trunk door or side doors and going down the hill sides, eating pig testicles & roosters comb(the thing on top of their head), grabbing fresh ginger straight from the ginger paddy, building a rock wall with the farmers and with their ancient (but working) equipment etc. This are the kind of memories we are craving for even though the comb and testicles were a bit tough for a vegetarian, but Juhis still had to try them. Testicles are ok, combs are crap. And also the pig’s testicles are expensive and considered as gourmet.

As mentioned before the Chinese standards of ecological compared to other world are different. Probably they got lost when Mao fought against the western steel production with using wood when producing steel and all resources were exploited aimlessly. This basically killed all the forests and also took down the standards in the whole country. It was a massacre of the nature. There is loads of work to be done starting from grass root level of not throwing all the trash on the streets and in the nature. The farm has long history and has gone through all this and it is great to see that nowadays they have moved around 15% of their pigs outdoors and they are free. This might sound like a small thing but in China it is a huge step towards something good. They are also trying to recover the forest and nature around the farm (even though stupid stupid mistakes are still done) to make sure it has a safe environment to start building up to what it is supposed to be. All in all this was and great experience as we got the chance to make new suggestions and ideas how to move the farm in to more ecological and ethical direction. To top that all suggestions and ideas were well taken. This was a good opportunity and great experience for us. We also got super good reference from Lin for future volunteering.  We made new good friends and shared laughs. Leaving the farm after almost 3 weeks was sad, but it was time to move forward towards new adventures.