Land Dyke Feminist Family Farm
Women Create Farming Community
The female farmers group “Land Dyke” has established a new model of communal living and farming, using environmentally friendly farming methods, while also engaging in exchanges with local farms to share good food and good ideas with a greater audience.
Women Create Farming CommunityBy Amber Lin
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 625 )
Every Wednesday night, Tsai Yen-ling, associate professor at National Chiao Tung University in Hsinchu, looks forward to the drive back to rural Yilan. After parking her car, she takes a deep breath, inhaling the fresh country air and listening to the croaking frogs and other sounds of nature. The entire process has a ceremonial touch that allows her to unwind from the pressures of her academic work and switch to farming mode.
Tsai, who teaches in the Graduate Program of Ethnicity and Culture at the College of Hakka Studies, is an anthropologist and a member of the Yilan-based Land Dyke Feminist Family Farm.
The group, which presently has six members, was founded by social activist Shawn Wu and two friends in early 2012. Tsai joined a few months later.
The name Land Dyke was coined by American eco-feminists in the 1970s at the height of the back-to-the-land movement. Its Chinese equivalent means roughly “Using the land to attract people”.
Understanding Rural Practices
This group of women is trying to practice living in a rural village as a “diverse family.” First, they lived in Hsinchu while running an experimental farm in the Daxi District of what was then Taoyuan County. But in 2014 they decided to live and work in the same place, and chose to relocate to Yilan, Tsai's native home, to build a long-term perspective for their project.
The Land Dyke members learned how to grow vegetables from 73-year-old Chu Mei-chiao, a veteran local vegetable farmer. They decided to build their farm on the Lanyang Plain around paddy fields with rice cultivation as the main crop and vegetables and grains as supplementary crops. At the same time, they are promoting food and farming education through various activities such as writing educational books, running a book store and organizing seminars in rural villages.
The creek-side vegetable garden at the farm in Sanxing Township’s Dazhou Village boasts a lush, green growth of various leafy vegetables.
For Tsai, as an academic and social activist, and Land Dyke, their involvement in farming is rooted in the desire to provide consumers with safe food that was grown with friendly farming methods.
But four years into the project, they still face many obstacles.
“When your neighbor sprays pesticides, and farmers upstream on the Lanyang River use chemical fertilizers, we are certain to be affected,” explains Tsai.
“When you actually work in the fields, you come to understand that wind, water and air are all in circulation, and that the soil is interconnected. Against this backdrop, the idea of a pure, environment-friendly farming environment is not only difficult to put into practice but also unrealistic.”
Land Dyke, however, insists on its principles and values as far as it can control. For instance, after grains have been dried, they are not treated with chemical preservatives. They collect hungry snails from plants by hand rather than killing them with organic methods.
“We want to become a different kind of farmer; we are willing to put in more work,” declares Tsai. There are many paths for realizing friendly agriculture. At Land Dyke, the pursuit of diversity has become more pronounced over the past years. Tsai believes that Taiwan’s agricultural model is the result of a collective choice by society, but other farmers should not be measured against the same standard.
A Diverse Support System
What kind of difficulties has Land Dyke faced in recent years? Tilting her head to one side, Tsai takes her time pondering this question.
Since Land Dyke moved to Yilan, income from rice cultivation has been enough to cover the commune’s living costs. Presently, they are moving toward the goal of paying contract farmers a reasonable remuneration. After running the farm for four years, the Land Dyke farmers have already reached a considerable sales volume thanks to their large network of friends and social activists.
Their strategy of growing a vast variety of crops in small quantities is also paying off because they face less selling pressure and can meet customer demand for a broad selection of foodstuffs. They have also developed processed food products that can be sold at a premium.
Tsai considers herself lucky. Normally the threshold to making a living as a farmer is rather high.
However, the communal living that the Land Dyke members chose allows them to farm while pursuing a career or other interests and provides them with the necessary emotional support in everyday life.
While the other group members spend time gaining farming knowledge by asking veteran farmers for advice and conducting exchanges with farming novices, Tsai can continue her academic endeavors alongside working on the farm. Until last year, farming was more of a hobby or personal interest for Tsai. But she has in the meantime taken full responsibility for a rice field with a surface area of 1.6 fen (about 1,500 square meters).
“We believe that if we live a good life, we can grow delicious food and share it with friends. As long as body and mind are stable, our group members will commit themselves even more to friendly agriculture, since helping ourselves means also helping others,” Tsai points out.
Food and Farming Education
Tsai also holds courses at the university to push her food and farming education agenda.
On average, she teaches one course on “urban-rural relationships in Taiwan” per year. One week she lectures about the structural problems of the global food and farming system, and one week is devoted to the “local classroom” that collaborates with local farmers in Hsinchu, taking students to help on farms so that they learn by doing what friendly agriculture is, how to face problems and how to search for solutions.
Tsai believes that everyone “participates in Taiwan’s agriculture by eating three meals a day.” True food and farming education must make every food consumer someone who lives and eats consciously. It also requires policy guidance from the government, according to Tsai, or else it will not be possible to create a positive cycle and influence the mode of production that farmers choose.
Every single consumer bears responsibility to make sure that we do not have to worry about the safety of our food.
Translated from the Chinese by Susanne Ganz