By Monica Liau and Tongfei Zhang, photos by Nicky Almasy
Shanghai may be one of the largest urban landscapes in the world, but it is also home to more than 330,000 hectares of farmland and boasts one of the highest yields per unit of crops in the country due to loamy soils and a sub-tropical climate.
These crisp autumn months are a boon growing time, too. Rampant pests and threats of mold are the bane of the summer farmer’s existence, so the cool weather comes as a relief. It’s also a great time to bundle up your kids and cart them out to the countryside for a tasty tutorial on where the contents of their dinner plate come from.
You might even get to sneak in a lesson about the joys of eating seasonally. While you could easily buy tomatoes from far-off lands or one of the other big farms nestled within city borders, those that are cherry red in November are ultimately raised either hydroponically and/or pumped full of fertilizers and CO2 gasses, leaving nothing behind but a mushy texture and ghostly, wan flavor.
The scientific jury is out on whether seasonal, organic fruits and vegetables actually contain more nutrients than their mass-produced cousins, but they certainly taste better – and come with fewer icky pesticide concerns.
Luckily for us, there is a growing group of eco-conscious agricultural establishments around town trying to entice shoppers into seasonal produce sans pesticides and other chemicals – and some of them are open and interested in showing city slickers exactly how they produce the fruits of their labor.
HED: What’s in your basket?
For an adventurous full-day excursion, Mahota Farms – a three-year-old sustainable farm on Chongming Island - is open to visitors all year. It also has by far the most varied and in-depth outdoor program. For a flat fee (RMB280/adult, RMB140/child under 1.3 meters) you get a day of activities includes a tour of the farm, the chance to plant and pick vegetables, feeding the animals, fishing, cycling, outdoor painting and Mahota hotpot for lunch. You also get a gift bag and fresh veggies.
Produce you might carry back in your tote includes eggplants, radishes, pumpkins and edamame. If you want a little more time away from the crazy Shanghai streets, they also offer an overnight retreat on the farm, courtesy of their high-end Mongolian yurts. In the evening, you’ll get an outdoor roast, access to karaoke and ping pong plus a complimentary breakfast. RMB800/two people, RMB140/child under 130 cm, children under 3 stay free.
Call 3966 6041 or visit www.themahota.com for more details.
// To simply buy veggies (and meat) without the travel time, visit their store at Room1002, City Point & M-Town, 666 Huaihai Xi Lu, by Kaixuan Lu 淮海西路666号中山万博国际中心, 近凯旋路(5489 1175)
For a brisk jaunt to the outskirts of Shanghai, Biofarm – 40 minutes away from the city center – is probably your closest bet. Located in Songjiang, they offer an open house every weekend where you can shop for your food at the source and let the kids run free and learn how to pick their own potatoes, sweet potatoes, lettuces and figs. They also offer private tours and group tours (if a bunch of families would like to go together). Cost (including lunch) is RMB120/person, RMB80/children 2-8 years old. Visit www.biofarm.cn or email email@example.com for more information.
// Biofarm also offers home delivery baskets priced at RMB99, RMB129 and RMB209 sent to your home once a week.
Interested in a fruitier adventure? Oddly enough, strawberry season at the Qingpu Zhaotun Strawberry Park starts a little bit later in the season - mid-December – so put that in your calendar. Visit their greenhouses and they’ll let you pick as many little red berries as you’d like. Cost ranges from RMB10-20/jin depending on market prices. There aren’t many restaurants in the area, so we’d suggest a picnic lunch.
Get there: Take a bus from Danshui Lu by the Huangpi Nan Lu Metro station with the destination marked Zhaotun 赵屯, RMB9/each way. Two buses leave per day at 8am and 9am.
// Qingpu Zhaotun Strawberry Park, Zhaotun Village, 11 Luopu Lu, by Laobaishi Lu 青浦区赵屯镇古浦罗浦路11号, 近老百石路 (13916025040 or 5921 7231)