A lit­tle slice of France in China

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE -

On the way to Martin Da­billy’s Meim­ing Rasp­berry Farm, Zhu Zhongyuan got lost on a sin­gle-street town about 10 kilo­me­ters from the county town of Song­ming, which is 51 km north­east of Kun­ming in Yun­nan province.

From the street, there are sev­eral nar­row side roads wind­ing into the coun­try­side. The of­fi­cial with the county’s pub­lic­ity depart­ment, even though he had been to the farm two or three times, couldn’t re­mem­ber which was the right road. “I re­mem­ber there is a big TV ad­ver­tise­ment painted on the wall at the en­trance of the road,” he mur­mured while driv­ing.

For­tu­nately ev­ery­one who looked like a lo­cal seemed to know how to find the French­man’s farm. Five min­utes later, Zhu drove onto Meim­ing’s pa­tio paved with gran­ite.

Martin Da­billy, 38, and his brother, Thomas, 40, were busy in their of­fice, which faces the pa­tio.

There is a map of the farm on the wall, on which plots with dif­fer­ent plants or dif­fer­ent num­bers and col­ors mark rasp­ber­ries grow­ing in dif­fer­ent stages. Next to the of­fice are the pack­ing room and the cold room, in which sev­eral women were busy pack­ing fresh rasp­ber­ries into small boxes by hands.

Martin and Thomas took us on a tour of their farm.

Big plas­tic green­houses tidily line both sides of a straight road over­grown with grass. Not only does the green­house help con­trol tem­per­a­tures, but it also pro­vides plants pro­tec­tion from pests and dis­eases, Martin said.

The grass is not the com­mon wild weeds but clover with white flow­ers. “It fixes ni­tro­gen, re­duc­ing the need for syn­thetic fer­til­iz­ers,” Martin said. Eu­ca­lyp­tus trees were also planted along the road, which was in­tro­duced by the French farmer as “a kind of wind­break”.

In a green­house grow­ing rasp­ber­ries, Martin showed us a drip ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tem that in­cludes a blue water­mark mon­i­tor, a de­vice that au­to­mat­i­cally takes soil mois­ture read­ings. Data down­loaded from the mon­i­tor can be eval­u­ated to de­ter­mine ways to im­prove the ir­ri­ga­tion sched­ul­ing for op­ti­mum re­sults.

“Depend­ing on our ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tem, we are ap­ply­ing wa­ter only where and when it is needed for wa­ter re­source op­ti­miza­tion,” Martin said.

At an open field plot, Martin pointed to a plant with large green leaves and crim­son red stalks and told us that it is rhubarb, a veg­etable that some say was in­tro­duced to Europe from China by Marco Polo. Its fresh, raw peti­oles (leaf stalks) are crispy and healthy. Meim­ing’s rhubarb can be found in some ho­tels and restau­rants in Shang­hai, Martin said.

We met Martin’s wife, Claire, in the fenced gar­den of their cot­tage. Claire was wa­ter­ing a tree in the gar­den with their dog. Ram­pant clovers cover the gar­den, to­gether with a va­ri­ety of plants.

The out­side of the cot­tage is painted red. The in­side is painted in a va­ri­ety of dif­fer­ent col­ors. An iron sheet fire­place dom­i­nates the liv­ing room. On the walls are repli­cas of French im­pres­sion­ist paint­ings.

In a for­eign land, Martin and his fam­ily have carved out a piece of French coun­try­side for them­selves.

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