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Party animal puts roots in organic soil

By Zhang Lei | China Daily | Updated: 2012-07-09 14:43

Party animal puts roots in organic soil

Much of Chino Martinez's time is devoted to his organic farm on the outskirts of Beijing. Provided to China Daily

In a restaurant near the Russian embassy in Beijing, Chino Martinez, basking in the warm weather, enthuses about life down on the farm.

Martinez, whose father is Chinese, says he partied for much of his first six years in Beijing, and, crowned with a fedora and shod with stylish Vans shoes, became a regular in Beijing nightspots.

But all that partying ground to a halt three and a half years ago when he rented an abandoned farm on the outskirts of Beijing, with his partner Huang Zhongde. Their ultimate goal: to turn it into an organic farm.

"The farm we rented is expensive, considering how much we can get it for now. In the first year we didn't really know about pricing and stuff like that. We paid 60,000 yuan ($9,500) for one year. It is funny: You don't really need a big farm to produce a lot of stuff. The key is to use every square centimeter efficiently, not wasting space, time and money."

It took two years to prepare soil and erect greenhouses. Soft soil and beds that are off the ground are better for the roots, and promote air circulation, he says. "Our yields are four times the size of traditional farming. We favor the square-foot method. One tomato plant uses 4 square feet (3,700 square centimeters). We put one tomato plant in the middle and fill out all the other areas with carrots and lettuce, which do not need a lot of sun."

Between the greenhouses are aisles of grass, protected by wire, to feed the chickens.

"Everything looks messy and leafy, but that's how nature does it. We plant seven kinds of grass here, including alfalfa, trefoil, corn grass and chicory, which meet chickens' basic needs."

The entire farm is 0.67 hectare. Newborn chicks need to brood in a greenhouse with high-voltage sodium lamps to keep them warm. Meanwhile, grass grows in the aisles. When the chickens are 10 centimeters tall, they are put in the grass aisles.

Their eggs sell at 2.5 yuan each, about five times the going rate for non-organic eggs. Last winter, they say, they supplied 300 eggs for a banquet at the US embassy for the US-China Forum on Arts and Culture.

The duo is moving operations to a farm in Jiuduhe town, in the mountains of Huairou, where rent is cheaper and water resources are better. The new farm is three times as large as the current one.

The pair rely on word of mouth to sell their eggs and produce for private customers, mainly expats, living in Beijing.

With Martinez's party life now on ice, he spends just one day a week in his apartment in downtown Beijing, and the rest on the farm.

When Martinez graduated from high school in Puerto Rico, his father sent him to Beijing, barely able to speak Chinese. That was solved by classes at Beijing Foreign Studies University.

"I have learned a lot over the past three years doing this," he says. "All of my family are so proud. My mother wants to work with me ... My father wants to invest money. Everyone is supporting me now.

"We struggled for something - that's when you really learn. Fortunately we made it out alive. I recommend to a lot of expats here to get out of the city to the countryside."

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