NOVEMBER, YILAN COUNTY
Updated: May 31, 2020
After landing in Taiwan and spending a couple weeks in Taipei, I got on a bus headed south east to Yilan to start my farming career. For the next three weeks, I’d be volunteering on an organic farm co-op. I didn’t really know what I was getting into, if I’d enjoy it or what the place would be like. But it would be something new and very certainly, a learning experience.
I should say that November is not the busiest time for farmers in Yilan. March is the start of rice planting season and is when the real hard work starts. Planting rice is very physically demanding, especially so for an organic farmer. November is more about tea so I’m not sure I’d call my time there ‘farming’ exactly. At least not in the way that I expected. My idea of farming looks a little different as I grew up in Ontario and am used to seeing large scale, commercial farms. My time on the farm felt much more like gardening and cooking, while spending time getting to know a really interesting group of people. It became clear from the beginning that each one of the farmers in the co-op genuinely enjoyed their work and cared about the quality of their products as much as their impact on the environment and people around them. Most were on their second career and left city and corporate life behind for something they found more rewarding and a healthier lifestyle for their families.
Photo credit: Noy Haviv
Riding in the back of the truck with all the flowers and fruits. I brought some extra mud with me too.
Chrysanthemum flowers and roselle fruit for tea.
We pulled up to a small house to pick up some pomelo. I thought maybe another farmer lived there. Nope. Only pomelo live there.
We spent a couple afternoons peeling pomelo for wine and vinegar. They look a little funny without their peels.
Yilan is also the first place in my travels that I have lived the most authentic local life and been brought into a community of almost exclusively local people. I got up to go to work again regularly for the first time in eight months, I went to a weekly class for the farmers in the area to improve their english skills, found a favourite vegetable market and even participated in local election festivities. I slipped back into a routine easily and while something about it was familiar, it was also full of new and interesting experiences. I’ve visited many places and had lots of experiences I consider locally authentic before but this is the first time I’d really assumed a more local day-to-day life.
Nick (left) was our host. His cousin was running for local council and his rallies always included a lot of delcious food.
I was also very lucky to experience this with another new friend. The first week I was there, I lived alone in a little farm house but the second week, a girl from Israel arrived. The universe has been kind to me on this trip and has consistently put people in my path that I’ve learned from and genuinely connected with. Noy with her endless energy and desire to explore, became a fast friend and someone I look forward to crossing paths with again.
Noy is a great yogi. I convinced her to climb up on that rock for some yoga photos.
While I ended up really enjoying the farming aspect of the experience and meeting everyone along the way, the thing that struck me most about Yilan were all of the photo opportunities. Yilan is a rice farming community. There are rice paddies everywhere. Since rice season is still a few months away, most of the paddies were just large plots of water, like little mirrors reflecting all of the daily life passing by in Yilan.
The work also put me in a perfect position to recognize all the amazing patterns that nature has to offer, from tea flowers to straw and plants laid out on the ground. I spent most of my mornings in a field, picking or planting and most afternoons on my bike, exploring the area and searching for the best reflections and street scenes I could find.
People and Places
This lady rode past me while I was trying to photograph a bird and its reflection. She was the much better photo by far.
Planting some mesona around the edges of the rice paddy for grass tea.
Roselle on the drying rack.
Yilan was a wonderful learning experience and again, another group of fantastic people who went out of their way to include me in their lives. Maybe I'll come back again for rice planting season.