Shanghai organic farming goes high tech

Shanghai organic farming goes high tech

As Shanghaining are increasingly watching what they eat, the first digital system in China will let customers track the food every step of the way

Shanghai organic farming -- Yi Mu Tian -- mainSimple organic farms in Taiwan (above) are things of the past, high-tech Shanghai organic farms like Yi Mu Tian are the future for the industry.With a number of food scandals in China over the last few years combined with the country's overall rising affluence, it’s no wonder that Shanghaining are starting to keep a careful watch of what they put into their mouths. 

“In general, chefs and diners alike are increasingly concerned about eating well,” says Steve Liang, co-founder of Fields China, a supplier of gourmet foods, many of them organic as well as domestically grown.

“And, as availability of quality locally sourced food has increased, consumers have begun to take more of an interest in the origin of their food and how it was grown, processed and transported,” continues Liang.

Although a number of organic farms have surface to meet this need, one local farm has taken things to the next level, going high tech: the organic Yi Mu Tian farm on Chongming Island, just off the Shanghai coast, according to a recent report on Channel News Asia.

What exactly is digital organic? Well they’re still working that out, but the system, quite possibly the first in China, tracks produce for the farm, as well as for wary consumers, from field to delivery.

In general, chefs and diners alike are increasing concerned about eating well.— Steve Liang, co-founder of Fields China

Computers are involved in everything from temperature regulation and lighting to the soon-to-be-released “mobile devices to control watering, fertilizing and other processes,” says the report.

Starting in June 2011, customers will also be able to sign on and track the growth of their produce via camera.

The investment in the farm run, by Gao Chun Mao and two other partners, will cost the approximately RMB 5 million, which means that these veggies aren’t going to come cheap to customers. They’ll cost about six times more than what you’d find at a local wet market.

For some though, it’s worth it.

Yi Mu Tian sells directly to its customers, and its membership has grown from 2,500 in December last year to more than 4,000 this year.

As the level of local produce is improving, local chefs are catching on, and shifting from an “import everything” model to one that supports the local farms and economy.

“We use as much local produce as possible. Having that consciousness is the first step and it makes sense. We support the local economy and reduce emissions from not having to fly everything here,” says David Laris, veteran restaurateur and chef.

“We’ll use local foie gras in say, a soup or a dumpling, when the taste is equal to the imported stuff.”

Austin Hu is a new chef on the block who was raised in Shanghai but cut his teeth in New York's competitive dining scene. He opened Madison last year and uses caviar from Chinese sturgeon, foie gras from a farm on the outskirts of Shanghai, Chinese frisee and mi xian for salads and san huang chicken for roasts as well as local ricotta, gouda and Alpi pancetta.

“Except for cheeses, oils and chocolate, pretty much everything on the menu is from China,” Hu says.

“At this point in Shanghai, I can get 90 percent of the ingredients I had in the United States and use them in the same ways. But where’s the challenge? Besides supporting local farmers, I want my diners to trust me enough to try ingredients that may seem out of place in Western food and enjoy it,” says Hu.