The World Is A Better Place With Farmers

Taiwan
By:: 
Wenjian Lin

[Traditional Chinese Version below]

“The farmers I work with love our environment… I want to share this passion with all Taiwanese so they too can love this earth that we live in a bit more.” Miss King Hsin I, founder of BDFF (Buy Directly From Farmers)

Buy Direct From Farmers in Taiwan

At an age where many of her peers were occupied with climbing the corporate ladder, urban girl King Hsin I decided to pack it in. She resigned from her well-paying job and embarked on a life-changing tour of Taiwan’s charming countryside.

From 2008-2009, the former advertising executive embarked on a journey that took her from Taipei to Tamsui, Tainan, Tai-Tung, Hua-Lian and other parts of the country, where she lived with 10 farmers, working and toiling alongside them on the fields.

King Hsin I of Buy Directly From Farmers in Taiwan

“Before I resigned, I attended a one-day farming course in Taipei and that completely changed my outlook on life. I was deeply touched, learning about farmers and what they do. And I told myself I must know more about them,” Hsin I said.

So determined was Hsin I to go on her mission to understand the farmers, she even cast aside the concerns of her parents and then-boyfriend (now husband).

With a laugh, she shared: “When I told them I wanted to go to the countryside to live on the farms, they were very worried for my safety. They also wondered if I could survive without a stable job and income, but even then, they respected my wish and did not stop me. I did not know how to drive so I took trains and buses and even cycled to reach these farmers.”

Countless calls home and a year later, Hsin I returned to Taipei full of hope for the next phase of her life.

In July that year, Hsin I started Buy Directly From Farmers, or BDFF, an initiative on Facebook to connect the farmers she had gotten to know during her travels, with city folks.

“I did so to share their (the farmers’) stories and provide a platform for them to sell their produce directly to the consumers.”

In the early days, BDFF was run by a team comprising Hsin-I and other volunteers. Asked about challenges the group faced, Hsin I said: “We had no office when we started, so we would go to the railway station in Taipei and have our meetings on the floor.”

Along the way, some of them even became good drivers. “We had to visit farmers who are based in the hard to access mountainous terrains. At times a single bus would reach those areas through the day,  so we drove around so much that our driving skills improved!”

There were many challenges. Earning the farmers’ trust was key and many thought the youngsters were out to cheat them. But the team pursued and their hard work paid dividends almost immediately. From about 100 members (“mostly friends on Facebook”) when it started, the community swelled to more than 2,000-strong in less than a year.

Along the way, she also published a book titled “Diary of Qi Ye”, “Qi Ye” means abandoning one’s career in Chinese, which chronicles her travelling experiences in the preceding 12 months.

Four fruitful years later in May 2014, Hsin I sunk in NTD 400,000 from her savings to officially register BDFF as a company, with four partners including a farmer who she had met during her travels - the farmer who helped them spread their message and earn trust with the farming community.

Between them, the quartet takes care of everything from building and maintaining the e-commerce site, meeting new farmers who meet BDFF’s philosophy of giving fresh, eco-friendly produce to Taiwanese as well as handling the invoicing and packaging “so that the farmers can concentrate on doing what they do best”.

Looking back on the whirlwind four years, Hsin I said: “When I was working in advertising, I was helping my clients sell their brands to consumers. That got me thinking that I could also use my skills to lend a voice to these invisible farmers and share their stories with all Taiwanese so that they will also love the earth in the same way [like the farmers].”

Buy Direct From Farmers in Taiwan offers farm tours for urban dwellers

Her tenacity has paid off. BDFF now connects 70 farmers all different parts of Taiwan to more than 110,000 consumers.  Recently, BDFF was also awarded the DBS Foundation Grant. Already, Hsin I is wasting no time in putting the grant money to good use. “We are going to improve our e-commerce site so that people can access it on their smartphones and tablets,” she revealed.

Plans are also underway to expand beyond Taiwanese shores. “We are working with partners to allow tourists visiting Taiwan to order from us before they fly, so that the produce is delivered to their hotels when they arrive,” she said.

To ensure better demand and supply, Hsin I and her team also plan to allow consumers to “adopt a small plot of land for a token fee so that farmers have greater assurance that what they grow will not go to waste”.

She explains beautifully why BDFF is special. “In this age of consumerism, the farmers who grow the food become nameless and faceless entities in the long supply chain. Consumers often forget that the source of the food they pick up from the market is not a machine but people who work with nature. It is important for you to pause and know the people who grow this food for you and to understand the significance of the food produced.”

The farmers are also benefitting, with more than 70 per cent reporting an increase of 20 per cent in their income since BDFF started. “This gives them confidence that farming is a respectable trade that gives them a source of living.”

King Hsin I visits corn farmers in Taiwan

Beyond commercial gains, what is most gratifying for Hsin I is seeing her fellow Taiwanese eat and live better. “We conducted a survey this year where more than 75 per cent of our consumers now say they want to know whether a food product is produced in a sustainable way before buying.” This goes against modern Taiwanese norm of wanting everything fast and at a low cost.

“To me, the world is a better place with the farmers.”

[Picture courtesy: BDFF’s own]

農夫,讓這個世界更美好 

和我一起工作的農夫都努力善待著自然環境我想和全台灣人一起分享這樣的信念,那麼或許大家也都能對我們所居住的地球多一點愛。金欣儀,社會企業直接跟農夫買的發起人說到

當很多年輕人都努力在職場打拼的時候,城市女孩金欣儀決定改變她的人生。她辭掉了穩定高薪的工作,進行了一次改變命運的美麗台灣鄉村之旅。

2008年到2009年之間,曾經是廣告創意的欣儀從首都台北出發,走遍了台灣,拜訪了、台南、台東、花蓮、屏東......等地。這一路,她和十幾位台灣農民在一起居住、工作,在田裡辛苦耕作。

辭職以前,我曾在台北淡水的幸福農莊參加過農夫課程,而這次經歷完全改變了我對生命的看法。我被自然耕種的農民和他們的信念深深的感動,。我告訴自己一定要多深入了解他們、向他們學習。欣儀說到。

欣儀下定了決心要踏上向農夫學習的旅途,讓父母和當時的男朋友(現在已是丈夫)很擔心擔憂。

欣儀笑了,她說:當我告訴他們我想要去農村向農民學習、一起生活的時候,他們非常擔心我的安全。他們也不確定沒有一份穩定的工作和收入,我能不能生存。就算這樣,他們還是尊重我的想法,沒有制止我。當時,我開車技術非常差,只好搭乘火車,並搭配迷你摺疊腳踏車,環島探訪農夫

離開的這一年,欣儀和家人的唯一交流方式就是電話。一年之後,帶著對生活下一步目標的憧憬,欣儀回到了台北。

那一年七月,欣儀發起了<直接跟農夫買>社群。她將旅途中所結識的農民,透過臉書,和都市居民串連在一起,讓農人們的產品可以直接販售給消費者。

早期,<直接跟農夫買>由欣儀和一群志工合作。當問到團隊遇到的困難,欣儀說:剛開始的時候,我們沒有辦公室,所以只好到台北車站碰頭。開會的時候,大家就坐在地上。

漸漸的,有些志工竟然成為了開車高手。我們需要拜訪在深山中的農民。有些偏鄉,一天也才一輛公車,所以我們除了要學會開車,也要提升駕駛技術。後來的共同創辦人 梁哲嘉,剛學會開車沒幾天就要環島拜訪農夫

在創業的過程中充滿挑戰。如何贏得農民的信任是關鍵,起初,有的農民以為我們是詐騙集團,總是經過不斷的溝通,才能讓他們瞭解我們是真心要倡導他們的理念。也因為團隊的堅持,他們的努力馬上得到了回報。從一開始的一百多人(其中大部分是臉書上的好友),不到一年時間,這個社群就有了兩千多個成員。

同時,欣儀還出書記錄了自己這十二個月來的旅行經歷,書名為棄業日記

在四年後的2014年五月,幾位志工很努力地湊了一百萬新台幣投入<直接跟農夫買>,將這個平台正式註冊成為一個永續的企業。現在,公司的創始夥伴中,還有一位是欣儀曾經在粉絲團介紹推廣過結識的農民許雪鈴。她同時是優秀的水果玉米生產者,也是公司的倉管大隊長,許多消費者都很喜愛她,她也鼓勵了非常多農夫朝向友善環境耕種。

無論大小事物,四位合夥人需要負責公司運營的每一面向,包括新建和維護網站、包裝、處理訂單,不過最重要的,是他們花了非常多時間在產地,深入了解農夫理念、種植方式,再轉換成大眾能理解的方式介紹給大家,企圖解決農村和都市的代溝公,這樣農民才能全心全意的做他們最擅長的事情,欣儀這樣說道。

回首這並非一帆風順的四年,欣儀說到:當我在廣告業工作的時候,我協助客戶推廣他們的品牌。我想我應該也可以將這份老天賜給我的天份,替那些理念美好的幕後農民發聲、分享他們的故事。讓台灣更多人可以像他們一樣善待我們的土地。雖然不容易,但這就是我想做的事。

欣儀的堅持得到了回報,現在,<直接跟農夫買>將全台灣70位農民和超過110,000位消費者串聯在一起。最近,企業剛剛獲得星展基金會的認可和贊助。欣儀沒有浪費任何的時間,她已經將這筆資金投入使用。我們將升級網絡平台,這樣大家也可以在手機和平板電腦上聯繫我們,她說到。

且最新的計劃是將台灣的友善環境農業精神推廣到海外。我們將和重視環境永續的合飯店一起合作,在國外遊客出發前,即可向我們預購,等他們抵達,所訂購的農產品就會寄達他們的住處,旅客也可以跟著我們深入鄉間,看見真正的台灣與農村之美。

為了優化供給和需求,欣儀和團隊計畫鼓勵消費者支付一定的費用認養一塊土地,這樣,農民就能更安心,因為他們種植的農產品會有人採購,而不會被浪費。

她強調直接跟農民買的理念: 認識為你種植的人,了解食物真正的重量在我們這個消費便利的時代,種植農產品的農民成了這條供給鏈上沒有名字、沒有身份的一員。消費者不了解食物的來源,遺忘食物的背後不是機器而是與天共耕的人,所以我們很努力帶領讓消費者認識農夫。

農民同時在受益,在加入這個平台之後,70%的農民的收入提高了至少20%。這帶給他們信心,農業確實是一個值得尊重的收入來源。

除了商業收益之外,對於欣儀來說最有意義的是看到台灣人的消費習慣在改變。我們今年的調查顯示,有75%以上的<直接跟農夫買>會員在購買食物之前,會想要知道它們是不是以可持續發展的方式生產出來的。這和現代台灣想要更快,更便宜的普遍現象形成鮮明對比。

 

對於我來說,有了農夫,這個世界將更加美好。

 

 If you want to find more about socially conscious living in Asia, check out Asia For Good's social enterprise directory.

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