10 minutes with Farm to Neighbors' Erica Huang

Time Out catches up with the founder of Beijing's biggest farmers' market

Aurelien Foucault
After moving to Beijing eight years ago and realising she didn’t feel her best, Taiwan native Erica Huang (pictured) started re-evaluating the food she was eating. She wanted to get smart about the things she was putting into her body. When she asked questions in local supermarkets and restaurants, however, she had a hard time getting answers on where her food really came from.

To satisfy this curiosity, Huang ventured out to local farms and visited artisan food makers. She learned about China’s food industry and met local experts who cared about their craft, their land and the products they were selling to families. If finding these foods was important to her, Huang thought, it must be important to others.

She began teaming up with these farmers to host a market, and Farm to Neighbors was born. Now you’ll find both Huang and the market in the basement of Liangmaqiao’s Grand Summit mall most weekends. While sipping fair trade Yunnan coffee and snacking on locally made French-style cheeses, she tells Time Out Family what’s next for the market.

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What can Beijingers do to eat smarter?
Learn what’s going into your meals. Cut down your meat intake and don’t order more than you can eat at restaurants. Educate yourself about food – marketing is dumbing down consumers.

How can they cut through that marketing?
There is so much about food production that needs to be known. Shoppers just receive what’s being given to us on food labels because we can’t communicate with the person that’s making it. If you have a question, you have no one to ask. This is the mission of Farm to Neighbors: if you don’t know, or you want to know, you can find the person who grows your veggies or makes your bread. If the vendor doesn’t happen to be there, we can give you his phone number or WeChat. It’s important to have a personal connection with the person making your food.

What projects are you planning for Food Revolution?
As the programme ambassador in Beijing, we’re planning a series of events and challenges. British chef Jamie Oliver started Food Revolution to tackle nutrition issues in schools in the UK and the US, and the programme has expanded to include nutrition education and food issues worldwide. One thing I’m excited to bring attention to is food waste. My team is still trying to figure out the best ways to go about it because in China, the food industry is not like in the West. We’re still trying to feel out the political climate and don’t want to piss off big companies. We always want to set out a positive tone.

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What are some major causes of food waste in China?
It’s caused in so many ways. It happens when you don’t finish the food on your plate. Because we buy cheap food, in markets and in restaurants, it has such a low value to us. It’s not important to us and it’s not important to save it. Then because we’re consuming more, farms have to produce a lot more, which ends up wasting resources – a vicious cycle.

Another major source of food waste is that we only pick food that looks nice and beautiful. So sometimes farmers end up with half of their crops thrown away before they’re even sold. Maybe they’re ugly shapes or have holes because the farmer doesn’t use pesticides. Buy those items!

Local munchies with a mission

Huang shares her picks for ethical eating in Beijing

Green Cow City Café

‘A real pioneering farm-to-table restaurant in town. I always get the kombucha – I passed my culture on to the owner and now he makes delicious drinks using it.’ 13 Sanfangjie, Jiuxianqiao, Chaoyang district

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Courtyard south of building 13 Sanjiefang (Liangmaqiao, --select--)

Naive Bakery

‘Their bakery is housed in Spoonful of Sugar in Qianmen. Some of the best baguettes and bread in Beijing.’ 59 Tieshu Xi Jie, Chaoyang district

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59 Tieshu Xiejie (Fengtai)

Green Bites Dumpling Bar (绿盒子蒸饺)

‘Rarely do I see a fully Chinese–owned restaurant so dedicated to using quality ingredients. The owner really goes out of his way; he often comes to talk to me about suggestions on where to get meat, flour and tofu.’ Multiple locations around town

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11 Fu'an Xi Lu (Changping)
  • 4 out of 5 stars
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