With growing wealth, concerns about food safety and the fever for online shopping, more urbanites are taking to farming on their own terms. Zheng Jinran reports in Beijing.
The perfect storm of two major trends in China - online shopping and growing concerns about food safety - has given birth to a generation of urban farmers.
More urban residents, many of whom are young people between the ages of 25 to 35 living in metropolises such as Beijing, are growing vegetables and herbs on their balconies or rented farmland in the suburbs, and turning to Taobao, a major online shopping service provider in China, to start their apartment gardens.
Online searches for vegetable seeds at Taobao has increased by 280 percent over the past year, according to the company.
"That means, every day, more than 6,000 people went to online shops at Taobao expecting to buy seeds and tools that can convert their balconies into a small vegetable garden," says Lu Qi, a public relations officer from Taobao.
Xue Ling, 26, has been planting vegetables on the balcony of her apartment in Jinan, capital of Shandong province, since 2010. "It's the only way to keep my food, at least the vegetables, clean and safe," she says.
"Then I found out that many of my friends have realized the importance of eating vegetables. They have been busy planting this year and asked for my help to get tools for them," says Xue, who opened a shop for vegetable seeds in April because of the demand. "The sales in my shop are much higher than I expected. More than 2,000 bags of seeds have been sold since then," she says.
"They plant vegetables not to save money but to guarantee food safety," Lu says.
A number of food scandals have rocked the nation in recent years, including the discovery that cucumbers were found with contraceptives and another incident where leeks were found filled with toxic pesticides. The latest crop to join the list of tainted foods is the Yantai apple, which were found wrapped in paper bags containing chemicals.
Xu Jian, 36, an urban farmer in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, spent about 1,000 yuan (S$202) in seeds and organic fertilizer on farmland he rented. He paid 3,560 yuan to rent the 30-square-meter farmland for two years. But the move did not come without its consequences: His mother moved out of their hometown to help him plant the vegetables.