Dream Weaver

Dream Weaver

Friday, 24 May 2013

Fricktal Bees :-)

Still a week to go before I leave Frick for my field work in China – Ningxia – a dry region in south of Inner Mongolia. Work-wise, I am quite prepared for the 30 interviews with the apple growers out there. These days I am sort of on my way to finalize the questionnaires for the farmer survey, some translation works have got done too. But what also takes time is to coordinate with the trading companies and my mentors and supervisor, they spread all over the world! Switzerland, Germany, Netherlands, China… Internet and skype really make communication easier in this era of globalization. At the moment, what I worry the most is the language barrier. In Ningxia, Hui is the local dialect that most farmers speak. I can speak Chinese Mandarin, but not even fluent (Cantonese is my mother tongue...). I can imagine works would be more tough, when I don't speak the farmers' language at all. That also means it will take double time to finish an interview, which took me an hour in my trial interview. Can't even imagine a 5 hours RISE assessment (a sustainability assessment tool at farm level) will turn out to be 10 hours. I think both me and the interviewed farmer will gonna be K.O!!


Speaking about bee-keeping, there are quite many colleagues somehow either are bee-keeper (Der Imker), or find it appealing and plan to learn on their own. My colleague Sal keeps 40 honey bee hives on the Swiss mountain nearby Luzern. He’s a very experienced “Imker” and produces organic honey back in his home. I was lucky enough to be his “office-mate” for a week time, and got to know about ‘how honey is made from’. Before I didn’t really know how honey is produced, which I feel a bit shame of. This amazing insect or you can describe them as an “animal”, means so much to us the human being in terms of food production. More than 1/3 of our food depend on the pollination through bees. Bees are highly hierarchically organized in terms of their roles (job functions of worker bees, drones, and the Queen) within a colony or a bee hive. By collecting nectar and pollen from flowers to flowers - within different species and varieties of crops, plants or trees- they help to transfer pollen and facilitate reproduction of plant, which is known as the process pollination.

hope the bees will soon adapt to their new home

“If the bee disappeared off the face of the earth, man would only have four years left to live.”
― Albert Einstein

Worker bees are really hard-working little guys. They start life as a nurse bee nurturing brood (unborn bees, drones and queens). Other tasks include guarding the entrance of the colony, building honeycomb, ripening nectar to honey, packing pollen, cleaning the hive and carrying out the dead. The last and the most important task too, to fly out and look for nectar, pollen, water and propolis. During this time they would be eaten by birds or insects. And in industrialized conventional farms like almond, corn, wheat and soy plantations in California, bee colonies are disappearing without any traces because of several reasons. The most frightening is that chemical sprays are absorbed by the plant vascular system and contaminate the pollen and nectar that the bees collect and encounter. The chemicals disorient the bees and damage the homing ability of bees, that is why many bees lose their way back to their hives, and bee colonies slowly die out.   

Bee swarming

Back to Frick, this spring is apparently too cold and a bit windy for the Fricktal honey bees. We had only less than one week really sunny nice warm weather. When you feel that spring has finally come, she is gone the next day. It’s also not so easy for the bee keepers to control or predict bee swarming. During spring as the weather gets warmer, food become abundant and bee population grows fast in the colony. New queens are produced and finally only a single young new queen is raised by other bees. The old queen then is replaced, then she leads half of the colony includes the drones and worker bees to leave the hive and searches for a new home. Next time when you see bees cluster somewhere underneath a roof or within bushes of trees, don’t be panic, they are natural but could be quite aggressive sometimes. On sunny days, I followed Sal to the Bienen Stand (the bee house) nearby our office to control the bees. To check the number of queen cells and to see if there is a sign of swarming.
bee swarm

I really am grateful for having the chance to share the joy of keeping bees with Sal. But one big obstacle that I still have to overcome is…to avoid being stung!!

More about honey:

More than Honey - A "Swiss made" documentary about contemporary bee-keeping industry 

Der Imker - the bee keeper, a touching story about a Turkish bee-keeper who tells how his life and family had been changed by Turkish-Kurdish war that caused a turmoil in the country.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Yamagishi Frühlingsfest

It's been long and not having time to sit down and dig my head into writing my blog. It's always easy to start up with something new, but try to keep it up is always an issue. In the last couple of weeks, I noticed spring had gradually come, but not so obvious. Now in May still, the weather is cold and sometimes when it rains and winds chilly, you 'd wonder does seasonality really exist. I remember in primary school, my geography teacher told us "In Hong Kong, we have four seasons, Spring is from January to April with moist warm air from the East China sea, we have foggy and the cloudiest sky of the year. Then Summer comes in May and lasts till August. When you see tree leaves turn yellowish and start to fall in September, you know it's Autumn and it's a season for family hiking.We have cool and dry winter from December till end of February." However, nowadays Winter doesn't necessarily mean overcoats and gloves.  When I was still small I remember the time during Chinese New Year which is usually around Jan/Feb, kids used to follow the parents from homes to homes to visit relatives and send out new year greetings. My mom would put me on the warmest clothes and dresses, since it's supposed to be the coldest days of the year. This cliché omage of lovers huddle together walking on winter streets with Christmas lights on might soon becomes outmoded and  far-gone. Winter is not that cold anymore in Hong Kong and don't be surprised one day you may see your guests wearing T-shirt and sandals come visit you in Chinese new year.
2 small volunteers :-) 

apple trees flowers, in late May and June they will slowly mature to apples!

Angus beef... fed on fresh silage 

delivery fresh regional farm products to Swiss !

My time in Switzerland has gone like an arrow. I'm happy and lucky enough to have met some angles around. When I'm abroad, it's always been my wish to try out more local things, and do stuff with the locals. It's the way to help yourself to adapt to a new culture. Last weekend, I was in a Yamagishi Früflingsfest (Spring festival) at my friend's family farm nearby Winterthur. Usually Früflingsfest is a time for farms to open up for visitors, to showcase their fresh farm products and to celebrate the coming of Spring. People from the nearby villages or the region come with family and kids, enjoy the day and have some freshly produced regional cheese, milk and vegetables. But it's a bit different with Yamagishi farm. "The Yamagishi movement is a network of egalitarian intentional communities which originated in Japan. People in these communities live without money and with minimal personal possessions, but their needs are provided for by the community. There are no bosses or set working hours. Their primary industries are farming and ranching." (WiKipedia). 

Yummy :-) it tastes homemade Japanese style!

Okolomiyaki - Japanese pancakes, so tasty! 

The laying box on the left keeps the hen warm with small eggs laid 

Farm Eggs - visitors come pick their own ones from the laying box

Their idea is to create a world "in which our children and grandchildren can live without worries, a world in which everyone and everything has the same chance to live a happy life, that is our goal, and we work for life". A lady who shared with me her life-changing experience with a Yamagishi farm in Japan back in 25 years ago. She said, it's all about "to do things from your mind to your heart, and from heart to actions". They live and work with their motto "Ich - ein Teil der Natur - werde ein Mensch, dessen Gedanken, Taten und Gefühle zum Gedeihen aller Lebewesen, der Sonne und der Erde beitragen" , which means I, being a part of nature, a person will contribute its thoughts, actions and feelings to the prosperity of all living beings, the Sun and the Earth. 

There are around 14 people live in the Yamagishihof in Switzerland, they keep livestock like Angus beef cattle, chickens for eggs and fattening pigs for sausages, and a small orchard for apple trees. Animals are respected and provided with comfortable living space, to have a happy life. The Yamagishihof buys farm products from neighboring farms like seasonal vegetables and deliver farm products to small quarters in cities like Basel and Zurich.

mini music concert and afternoon cake session
The festival
Last weekend the Yamagishihof were busy preparing for the festival. There I met more than 20 people and volunteers from Belgium, Korea and Kenya came to set up the ground and event. It was cool there was even an Indian tipi and camp fire inside where we were sitting around to keep warm and make hot tea. On Saturday we set up a mini golf course and collected wild flowers for decorating the dining tables. I was shifting around various tasks, sometimes being outside or stayed in the kitchen preparing dinner. The kitchen I must say, is always the busiest corner with the "cooking mamas" preparing good meals for us :-) In the evening after the long day of preparation, we sat down in a circle and sharing. We went a round to say what we had learnt or felt about the works or "zusammenarbeit" (work together in German). I feel everyone is so motivated to helping out and does everything from the heart. You've got to take initiatives, because nobody is giving orders, but people are ready to instruct you. 

On the Sunday, the event started at 10 a.m. and I guess during the day over a hundred people came. Most of them are Yamagishihof supporters or customers, some of them are old friends or farmers from the region. Since Yamagishi has a close link to the Japanese community and the culture, there were quite a lot of Japanese visitors. Funny thing is, I was mistaken to be a Japanese, I would never mind cos I can't tell European faces too.

I am happy to be invited to this farm event and to get to know more about Swiss farms. Yamagishihof has set a good example of promoting community supported agriculture (CSA) by establishing close relationships between farmers and customers. By educating customers the importance of buying seasonal and regional farm products. It is not necessarily be organic, but agricultural products could be produced in more ecologically friendly methods, which concern more about animal ethics, use less chemicals and live in harmony with the nature, so that species can be nourished by high biodiversity of the farms.
Crowds searched for farm eggs!

Our mini golf-course looks good  :-) Good job Lukas !

Merci viel Mal Aunt Renate, Auf Wiedersehen..

More about yamagishi in Switzerland: