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Can Do in Chengdu: A Family Experience Part 1 of a Series: Get Your Greens with the Gaos Im in China six weeks,

and already missing my organic veggies, farmers markets and relationships with my farmers back home. Ive got three kids ages six and under, and the pressures on (okay, so its selfimposed) to find them some organic food. Enter our trip to the Gao family natural farm. Destination: Anlong village, Pixian, northwest of Chengdu. Arranger: our friend and resident anthropology student Matthew Hale. Six Westerners, one who knows Chinese fluently, and at one point, 27 Chinese people on one bus all worked together to figure out that the route from Pixians central bus terminal had changed. (Its a good thing to check. As of September 2009, take the #705, not #705q.) Soon enough, we meandered down a well-kept, rose- and tree-lined lane and entered the Gaos modest courtyard. The farm had so many interesting nooks and crannies. Wide strong baskets holding squashes, eggplants, and green and even red okra they grew from seeds given to them as a gift. Soybeans hanging up to dry. A row of five large pickling pots under the windowsill lined with Crest toothpaste tubes. Trellises with chayotes (Buddha-hand squash in Chinese) dangling beckoningly. Children delighting in discovering the pomelos hanging lusciously from the tree branches. (By the way, we had generously slathered on mosquito repellant, and were thankful later for the intact mosquito nets around our beds.) The Gaos know how to feed a crowd! And we know how to savor delicious home-style meals! With the Gaos expertly pulling out larger tabletops, multiple stools, bowls, and chopsticks, we all fit around one eating space. As theyre Buddhist, we ate vegetarian meals that left us satisfied. We didnt miss meat as we ate: sweet potatoes and other tubers, warmed peanuts, shimmering tofu with brown sauce, sweet-

potato greens (which was actually a fave with my eldest son back in the States), soup with okra, mushrooms and chayote; the Gaos own pickled greens and chilies; hearty protein-rich seitan and a bean-based mock-meat served up in different shapes and styles, garnished with green onion; and tender eggplant picked by my children. And the Gaos own brown rice, oh, sweet brown rice that Ive otherwise only been able to find at Metro! During our visit, I felt like we began to build community, despite having no shared verbal language. We were served tea with mint my boys helped pick. Gao Qingrong flashed her broad smile and showed me how to chop the vegetables and seitan (wheat meat). My boys had the job of scooping it into bowls. They especially loved feeding the wood-fired stove, which was a huge wok set flush with the counter. In the evening, we vigorously scooped up the harvested rice, poured it onto the top of the manually-powered winnowing fan, and winnowed out the chaff. We connected with the wider community. Coincidentally that day, friendly representatives from the Chengdu Urban Rivers Association and the Partnership for Community Development from Hong Kong assembled at the Gaos for a village workshop about composting techniques. Just as in the States, we saw the struggles of going organic. We saw vegetables that in some areas had fallen susceptible to pests. We saw the wonder of the natural way, too. We saw the various composting piles, and learned to use the special toilet that filters urine before it enters the water table. My kids figured out how to reconnect with nature, play with big sticks, and marvel at huge spiders. I took up-close shots of at least nine types of flowers in bloom. Best of all, we were able to sign up to receive semi-weekly shares. Vegetable delivery is Tuesdays and Fridays at various locations in and around Chengdu. We receive 5 jin (2.5 kilograms) that, at 4 yuan per jin, cost us 20 yuan per delivery. Now if we can just learn to cook like

the Gaos. Next trip? For more information on visiting and/or dining with the family, or signing up for vegetable delivery, contact Gao Yicheng at mobile: 13194990983. Chinese preferred, so enlist the help of your bestChinese-speaking buddy to set your visit up, if you dont feel up to the task. Or you can go through Matt (matthew.a.hale@gmail.com). Directions to the farm: From Jinsha Station in Chengdu, take #320 to Pixian Station (). From the, take bus #705 to Tiantai Shipin Chang (), where the Gaos can meet you beside the road.