Ur­ban farmer inds niche grow­ing or­ganic Chi­nese veg­gies for the Van­cou­ver mar­ket

Metro Canada (Vancouver) - - FRONT PAGE - Wanyee li

Farm­ing wasn’t the dream ca­reer Caro­line Chiu’s par­ents had in mind for their daugh­ter, but the bud­ding en­tre­pre­neur has found that or­ganic Chi­nese veg­gies are a hit in Van­cou­ver.

The 28-year-old started her half-an-acre farm in Rich­mond, called Riverside Farm, af­ter com­plet­ing farm school at Kwantlen Polytech­nic Univer­sity two years ago.

She tapped into her own comm­nunity to find suc­cess in Van­cou­ver’s rapidly grow­ing lo­cal­food scene.

“We grow Chi­nese veg­eta­bles, so a lot of our cus­tomers are Chi­nese be­cause they want those or­ganic Asian greens which you can’t re­ally find any­where here,” said Chiu.

“When you go to farm­ers mar­kets, you don’t see a lot of baby bok choy or gai lan or choy sum, which is what I want to grow be­cause that’s what I eat as a sta­ple green at home.”

But grow­ing Chi­nese greens, known as “choy,” in the Lower Main­land is not new.

In fact, more than 90 per cent of pro­duce grown in the Lower Main­land in the 1920s was cul­ti­vated by Chi­nese farm­ers in a sys­tem seg­re­gated by racist poli­cies of the time, ac­cord­ing to his­to­rian Kay An­der­son, au­thor of Van­cou­ver’s Chi­na­town.

Even to­day, some Chi­nese house­holds con­tinue to cul­ti­vate veg­etable gar­dens in their yards, es­pe­cially in East Van­cou­ver neigh­bour­hoods.

But larger scale Chi­nese veg­etable farms don’t usu­ally fol­low or­ganic prac­tices, said Chiu.

At Riverside Farm, Chiu grows or­ganic bok choy, gai lan, choy sum, gai choy, and siu choy — sta­ples in any Chi­nese house­hold.

She de­liv­ers those veg­eta­bles to 37 fam­i­lies through­out the grow­ing sea­son. She chose to go with a Com­mu­nity-Sup­ported Agri­cul­ture (CSA) model be­cause it would give her a se­cure form of in­come. In CSAs, cus­tomers pay for the goods up­front and re­ceive prod­uct through­out the sea­son.

Chiu also grows Western veg­eta­bles like squash and kale, but it was her de­ci­sion to grow choy that earned her cus­tomers.

Many of Chiu’s cus­tomers came to her specif­i­cally be­cause they wanted lo­cal or­ganic Chi­nese veg­eta­bles, she said.

It ap­pears other farm­ers have no­ticed the de­mand, too.

Van­cou­ver mar­kets saw a five to 15 per cent in­crease in the sale of Asian veg­eta­bles and a 10 per cent in­crease in the num­ber of Asian shop­pers in 2016, ac­cord­ing to Van­cou­ver Farm­ers’ Mar­ket.

Chiu sold her veg­eta­bles at the Kwantlen Street Farm­ers’ Mar­ket last year and says she saw the de­mand grow­ing first hand. She chat­ted with Chi­nese se­niors and in­tro­duced them to the idea of or­ganic and GMO-free pro­duce.

“There is in­ter­est be­cause they come back ev­ery week and they say, you’re right the veg­gies are so much tastier,” she said.

Sell­ing pro­duce at mar­kets gives farm­ers the op­por­tu­nity to chat with cus­tomers and get a sense of what the lat­est food trends are — and in Chiu’s case, dis­cover an un­tapped niche in the lo­cal food scene.

“I think the new im­mi­grants, the next gen­er­a­tion of Asian Cana­di­ans will start to be more ac­tive in this lo­cal food move­ment and will de­mand for health­ier or­ganic food.”

But per­suad­ing her im­mi­grant par­ents to al­low her to pur­sue her pas­sion of farm­ing was a chal­lenge.

“My par­ents, typ­i­cal im­mi­grant fam­ily, they wanted me to be a sci­en­tist,” she said.

Chiu was born in Rich­mond and spent her child­hood in Hong Kong be­fore re­turn­ing as a 14 year old. De­spite grow­ing up in the city, Chiu wanted a hand­son job that tied nicely with her in­ter­est in food eco­nom­ics. So, she be­came a farmer.

She en­rolled in Kwantlen’s farm school and leased a half-acre of farm­land from their in­cu­ba­tor pro­gram af­ter she grad­u­ated.

This past sea­son, she and busi­ness part­ner Jen­nifer Cline made $10,000 grow­ing lo­cal or­ganic veg­gies.

tends to her farm in Rich­mond.


Caro­line Chiu on her farm in Rich­mond on Sept. 28.

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Caro­line Chiu

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