China Farm Stay at Sun Family Farm

In MY ARTICLES, My Farming Experiences by James9 Comments

From August 1st through the 16th I was traveling in China for the first time. I live in Seoul, South Korea, and visiting China was something I wanted to do before I left Asia – so I did it. I traveled to Chengdu, which is the capital city of the Sichuan province located in the southern part of China. The area is most famous for its food, Chengdu won its bid to be named a UNESCO City of Gastronomy, making it the first city in Asia to be awarded such an accolade, and the second in the world (the first, in 2005, was Popayan in Colombia). The taste of Sichuan cuisine gravitates around the Sichuan pepper corn which they call “Ma.” It was my favorite flavor experience of the trip – the pepper leaves a strange but likable tingling sensation on your tongue and lips – it’s not that hot/spicy/ painful but the sensation is like nothing I’ve experience before, and kept me wanting more. The first part of my trip I explored Chengdu and surrounding areas. My friend Kota Fukuyama and his wife Sachi joined me after a few days and we all traveled to Jiuzhaigou National park, one of China’s most scenic areas and most visited national park in the country. It’s located close to Tibet high in the mountains and the water is crystal clear and has a blue color that doesn’t look quite real. After Jiuzhaigou we all traveled to a farming village where we’d spend the next week. This article is about that experience, as after all this blog is about farming.

Dragon Rider Village and the Sun Family Farm

I originally discovered Mr. Sun’s farm via the WWOOF China website. Mr. Sun does not speak English, but a family friend of his answered my emails and was instrumental in setting up our trip to his farm – thanks Gina! If you do plan to visit Mr. Sun’s farm it’s better to have been studying Chinese enough to have small basic conversations, or bring a friend who speaks – I brought my Japanese friend Kota who speaks Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and English! Thanks for your effort and help Kota!

The farm’s name is Sun Family Farm – 孙家农场 – and it is run and operated by Mr. Sun – 孙文祥 – and his wife 鲜芝慧. The farm is located in Qilong Village – 骑龙村 – which translates to “Dragon Rider” village. The village is in the area of Dongyue-zhen – 东岳镇, which is in Hongyha-xian – 洪雅县, part of Meishan City – 眉山市, and in Sichuan Province – 四川省. Coming from Cengdu the capital city of Sichuan, it’s about a two and a half hour bus ride with one transfer in Hong Ya.

View looking from the House

View From the House

First Impressions

After an hour long local bus ride from Hong Ya we arrived at the entrance road of the village. Mr. Sun and another farmer had driven to the entrance to greet us and pick us up. We drove back to the farm, deep into the village. Mr. Sun’s house sits atop a hill and has a great view of the village and surrounding mountains. Mr. Sun and his friend were very welcoming. He let us choose our rooms out of four rooms available – all had big beds and windows. The living room area was open and comfortable – and has a nice T.V. and WiFi. Attached to the house is what seems to be an older building where a traditional style kitchen with a wood fueled duel Wok stove top is used for most of the cooking duties. The kitchen leads to the back where fresh water is available which is pumped from a nearby water well. After showing us around the house we soon met Mrs. Sun who had been preparing our lunch. Mrs. Sun in my opinion is the best part of Sun Family farm. She has one of the brightest and warmest smiles I’ve ever come across and she wears it always. Not one time did I see her lose her patience or get angry. She spent most of her day cooking for us and doing various farm chores. She was always doing something, and always was in the brightest of moods. Being around her and seeing her everyday was one of the great pleasures of staying at the farm – her bright smile and attitude was infectious. Aside from her pleasing personality it was her home cooked meals that made the farm stay so very memorable. Every meal varied with flavor and ingredients and we ate three big meals a day. Also living at the Sun house is Mr. Sun’s father. He’s in his early 70’s and doesn’t say much, but is very friendly, and stays active most of the day working on various projects. He also enjoys smoking his home grown organic tobacco using a traditional pipe.

Mr. Sun

Mr. Sun

Mrs. Sun

Mrs. Sun

Grandpa Sun

Grandpa Sun

The House

The House

What They Grow and Raise

The Sun Family grows rice, corn, and a variety of other vegetables. In addition to crops they raise truly free range chicken and ducks – you can see them walking around the property on a regular basis. They also raise pigs, which are comfortably sheltered and fed a spectacular diet of organic grasses, plants, corn and rice. The pork was easily the best flavored pork I’ve experienced – a direct result of the quality of diet and good husbandry practices. They practice eco-friendly organic farming, so for fertilizer they use their livestock manure plus an enzyme they ferment. Another interesting aspect is the freedom the animals have. The chickens, ducks, and some little pigs roam freely around the house and farm along with the family dog and cat. And they all get along! There are no animal on animal assaults on the farm.

Sun Family Farm Animals 

Mrs. Sun’s Amazing Food

Perhaps the most memorable part of staying with the Sun family was the food. It seemed as though Mrs. Sun was cooking all day, and many days she was. We ate three great meals each day, and always to my surprise Mrs. Sun managed to put new twists to the food preparations, and surprise us with new food, and it never disappointed.

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The Gas System or Why Doesn’t the Pig House Stink? 

After talking to Mr. Sun Kota wrote an explanation about the gas system and drew a diagram showing how it works:

Mrs. Sun sweeps the floor of the pig house 3 times a day. The excrement goes to a huge tank under the house and it produces methane gas. All the gas they use in the kitchen and bathroom is all provided by this system. After the excrement gets fermented and gives off methane, there is liquid manure left, which doesn’t smell strong and is ready to be used as fertilizer.
According to Mr. Sun, this home produced gas system started becoming popular around China’s countryside around 10 years ago. The government covers 75% of construction cost, though you are required to initially pay the full cost up front. (However, Sun family hasn’t got the expense reimbursed  even after 2 years since they built the system, and they don’t know when they can get.) It’s quite popular in China now. It is common to build this system when they rebuild or newly build the house. A lot of households in this village also have this system.

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Community

The thing that stood out the most for Kota and myself was the community bond within the village. Every day there were new people stopping by, and although some of that had to do with us, it was not a new experience for them to have neighbors come over and help out and chat. We experienced the same close bond as we walked through the village several times during our stay. Farmer Sun switched to organic farming two years ago, and with him about 4% of the village followed. A year later the number jumped to 16% percent. Although not all the farmers have switched they still have the common bond of farming, and it’s Mr. Sun’s goal to show the other farmers how eco-friendly farming can not only be healthier for bodies and the land, but will also produce more profit. After two short years he’s already proven it to himself, he now would like to help others make the conversion.

Vision for the Future

As I mentioned the adoption of organic farming in the village is fairly new, but catching on. There is a lot of work to be done, particularly in the areas of marketing. Mr. Sun currently promotes his farm through the Chinese version of Twitter called Weibo. However we emphasized the importance of him establishing a website, and using email. Getting foreigners to visit the farm is a big deal for the farmers and the village government. They had hosted foreign visitors before us, but not many, and every time more guests come it builds credibility and trust among the villagers. When we were there a news team from the Hong Ya came to the farm and area for the day. They filmed around the farm and interviewed everyone, including myself and Kota. It was Mr. Sun’s first time on T.V. and he said it was a great honor for him. As of now Mr. Sun and other farmers are selling their products through a middleman company and as a result he’s not making nearly as much as he can be. However he is two and half hours away from one of China’s biggest, wealthiest, and good food loving cities – Chengdu. Once he finds ways to reach consumers there directly which we’ll try to give him ideas on how to do so, his income could easily double or triple. In addition to selling directly there is a big opportunity for hosting people who want to have a farm stay experience. The Sun’s love hosting, and it’s a great way from them to add another enterprise onto their farm. For big harvests and times when they need a lot of extra hands they can tap into the WWOOF network which they’re already signed up for.

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Final Thoughts of a Wannabe Farmer

This trip for me was another perspective builder on the farming lifestyle. The last big trip I took for a farming experience was two years ago in Australia. This trip was different in many ways. The farmers I stayed with in the Village are full time farmers who make their entire living on the farm. They make very little, but they provide all of their own food, high quality food, and love what they do. The biggest attraction for me was the connection between farmer, land, animals and community. Human beings are all different and have an infinite amount of wants and desires, but there was a strong common thread of community running through the village and it’s this that impressed me and attracted me most. I’ve been focusing a lot lately on the economic aspects of farming which for sure is important, but I had strayed from what attracted me to it in the first place – the lifestyle – the daily rhythm of farm life. It was refreshing and reaffirming to be on a farm and in a village that was operating the way I envisioned my ideal farming community. During our stay there was not much work to do, so we were able to tour around the village, and relax and enjoy good conversation and food. In a few weeks the rice harvest will begin and the farm will be bustling and busy with long works days. It’s this seasonal change of daily life that is a big attraction to me. I don’t want to do the same thing every day and farm lifestyle provides for variety. If you’re reading this post and would like to visit the Sun Family farm they’d love to have you. During our stay we paid 90 CNY or about $14 a day which included three daily feast-like meals and comfortable clean lodging. If you go during the busy season you could exchange your labor for lodging and food. My stay at the Sun Family Farm was the most memorable part of my China trip, and I hope to make it back in the near future. If you have any questions about contacting them or planning a trip you can send me a message and I can set you in the right direction to make it happen. Thanks for reading, and a big thank you to the Sun Family for such a memorable experience. And one more big thanks to Kota Fukuyama who was a master translator and fantastic travel partner.

Kota's wife, Sachi, painted this for the Sun Family

Kota’s wife, Sachi, painted this for the Sun Family

As of now Mr. Sun is active on Weibo which is Chinese Twitter, and he’s also very active on WeChat (ID: A080673) which is another social networking tool where you can send free messages, photos, videos and post as well. You can follow or find him there. In the future he’ll have a website setup. 

Mr. Sun’s Business Card 

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Comments

  1. Addye Thole

    Loved every word!! Mr. Sun’s farm sounded so wonderful!! So glad you shared this farming experience and the awesome community of harmony from Mr. Sun & his wife, and the villagers and Kota & Sachi with all of us!!! What a wonderful adventure!! 🙂

  2. Pascal

    Thanks for sharing your stay at the Sun Family. I worked there with my girlfriend last month and it’s her who helped setting up a weibo for them. It’s nice to read your story, and quite frankly it sounded just like ours!
    I hope they can reach out more in the future. Such passionate farmers!
    Yay!
    Pascal

  3. Author
    James

    Hi Pascal, thanks. I think I read your comment in Mr. Sun’s book he leaves for visitors to write in. Great job helping him set up Weibo – he’s becoming a pro. 🙂 How did you find this post by the way? I shared it with Mr. Sun and perhaps he sent it out on Weibo? Thanks for reading, hopefully more people can have the experience we had with the Suns. 🙂

  4. BJ Bollier

    James, you are so well spoken, as an avid organic back yard farmer,I loved your perspective and thoughts. It is so interesting to see something I may have never otherwise been exposed to, for that thank you.

    1. Author
      James

      Hi BJ, thanks for the kind words! I’m glad you enjoyed it. It was certainly a rare opportunity, and I’m grateful to have experienced it and am able to share with people who see the value in it, like yourself. 🙂

  5. Travis

    James, I found this post very inspiring and interesting. What a cool way to travel and experience a new place; the Sun Farm sounds like a paradise! Thanks for sharing and keep up the good work!

    1. Author
      James

      Hi Travis, thanks for reading and commenting, and I’m happy to hear you found it inspiring. It certainly was one of those places that don’t seem quite real, even when you’re there.

  6. Pingback: Thoughts of a Wannabe Farmer – Three Years Later | I Wanna Farm

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