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Strawberry picking just one of fun activities in Chongming
By Jiang Xinhua

At its peak of juiciness and with intense flavor and fragrance, strawberries growing on nearly 333 hectares on Chongming Island are ripe for picking. A total of 7,500 tons of strawberries are expected from December to April this year — a bumper crop.

Visitors can indulge themselves in all that berry goodness at the second Chongming Strawberry Culture Festival that is running until May 8 at Holiday Island Farm in Gangxi Town.

They can pick, taste and buy fresh strawberries at the farm. Picking your own costs 30 yuan (US$4.96) per 500 grams, while the price at market ranges from 17 yuan to 25 yuan per 500 grams.

The Holiday Island Farm began growing strawberries on Chongming Island in 2007 and has become very popular among urban day trippers. The farm’s total planted area has expanded to 6.7 hectares. It also works with a Taiwan ecological agricultural farm to teach local farmers advanced growing techniques.

“We apply microorganism-ferment fertilizer during the growing process and don’t use any pesticide or chemical fertilizer,” says Huang Yifeng, president of Taiwan Zhonghua Organic Life Association’s Beijing Branch. “Therefore, Chongming strawberries are always in the best shape with almost no deformities even though they are not the biggest.”

During the festival, urban explorers can tour the strawberry greenhouse, where they can get a lesson from farmers on strawberry growing before picking berries. Locals will show them the best way to select and pick — the strawberries in medium size and with smooth surface are the tastiest.

They can also pick cabbages, carrots and broccoli and take them to a traditional farmer’s kitchen, where they can either cook their own vegetable dishes or let the hospitable farmer family do the cooking.

“It is relaxing and enjoyable to be close to nature in the countryside,” says a visitor from downtown Shanghai. “Also, kids can learn a valuable lesson on how our food is grown and not to waste it.”

The strawberry festival also features such events as a photography contest, a live calligraphy and painting show, a strawberry cake baking class and lessons for children on growing strawberries at home.

Visitors also can enjoy other local products: The Holiday Island Farm produces strawberry jam, dried strawberries, strawberry wine and strawberry fillings for various cakes and pastries to make good use of the smaller strawberries.

“The strawberry industry here is not just to attract tourists. It will also help our farmers increase their annual income,” says Yu Jin, president of Holiday Island Farm.

The farm has prepared 2,000 strawberry mini growing pots for those who want to grow the fruit at home. They are available at branches of Chongming Ecology Agriculture Company and cost 59 yuan for each.

“We have treated the soil and seeds in advance, and with regular daily watering, strawberry plants are very easy to handle at home,” Huang says.

Strawberries pack more nutrient punch per weight than many other fruits, including citrus fruits. Strawberries’ unique antioxidant phenol content makes them a heart-protective, anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory fruit.

“For an adult, two average-sized strawberries provide enough vitamins for a day,” Huang says. “The fresh, fragrant and organic strawberries are good choice in winter.”

Other delicacies

There are many delicacies to have in Chongming Island in the winter.

It’s a tradition to eat mutton, which is filled with yang (“warm”) energy for the chilly season. Mutton is said to boost male potency. Chongming mutton from local sheep is famous, simmered for several hours with homemade sauces.

The perfect match for the braised mutton pot is the home-distilled white spirits (lao bai jiu 老白酒), also called Chongming rice wine (mi jiu 米酒), fermented from glutinous rice, which is sweet and sour and tasty.

Though the wine is said to be low in alcohol, it packs a pleasing punch. Almost every village family on Chongming Island makes the wine. It is served to guests from afar to show hospitality, and it’s a must on special occasions, such as weddings, birthdays and family reunions. And the spirits help to warm the body in winter.

Chongming cake is a famous dessert. It’s commonly stuffed with sweet red bean paste and the outside is covered with crushed walnuts, osmanthus sugar, pine nuts and melon seeds. It’s glutinous but not too sticky and pleasantly fragrant.

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