A little slice of France in China
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.