2015 Student-Faculty Fellows Program: SUNY New Paltz
Urban Farms in Chongqing, China:
Examining the opportunities and Challenges of Food Production in the City
Mentors: Melissa Yang Rock and Salvatore Engel-Di Mauro, Department of Geography
Students: Marian Chen’15, Melissa Iachetta’15, Aidan Mabey’17, Kevin McGill, Joanne Zhao’16
By 2030 over seventy percent of China’s population will be living in urban areas. This large scale movement of China’s rural population into urban areas serves as both a challenge and opportunity to better understand the ways in which processes of urbanization, demographic change, and urban farming can intersect to support the creation of sustainable food systems. This project examines the viability of urban farms for feeding an increasingly urbanized population. The research team travelled to Chongqing and carried out the project between 1 and 28 July. Areas were identified for transect walks, transect walks were conducted, and contacts were made with urban farmers. Translators were later briefed about protocols for the interview process. By the time translators were engaged, all transect walks had been completed and the areas visited were revisited to seek interviewees. Within the latter two weeks, thirty interviews were completed, notes were assembled, and data processing protocols were established. In the meantime (but also prior to fieldwork), plans were discussed and finalized with students regarding options in continuing the work and in divulging findings following fieldwork completion, data processing, and analysis. Thanks to a successful proposal for a paper presentation, one venue where we will share our findings will be through a paper presentation at the forthcoming New York Conference on Asian Studies, to be held at Vassar College. This is in addition to the poster presentation to be exhibited at the forthcoming ASIANetwork meeting in St. Petersburg, Florida. In addition, the paper resulting from the conferences will be turned into a manuscript for publication. So far, the objective is to publish our findings in the peer-reviewed Middle States Geographer and possibly in ASIANetwork Exchange.
Our summer of research in Chongqing was a period of constant learning and incredible growth. My views of the world, of research, and of myself were all challenged. I learned a great deal about collaboration: collaboration with members of a research team, and collaboration between researchers and subjects. I also learned how rewarding it is to collect qualitative data. It is gratifying to be able to assign stories and lives with research results, and it is a humbling experience to be trusted with stranger’s stories. One of the largest lessons that was reinforced by this summer is that people are people. American, Chinese, we are all the same. As much as this summer made me think about how big the world is and how many stories there are, it also made it feel incredibly small. We are all closer than we think. As a team we rose above challenges we faced, the language barrier, oppressive heat and humidity, and the fact that we were easily recognizable as foreigners. Overall this summer has left me feeling empowered. I wrote a grant and went and did research in a country where I did not speak the language, and produced a larger body of work than I ever expected, which will be analyzed for viable results. That is not a chance very many people get, especially as an undergrad. I am incredibly thankful to both ASIANetwork, and our research team for the work we were able to achieve this summer in China.
In China we began transcribing our notes into a digital format and labeling our pictures. Back in the U.S. we continued this work. Currently we are in the process of combining all of our interview notes into a single format with a singular account for each interview. Once this task is completed, it will be much easier to recognize patterns and develop a series of results. We are planning on presenting findings at a series of conferences including the ASIANetwork conference in March and the NYCAS conference in October as well as the Student Research Symposium at SUNY New Paltz at the end of the semester. We are planning on drafting a poster and a paper to present our findings. We are just beginning the exciting process of looking for patterns in our data and forming results from our research. But now, at this point in the game, one thing is certain from our research: there are a lot of people farming in Chongqing in every possible space available to them whether it be an underpass or a construction site. There are more farmers working and living there than we ever imagined, they want to talk to us, and we all should listen.
In July of 2015, a group of students and two professors from the State University of New York at New Paltz’s (SUNY New Paltz) Geography department embarked on a research project to learn more about urban agriculture in the massive Chinese city, Chongqing. We regularly interacted with Chongqing locals, Chinese residents, and of course Chinese urban farmers and gardeners. As a Chinese-American, I had pre-conceived notions of how I would be treated since I do not look like a foreigner to the Chinese. After a series of interactions with the locals and gardeners, I discovered many things about Chinese society and the importance of growing one’s own food. Even under limiting conditions, Chinese urban farmers and gardeners are resilient and find ways to support themselves when the Chinese government fails to.
Prior to Chongqing, the team and I searched for articles, images, scholarly articles, peer-reviewed articles, and other resources about urban farming and China. After planning for over a semester, we did not know what to expect from fieldwork in Chongqing until we got there. After arriving in Chongqing, we had no idea how many interviews we were capable of obtaining. We realized how difficult it was to conduct interviews with language and dialect barriers. After the first few days of fieldwork, we gained momentum and actually ended up with thirty complete interviews. We will take the information we gathered and analyze it for trends among the gardeners and farmers. Lastly, we will prepare for upcoming Geography conferences, presentations, and the ASIANetwork conference in Florida.
Conducting research for the first time in China, allowed me to experience both the challenges and rewards of doing so. As much as the research experience was a learning process, it also allowed for applying and recognizing knowledge gained in the classroom. Carrying out transect walks and semi-structured interviews provided the opportunity to interact with local farmers both for interview purposes as well as on a personal level. Being a part of this research project has provided me with exposure to a new culture and place as well as made me better equipped for future undertakings.
Conducting fieldwork on Urban Farming in Chongqing required comprehensive preparation in the months prior. The research group reviewed relevant literature, prepared interview questions and gathered any data to assist in carrying out our fieldwork. In the four weeks spent in Chongqing, the group was able to visit fifteen separate sites and carry out thirty interviews. We are currently in the post-fieldwork phase of analyzing the data we gathered and making preliminary findings. We plan to share our findings and research experience in a written paper and at multiple academic conferences.
My interaction and collaboration with local people showed me that Chinese citizens are welcoming. Many farmers were willing to give us interviews once they found out we were interested in studying their gardens. A lot of them even gave us some of their crops to take with us. Learning another language as well as trying to communicate really opened my eyes to immigrants here. Immersing myself in my China experience has given me a renewed perspective on the importance of continuing volunteer work at an English-as-a-second-language for adults program. Overall my experience in China is one that will stay with me throughout my life. The insights I’ve gained, experiences I’ve had, people I’ve met, and interviews I’ve conducted are of immeasurable importance to me.
The several months long process to prepare for our trip to China had our research team meeting bi-weekly. Preparing for our interviews with urban farmers, we took on different roles. During our 30 interviews in Chongqing, we acted as engagers, note takers and observers. Our geography coursework including: Human Geography, Urban Planning, Remote Sensing as well as advanced Geographic Information Systems (GIS) aided us in our transect walks, garden identification and interviews. We have quite a few more steps to go in our research process but the magnitude of what we were able to complete in these last few months and from our stay in China is astounding.
Shirley Marian Chen
Given the chance to travel to China and do research in July 2015 was a great opportunity. It allowed students and professors from SUNY New Paltz to work together in a different group dynamic and in an even vastly different country. We were able to do research about urban agriculture and document urban farmers’ land access, tenure and use. Outside of research, we were able to experience living in another country with a very different culture. This summer research experience not only strengthened my academic background, but allowed me to learn more about farmers’ struggles with urban farming, as well as expand my outlook on regional cultures in China.
Upon our arrival to China, our team from SUNY New Paltz prepared for our research by conducting meetings, reading scholarly articles, and using satellite images and pictures by Tim Franco to get a better understanding of urban agriculture in Chongqing. Overall, we were able to collect thirty interviews as well as find many farms all over Chongqing. Although being able to collect thirty interviews was substantial and greatly exceeded our initial goal, we have yet to document and study the issues of farmer land access, tenure, and use in the rapidly growing city of Chongqing and in many urban farms.