Lejen Chen was born in Taiwan, grew up in New York and now lives in Beijing. Twelve years ago the independent filmmaker worked in the United States, but she has now become a 'Beijing peasant' in the suburbs, planting vegetables and raising cattle on her organic farm. The Green Cow Farm is also a vegetable club, which costs 16,000 yuan (HK$ 18,200) a year and requires members to contribute labour at least one day per season, either planting in the spring or harvesting in autumn. Why did you come to Beijing and start your farm there? The first time I came to the mainland was in 1989. Before that, I had lived in New York since the age of eight, when my family moved there from Taiwan. On the mainland, I met a man who I really fell in love with and wanted to spend the rest of my life with. He is a Beijinger, we got married and have an adorable daughter. Twelve years ago, we set up Mrs Shanen's [restaurant] and brought bagels to the mainland. Farming was new to me then. But now, I can't imagine what I would eat if I didn't have the farm. Why do you say that? Food safety is a universal issue. The problems of large-scale industrial farming and mass production are threatening the security of our food. Look at the recent recalls of peanuts and pistachios in the United States. It took months before they managed to trace the problem to salmonella in the peanuts. It has been almost a year since melamine was found in the milk supply here, but I still avoid buying products with milk in them. The peanuts, milk and by-products from them were all mass-produced in factories then shipped around the country. Some products even went around the world. Was it the food safety issue that prompted you to start your farm? More than 10 years ago, we started growing herbs out of planters and rented plots. But with rented plots, you have no control over the health of the soil and the cleanliness of the farm. There was always rubbish everywhere, and there were too many empty chemical fertiliser bags lying around. So we started the Green Cow Farm because we were desperate to have clean, safe, organic vegetables for our restaurant and for ourselves. We started the CSA [community supported agriculture] programme - in essence a vegetable club - because many of our customers also wanted produce they could trust. Tell me about the composition of your members. Our club members, aged from 35 to 45, tend to be families, both foreigners and local Chinese. Most are professionals. The one thing they have in common is that they understand organic farming and can appreciate what we are trying to do. I limited the number of members - a maximum of 20 - to guarantee the quality of our produce. Because we provide each member with about 10 types of fresh vegetables every week, there is enough for three members of a family to eat for a week. They are all grown according to the season, not in greenhouses. Do you know how many 'family farms' like yours are on the mainland? I don't know the answer for the entire country, but I know of a handful of family farms in Beijing, and people often call for information on how they can start their own farm. The answer is really to just start growing vegetables. Even if you live in an apartment downtown, you can grow things from planters. Once you start, you begin to understand what is needed to grow good food. Of course, you will need safe fertiliser. And one way to get it is to make your own by composting kitchen food scraps in a box with worms. The worm droppings make great organic fertiliser. Separating our kitchen food scraps from the rubbish can stop 60 per cent of our rubbish from going to landfills. Instead, it can be composted and placed back into the soil. What about the problems you encountered on the farm? Running a farm is no easy task, but it is life-changing. Probably the single hardest job is finding people who still want to farm and have the ability to use traditional methods without chemical or sludge fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides. Why are you committed to developing sustainable agriculture? Is it your ideal? Sustainable farming is responsible farming. You cannot grow good food from bad soil and polluted water. The quality of our food is always linked to the quality of our environment. If we can't grow good food now, what kind of soil will future generations have to grow their food? On our farm, we are striving for zero waste and zero pollution in a closed system. We are replenishing the soil with natural compost as we grow our food. I think we have proven that farming responsibly can be done. My hope is that my daughter - and hopefully my grandchildren - will have safe soil and clean water to grow healthy, safe food. Talk to a farmer, visit a farm. I recommend that everyone learn more about how our food is grown. We have to look at the reasons behind food contamination and find a way to grow and produce food that we can feel safe feeding our families. We need to rebuild consumer trust. We have to be able to trust the farms and the people that are growing our food. What better way than to find a farm and build a relationship with it by supporting and monitoring it.