Daikon drying in the sun
A while back, I had a great time traveling through all but the southern portion of Taiwan. I’d gone for Spring Festival (Chinese New Year), and to do a bit of work trade with a WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities in Organic Farming)-affiliated farm on the outskirts of Chunan (or Zhunan, depending on your preferred system of romanization).
The farm itself was mostly a disappointment to me. There is no internationally consistent standard for measuring what is and is not organic. Even in the U.S. (granted, no paragon of truth in labeling) the labeling of organics is tricky, often misleading and inconsistent [see an in-depth article from my former magazine, "Organics: Meaningful or Market Niche?").
Sweltering farmland in Chunan
Seed trays soaked in water and sun
This farm, in Zhunan, in the province of Miaoli, was nestled right up against a major highway flyover, and perhaps one hundred yards from two tall, constantly belching industrial smokestacks. The smokestack exhaust might well have been filtered or non-toxic, but anyone with common sense who’s ever actually lived next to, or looked at land immediately adjacent to large highways, can tell by the sooty residue of automobile exhaust and dust that there’s nothing organic about the ground in these areas.
My host was really more interested in the local promotional opportunities of having travelers all the way from America coming to work on, and promote, his farm. After picking us up in his van and driving like a maniac back to his place (with his un-seatbelted young son in the front, many sharp-pointed tools laying unsecured on the floor), my host spent a good deal of the next ten days pressuring us in various forceful ways to appear on a television interview with him for a local news station where his wife worked, and to be a very public face for a farmer’s market he was trying to launch, on the grounds of a swank mountain restaurant.
I declined, repeatedly, and with less and less patience, explaining that I hadn’t come to WWOOF so I could be paraded around town to impress friends or appear on local television news programs I wouldn’t even understand. After several rounds of requests, I further explained that, by my standards, his farm actually wasn’t organic, and I didn’t want to publicly support it. I’d come, I said again and again, to learn more about farming.