We will begin in China.
The food safety situation, along with the pollution problem in major Chinese cities has been well publicized. I went to Beijing, the center of the pollution coverage and I was anxious to see what I would find there, would everyone be wearing masks, or minimizing their times outdoors? What do the Chinese eat if they are concerned about food safety? Are they even aware of their situation?
What I found amazed me, thousands of urban gardens along the highways. On the train towards the hotel from the airport when I was first seeing these urban farms (photo above) I wondered to myself is this common? Are they planted by people who wouldn’t otherwise have food? Is it public land? I came to find out that they are very common in each part of Beijing, and anyone that can grow their own food usually does whether in their house, or in an empty field near their house.
There are beautiful farmer’s markets, and several roadside vendors that offer their fruits and veggies, but from what I saw, many Chinese avoid them due to the uncertainty and lack of transparency in the environment that the produce was grown in, what pesticides they were treated with, what they came into contact with, along with many other concerns.
Most of the land in China is unsuitable for agriculture, and almost all of the water is not fit for human consumption. Once again, the Chinese are more aware of this then we are. They have to live with it, when their food is tainted they are the ones that are sick, or die. Just like us, they are looking for a way out. Throughout my trip I met several entrepreneurs that are looking at solving this situation and the market is very receptive.
There is an increase in the amount of rooftop gardens, along with urban farms, there is substantial research and investment going into greenhouses, and other alternative types of growth methods. There are new apps that allow them to scan the barcode of the food they are looking at, and it will show them where it was grown and how it was transported (I believe we have similar apps in the US).
Quite frankly the situation is very sad! Post-Revolution China was built mostly on the back of small farmers. Although many have relocated to large cities they still have several small farms, and a wonderful food system of local production, options in vendor and product and fresh, but this food system is being ruined by the few and far in-between farmers that cut corners and aren’t honest. It is also being hurt by factors outside of the farmers control such as the quality of water that they irrigate with, the acid rain that falls on their fields, or even the polluted land they have to work with.
These are my small general observations in a foreign place, and in a very complex system. Please take them as such.
Next will be a little bit about Italy, where I have relatives who are farmers.