The World Is A Better Place With Farmers
[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)
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.
“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].”
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.”
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.”
If you want to find more about socially conscious living in Asia, check out Asia For Good's social enterprise directory.