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What does the Year of the Dog hold in store for the farmers of Dingjiaping?

A bit of history plus the RoH team's hopes for Dingjiaping and rural China in 2018 and beyond.


Image: The river running through Dingjiaping caresses the webbed feet of Goose-Form Mountain 鹅形山 where the Dingjiaping Farming Cooperative has aggregated the community's land. Beyond the winter fog, the water meets the Yuan River for a casual stroll. Passing the port city of Tongwan it bends severely to the east for Dongting Lake. From Dongting the water is in for a long journey along the Yangtze to Shanghai. Dingjiaping is east of the city Huaihua, Hunan in China.

· Travel,Food,Crowdfunding,Permaculture,Eco-tourism

Note: I will try to keep everyone updated about our campaigns, new insights about the farmers history, and the Dingjiaping design progress going forward! ~ Philip

"What if you could save the planet by eating better food?" - [Polyfaces] (the film)


" . . . the first step is up to you, and the second step can only come after you've taken the first step." - Joel Salatin in [Polyfaces]

It is 2018 and the year of the Earth Dog is afoot, but what does that mean? In English we have a phrase " work like a dog". In China the tenacious and loyal employee is called 加班狗 (overtime dog). Well, according to the Chinese Zodiac this is a year when unity and understanding will reward all of us for hard work and diligence. All of the above interpretations seem appropriate for what I hope is in store this year for our farmers of Dingjiaping.

Below: Girls are back home from boarding school before Chinese New Year, Playing: Mother Hen protects her chicks from the fox in red. Feb 5, 2018. They keep us entertained while dinner is prepared. . . Hot Pot!

Girls Playing: Mother Hen protects her chics from the fox in red

Year of the Dog Crowdfunding Campaign

In China there is a saying "The success of a year's plans rest upon the efforts of Spring" (一年之计在于春). It is in the spirit of these wise words that we have launched our first Shanghai-based, team-supported crowd funding campaign on Zhongchou. The success of this campaign will convince a small draft of twelve farmers to remain in the village Dingjia to farm after the Chinese New Year celebrations, rather than returning to their migrant work in both nearby and distant cities.

Roughly for the past three years, RoH has been working hard to supply more Shanghai families with good, clean, fair produce from our Hunan farmers. However, with very few young men and women in the village, it is difficult to organize production, gather orders, and keep things organized for order fulfillment. This has been a major hurdle to ramping up ecological food production, which is labor-intensive on its own. On the flip-side, farmers face too great a risk staying in the village without a reliable income. We need more Shanghai families to order regular deliveries so that the farmers' income can be assured. It is a typical start-up chicken-and-egg dilemma.

Our crowdfunding strategy aims to address this issue, securing sales commitments that remove most of the farmers' startup risk. Future campaigns will aim to attract permanent supporters for the farmers, connecting them directly to several urban families that will buy from them fresh, naturally grown produce. Farmers keep most of the revenue, just as it should be! Nature's stewards deserve gainful compensation.

Further campaigns on Zhongchou and other platforms like indigogo and gofundme will be used to build the community and its infrastructure, which I will discuss below. To keep up to date on what we are doing, follow us on wechat or facebook, or both. We also appreciate shares of the campaign and small donations. If we can manage to make it 'trend' on the crowdfunding app, we could reach a larger audience which could lead to new customers finding us.

Above: The old village of Dingjiaping, much of which was demolished to make room for the high-speed railway bridge (upper left) sits on the east foot of Goose-Form Mountain (鹅形山). A new community is in the making on the mid-slopes of the mountain. Many of the houses here are abandoned, but the vegetable fields and household pomelo orchards yield generously still. A dam to the Northwest has perhaps made delivery of sustainably harvested timber to markets more carbon-intensive, as had happened to the Kam in Caiyuan (see link).

I often refer to Dingjiaping as a typical Chinese 'village interrupted'. When the high-speed railway from Changsha to Huaihua was constructed, the villagers had no choice but to move. Some houses remain, but are technically abandoned as a precautionary measure against the risk of landslides in the wake of the heavy construction. Considerable land was appropriated for concrete mixing and worker housing. Some time before this, a dam was constructed just northwest of the village. Now, the river that splits old-town Dingjiaping from the newly constructed housing does not flow for much of the year. As an American, it is hard for me to imagine the impact of such a disruption to millennia of self-reliant mountain village life.

I learned on my last trip to Dingjia that the village here was something of a seat of leadership for the Yang clan, and for more than 20 km upstream there were familial ties and interesting 'history' - all oral history. For thousands of years the main economic export was timber from Chinese fir and pine as construction material. Also there was (and is) camphor and catalpa, excellent for furniture. The oil of Camila was pressed to make the best cooking oil and tang oil preserved the wood of local houses for hundreds of years.

The mission of Rainbow of Hope, and the current crowdfunding campaigns, is to provide good, clean, fair food to Shanghai and Beijing families. Buying direct form these farmers allows them to remain on the land, maintaining and living in harmony with the landscape while providing for the needs and future opportunities of their children and elders. The vision; however, is much more than merely this.

A Permaculture Village

Above: Our hope for rural villages is well-described by this schematic from Permaculture: a Designers Manual by Bill Mollison

Below: People-powered cooperatives compose a network to bring meaningful change and regenerative sustainability to more farmers, and more food eaters. RoH is one of the first steps in our journey to make the world better than we left it. An early draft. See some inspiring cooperative organizations such as Mondragon, CCA and ICA to get an idea where we are headed.

The farmers' plans for Dingjiaping

Through his experience and serendipitous meetings with sustainability experts of various occupations, leaders in their respective fields, Fred Yang and his community have begun to envision a new future for Dingjiaping.

The first step is to get farmers back into the community, and give them the confidence to reinvest in their ancestral home. City life isn't for everyone, after all, and the land here is accustomed to it's people. Our current and future crowdfunding campaigns aim to achieve this in stages for the next 6 months.

With people on the land it will be time to lay infrastructure, build houses, and erect a community center. The community center will provide various services and public amenities, host events, meetings and ceremonies. It will be equipped with a tele-medicine center and perhaps house the local community credit union and other community-owned property.

The houses will be built mainly of traditional materials in a traditional way, but with some upgrades for comfort, energy efficiency, and productivity based on appropriate application of modern technologies.

The infrastructure will be laid out in such a way as to capture energy and water flows, cascading through a series of catchments, stores, uses, and biological treatments. Water will be used and purified many times before finally heading downstream to Shanghai, producing even more food as it goes.

We hope that construction of infrastructure, houses and the community center can begin this year.

More objectives for the future.

The village will welcome guests: eco-minded tourists, students, artists, professionals and more. There will be a training center for cooperative management and permaculture: mushroom cultivation, ecological farming, biodynamic techniques, soil building, renewable energies. The ambitious list of future activities goes on. The village will be a demonstration site, so people from the area and from around the world can see it all in action or stay to learn.

Our team will coordinate food festivals and other events on the village grounds. This will help us build the capacity to perhaps host an International Permaculture Convergence in Dingjiaping in 2022!

In Conclusion. . .

Anything is possible once people are on the land, and it can only start one of two ways:

  1. Farmers risk their life's savings to start farming for customers they don't yet have
  2. People like you and me can choose to buy our food directly from farmers who will keep the lions share of revenue and reinvest it in their communities. 

The second choice is clearly a win-win because the price is reasonable, and you know exactly where the food comes from. You can visit or chat with your farmer about how they produce.

At RoH our mission is not to merely ship food from Hunan to Shanghai; rather, it is to bridge communities and empower people to live an abundant and joyful life, whether in cities or in the hills by connecting them through food. We aim to provide tools and guidance for the benefit of communities on both sides, so if you choose to save the world by eating better food, you can.

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