The Good Life: Playing Peasants for the Weekend

The Good Life: Playing Peasants for the Weekend
Mar 20, 2009 By

Photo: danieljamescox

It seems that with the stress of a 9 to 5, Monday to Friday lifestyle, pollution, commuting and all the other bug bears of living in a metropolis is driving the Chinese, very much like the English, to seek out a little piece of their very own Eden.

But with Chinese cities so pack cheek by jowl, where can the budding Chinese kitchen gardener find a patch of land? The answer, Beijing Youth Weekend tells us this week is to be found in the many farms that are renting space for rich city types to ‘play’ on during the weekends:

White collar workers nowadays are fixed on the idea of becoming ‘landlords’. Whether it be in the make believe world of Kaixin Net where they can grow eflowers and efruits or in the real world where they can find a patch of green and attempt to carve for themselves a patch of tranquility.

Health experts have even gone as far as to call these allotments of land ‘green gyms’. Indeed, with the blue sky, smell of flowers, mud under foot and birds singing this is not something most city types ever get to experience – no wonder it’s taking off.

So let’s take at look at this ‘fake peasant lifestyle’. It doesn’t matter if you know nothing about plowing, if you’re clueless as to how to tell your onion from your garlic or even which way round to hold a trowel. If you’re willing to have 2-4 hours of exercise every weekend, to carry your own produce home, to feel the sun beating down on you and the sweat drip from your brow, then this is for you.

There is a saying: ‘Around the time of the spring rains, plant melons and till the earth.” So, now is the time to be getting ready to plant seeds!

Photo: Wootang01

Many of Beijing’s suburban farms have started a renting scheme, so if you hurry you can plant now and be eating fresh chives in April, tomatoes in May and June along with aubergines and then watermelons in July!

Here at the Beijing Forestry Academy Research Base has set up something a little different. Here the teachers provide expert equipment and the guy in charge is a Postdoc researcher at the academy. With their skilled guidance, clueless ‘fake peasants’ can be stirred through some of the pot holes of farming.

Zhang Qiang, spokes person for the team said that having studied the needs and capabilities of city farmers, it has been calculated that a family of three would need around 60 square meters, going up to 90 square meters for a larger family. All of this would require about 2-4 hours of work every weekend to maintain.

The program was originally set up in 2007, but no one could have foreseen that within a year it had become so popular, especially among 30 something city workers. Zhang admits now that it’s obvious, “They all seem to want to create a little pastoral idle for themselves, while at the same time enjoying fresh air, exercise and the chance to forget all the stress of work. The only thing they have to worry about it, why is his cucumber bigger than mine.”


There were people who had been coming every weekend to play at being peasants for over a year now and were growing anything from between 20-40 different types of fruit and vegetables on their plots – everything from spinach and chillies to strawberries and sweet corn.

If you too fancy turning your hand to farming here is some practical information:

60 sq. meters RMB 899 per year
90 sq. meters RMB 1099 per year

Seed fee:
The first 8 packs of seeds are free with a choice of over 40 including cucumber, aubergines, corn, strawberries, bitter melon.

How to get to the base (北京林学会新品种培育及示范基地):
Car: Take the Badaling Express to Xiao Tang Shan (小汤山) then follow the slip road to the point where the Badaling Express meets the 6th Ring Road and then take the first right (east) round a bend onto the south slip road of the 6th Ring Road (Shunsha Road). Head about 1000 meters straight and then do a U-turn under Dong Shahe Xi Qiao (东沙河西桥) and come back west 100 meters until you the entrance on the right (sign in Chinese).

Bus: Take either: 8, 20, 21, 22, 345 (slow) to Baifu (白浮) stop. Turn to the east and walk about 800 meters through Baifu village and you will see the entrance to the right through a courtyard.


Expat Corner > Going Organic in China

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