Regenerating farming and community agriculture in China

In China in the last 10-15 years, a new generation of young (and less young) farmers and scholars have worked together to build collaborative and cooperative small-scale Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms and hybrid forms of collective vegetable gardens for “weekend farmers” and urban Farmers’ Markets are at the basis of this movement, which is sprouting rapidly.

While a small component of China’s agriculture, it potentially holds out ideas relevant to the key rural community involvement issues being explored by Government, farmers and consumers in China’s rural revitalization and food security programs.

Organic Long Jing Green Tea being grown in China

In mid November 2015, the 7th Chinese national Community Supported Agriculture conference took place in the Shunyi district, in the periphery of Beijing, and proposed as a ‘Slow Living’ region of China. Under the banner of “New Rural Regeneration”, the focus was on re-connecting rural and urban dwellers, short supply chains, “fair trade” and the “CSA‘s potential in mitigating both climate issues and food insecurity”.

In the last 5 years, more than 800 CSA initiatives have sprung to life around China, thanks to the work of a growing network of young, new farmers. The new Rural Regeneration is attracting young, highly qualified urban dwellers back to the land, bringing new energy and inspiration to rural areas that have been abandoned and depressed. The new farmers are inspired by the ecological and social innovation of this movement that combines producing healthy, organic food with a real economic alternative to the dominant agro-chemical industrial system. As explained by the organisers, “Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a movement that has taken hold independently in many countries around the world and shows how consumers and farmers in various places are responding to the same global pressures. CSA offers a model of farming in which consumers accept to share the risks and benefits with farmers. It provides mutual benefits and reconnects people to the land where their food is grown”.

Dr. Shi Yan, was the founder of the CSA movement in China and her team from the “Shared Harvest” CSA farms, which has partnered with the Tsinghua University and the municipal government of Shunyi District. The CSA network seeks to unite the farmers and consumers whose actions on a local level are benefiting the global community and ecosystems. The network promotes the principles of the CSA model to communities and builds alliances with grassroots partners with whom we share the ambition of achieving local Food Sovereignty, preserving biodiversity and working towards food justice.

In the periphery of Beijing – a megacity with a population of over 21 million people – there are entire villages that specialise in a form of agro-tourism, which links producers and consumers and domestic tourists in novel ways. Not only do they offer the possibility of cultivating and harvesting your own food, but you can also bring your children who can have a direct experience– through organised activities – of how the food is naturally grown as well as local folk culture; you can eat at the farm restaurant, and stay at local homes, hosted by the villagers.

New apps are being developed such as “Real Farm”, which connects CSA producers and consumers directly and allows to order online as well.

“Shared Harvest”, managed by Shi Yan and her husband, emerged as the hub for the CSA in China. It now employs 25 new farmers mostly graduates of the agricultural faculty of Renmin university. The farm activities provides food and activities for 500 families, four groups of parents from local schools, and organic clubs and restaurants in Beijing. Painted on the front wall of the main building is a phrase that says it all: “Who is your farmer? Where does your food come from?”

The Chinese people and the government are seriously concerned about food safety, pollution, as well as becoming more conscious consumers – and the growth of the CSA and rural regeneration movements is an optimistic component of Chiana’s reural revitalisation.

Source: RIPESS Europe,  23/03/2021.

See also: Dialogo Chino, February 6, 2019, ‘How e-commerce is reshaping organic farming in China’., Feb 2020. [see below]


Dr. Shi Yan is the executive director of Shared Harvest (Beijing) Ecological Agriculture Service Ltd. She received her PhD from the Renmin University School of Agricultural Economics and Rural Development and conducted her postdoctoral research at Tsinghua University’s School of Social Sciences.

As a young PhD student at Renmin University, she founded the first Community Supported Agriculture (CA) Farm in China, growing and distributing organic vegetables to city consumers and renting plots of land to city folk interested in getting their hands dirty. Since then, 500 similar CSA farms have opened across China.

Dr. Shi Yan

Dr. Shi Yan established Shared Harvest in Tongzhou and Shunyi in 2012 and has been an inspiration to communities across China to embrace healthier and more sustainable ways to feed a growing population. She is a pioneering force and active promoter of the Chinese organic Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) movement. She is the author of several books including ”My Alternative Farming Experience”,“Farmers of Forty Centuries: Organic Farming in China, Korea, and Japan”, and “Sharing the Harvest: A Citizen’s Guide to Community Supported Agriculture”.