Jiang Farm on rise as provider of Asian vegetables
AMHERST, MA (July 20, 2013) Amherst Famers Market. Fresh Chinese vegatables from Jiang Farm in Montague. Photo by Beth Reynolds Purchase photo reprints »
AMHERST, MA (July 20, 2013) Amherst Famers Market. Fresh Chinese vegatables from Jiang Farm in Montague. Helping a regular customer pick out Asian celery. Photo by Beth Reynolds Purchase photo reprints »
Anyone who loves to stir-fry — or to eat — fresh Chinese vegetables like bok choy, knows Chang Farm in Whately, which has been around the Pioneer Valley for 38 years. But what about Jiang Farm in Montague?
Now that 85-year-old Tso-cheng Chang has scaled back his own vegetable production to concentrate on providing for the family’s Amherst Chinese Foods restaurant, the 21-acre operation run by Jiang Farm is selling its array of exotic Asian vegetables at Amherst Farmers Market, in the same spot that Chang Farm had occupied.
But Jiang Farm, which began in 1998 after renting two acres in South Deerfield, sells “99.9 percent” of its Chinese broccoli, pea greens, Asian scallion, bitter melon, Chinese celery, baby bok choy, Asian spinach and other specialty crops to the Boston wholesale market, according to Shao Zhi Kuo, who emigrated in 1990 with her husband, Xin Miao Jiang, from China’s Guangdong (Canton) Province.
Other than the Amherst market and two area Chinese restaurants — the Great Wall in Florence and another in Brattleboro, Vt. — the farm delivers all of its produce twice a week to Boston, where it’s sold wholesale to Chinese, Vietnamese and Indian restaurants.
“They want everything we grow,” said Kuo, who works at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Four family members work on the farm, in addition to six or seven seasonal workers who can be seen at times from Center Street wearing large conical hats in the fields.
“It’s very hard, very difficult work,” said Kuo, who unlike her husband with Chinese university training in agriculture, studied internal medicine there.
Their son, Zhi Xing, who still works part-time on the farm and helps at the Amherst market, is studying medicine in Boston.
With a steady growth in the state’s Asian population, there’s been a strong demand for fresh Asian vegetables that growers like Jiang — as well as the Chang family, which also is a major grower and supplier of mung sprouts with a new 31,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art production facility off Whately’s River Road — said Frank Mangan, a “world crops” specialist at the University of Massachusetts.
Jiang, with whom Mangan has worked on crop production, has a major advantage in that he can speak Chinese.
“Knowing the language and the culture goes a long way,” says Mangan.
Kuo said that while the restaurants in Florence and Brattleboro travel to Montague to pick up their vegetables, the orders from other area restaurants have been too small to be worth the effort.
“It was too much work for me,” she says with a laugh.
UMass also buys vegetables from the farm, but only in the fall, she said.
Most of the customers who buy from Jiang’s stall at the farmers market are either Asians or familiar with fresh, specialty vegetables from eating just across Main Street, at Chang’s restaurant.