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Tilling a field of dreams

By Fan Zhen ( China Daily ) Updated: 2014-01-10 08:09:56

Tilling a field of dreams

Xing Jianxin and Li Xia sell their organic rice at the Beijing Country Fair. They quit their jobs in the city to become farmers to promote healthy and safe food. [Photo provided to China Daily]

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What Xing Jianxin saw frightened him, and the former country boy made a decision to return home and start rehabilitating land 'addicted' to pesticides and chemical fertilizers. He tells Fan Zhen how he and his partner started their toughest assignment.

Xing Jianxin worked as a full-time photographer in Qiqihar, Heilongjiang province, and he often accompanied journalists when they covered agriculture-related issues.

He witnessed first hand how excessive use of pesticides had taken over the natural way food is grown, leaving farmers no choice but to keep using the artificial additives because they had become caught in a vicious cycle.

"The farmers genuinely believed pesticide was good at first because they were told so. But slowly, they found that their land had become 'addicted', and they could no longer stop using chemicals because nothing will grow otherwise," Xing says.

He also discovered a darker side of the market forces. Unscrupulous businessmen were buying chemical-tainted rice and labeling it "pesticide-free" or even "organic" even though it was clearly otherwise.

That bleak scenario got Xing thinking hard.

In 2008, he took on the huge commitment of leasing 12,000 square meters of land from his relatives and started planting truly organic rice.

In a parallel development, Li Xia, also from Northeast China, was having her own epiphany.

Like Xing, Li grew up in the countryside but left for the city at the age of 18, like many of her peers. While Xing pursued a career behind the lens, Li ended up doing administrative work in a State-owned company in Tianjin.

They met at an organic food project in 2010, and Li shared her concerns about food safety with Xing.

"It's been ages since I have tasted a mouthful of rice as earthy and good as what I ate as a child. I miss it so much."

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