The Mindful Eating Series: Interview with Geneva Farmer David John Kong-Hug
by Jonell Galloway
In the context of the concept of Mindful Eating, I plan on posting a series of articles that show people who are already practicing this in one way or another, without necessarily calling it by that name.
I’d like to start with an article about Geneva farmer, foodie and ecologist, David John Kong-Hug, whose family’s fruit and vegetables have given my family and me endless satisfaction and nourishment.
I see in the Hugs the same integrity and pride in what they do as I saw in the land of Wendell Berry. There is a mutual satisfaction when he puts an organic red pear into my hands and tells me exactly how to make my rissole. We form a mutual appreciation society; we have a mutual “affection” for the product and awareness of the hard work and care that went in to producing it.
David is a linguist and speaks so many languages I couldn’t possibly name them all. He has traveled extensively, and lived in South America, Asia, the Middle East and Europe.
He grew up on the family farm in Vandœuvres, right outside Geneva, and has never lost his love and respect for the land. He started working on the family farm from a young age, where he remained while studying agriculture and later doing a Ph.D. in environmental management.
Like the Swiss, like Wendell Berry, the love of land and soil is in his blood. With this personal history, need we ask what he thinks about Mindful Eating?
Interview with David John Kong-Hug
We are one of the last Genevan families who sell organic vegetables and fruits grown in our little one-hectare farm in Vandoeuvres (GE) along the Seymaz river. We have been working at the Rive and Carouge farmers market since 1946. For us, eating organic is a misnomer. Food is organic by its very nature! But since the green revolution in the seventies, food has become partly chemical. We have always refused to use chemicals on our land. How could we poison our land and water, add sulfites to the food we eat, feed our animals and serve to people?
Until the seventies, people took seasonal crops as a given. They knew that tomatoes with irregular shapes and apples with flaws were actually natural and tasty. They did not ask for strawberries in winter. Our tomatoes are not calibrated and cannot be kept for two months in the fridge. In winter, eating soups made of seasonal vegetables such as pumpkin, cabbage, leek, radish bring all the nutrients the body needs. Winter salads, such as bitter chicory or endive, are bitter in order to compensate for the extra fat people add by eating more meat when it’s cold.
Organic products are a bit more expensive than the industrial ones for two reasons. First of all, growing organic food is labor-intensive. Soils have to be weeded manually; manure spread evenly with the pitchfork; then fragile crops have to be covered with linen sheets to prevent birds from eating them. Greenhouses also protect from the cold and the predators, but field mice dig from underneath. As a result, a good deal of the production is lost, and only one third is actually brought to the market stall.
The second reason is that organic farming is not subsidized at all. Agro-industries that grow specific crops, sold to certain wholesalers, receive subsidies for mechanization, pesticides and fertilizers. The chemical and agro-industrial lobby in Switzerland is very strong. Pesticides and fertilizers are therefore indirectly sponsored by the government, that is to say the taxpayers.
These chemicals are necessary for intensive, calibrated and zero waste agriculture. Produce is harvested before it is ripe and sometimes kept a month in enormous refrigerators before being delivered to supermarkets. Local organic farmers still harvest at 4 A.M. the very day of the market. Their produce has to be sold within two or three days, or otherwise composted.
Unfortunately, selling bio or organic has become a business niche, not only for the large retail stores, but also for the government. Acquiring a green label is outrageously expensive for small independent farmers. Besides, their norms do not measure levels of pathogenic elements, but concern hedges and fallow, water conservation and soil erosion, which local farmers have been implementing for decades.
Therefore we created our own label “EKO”, for which we claim homegrown organic seasonal vegetables and fruits, aiming at eighty – ninety percent organic and chemical-free, which our customers recognize thanks to the taste and quality. Being an organic farmer is challenging. We just hope that our customers find their way to both the heart and stomach.