Farming without chemical fertilizer, pesticides, machinery or plastic membrane may indeed seem old fashioned, or unenlightened in many people's eyes, in an era when so-called modern agriculture has spread to nearly every remote corner of the country.
At a time when there are worries about food safety and environmental pollution, a Chinese farmer, however, is showing the world there is a healthier choice of living that is much more environmentally friendly. The latest issue of "Life Week" featured just that in its inspiring story about An Jinlei.
Thirty-something An lives in Dongzilong Village, Hengshui District, Hebei Province, barely 100 kilometers from Beijing, the country's capital. Ever since his wife and himself contracted some 50 mu (about 3.4 hectares) of land, they decided to discard modern farming methods that may harm the earth and their produce.
At first, fellow villagers thought the couple were strange and stupid. For sometime now, farmers had been used to ploughing machines each spring that crushed and buried last season's plastic membrane in the soil.
"In 10 years time, the plastics in the soil would be one centimeter thick. You still call that farmland?" An said. What he fought against was in fact an effective method that has been widely employed in China's rural areas to raise farming output.
Compared with his fellow villagers, An spends times more effort and labor on his land. When farmers stay at home enjoying an easy winter, An still works the soil with a shovel and pickaxe to prepare for the coming spring planting.
He is proud for his products are all organic. "With pesticide, crops may survive insects. But when all insects die, the natural system in the soil is dead too." Instead An preferred earthworms to scarify the soil rather than using herbicide. He said everyone knew that grain and vegetables grown on chemical fertilizer didn't have good taste. But the old generation, whose heart still fluttered with fear of famine, only wanted high food yields. For this, chemical fertilizer provided the best guarantee.
In his first few harvests, An did not get high yields. A few years later, however, his crops began to beat his neighbors. "It's because the vitality of the soil had recovered."
While his maize cobs were smaller than others, the seed was of a much higher quality; the fibre of his cotton was also much longer.
"Our land belongs to nature, it is not supposed to serve us only," he said, believing that all forms of life should have the right to live on the land.
As evidence, he planted one mu of millet especially for sparrows and other birds. The piece of land had since become a haven for birds, feeding thousands when the millet is ripe. What made the farmer especially proud was that these birds only feasted on the millet prepared for them and seldom trespassed the surrounding crops.
An has a bad impression of urban life, with "food grown from chemical fertilizer and pesticide, and the noise at night". For this reason, he has refused most of the frequent invitations he has received from organizations that promoted organic agriculture.
But he is not short of city friends, many of whom come and live with the couple for a period of time. Some say they want to experience pastoral lives, some say they just want to flee the pressure of urban life. Whatever their purpose, they all loved the food from An's land.
An has a Utopia in his head that he vividly described. "If only there was no factories and everyone worked on his own piece of land, our life would be healthy, our Earth would be healthy."
He has come to know that he himself alone could not change the society; he could not even influence people at his surroundings. "At first I wanted to be a pioneer and hoped people would follow my practice. But later on, I found it's impossible," he said. "They want high yield but do not want to work hard. They continue to rely on chemical fertilizer and pesticide."
An has received many visiting groups who promote environmental protection. At first he thought they were right by urging people to use less resources and protect the environment. Soon he developed a disgust for them just because "they fly here and there in planes. It's a waste of resources in itself".
He too had flown once, to Thailand for a discussion with a local farming association. However, he vowed he would never fly again. "I was greatly depressed in the plane," he said.
(Xinhua News Agency December 31, 2007)