Vietnam: Organic farming brings young couple the good life

Because of their passion for organic vegetables, Nguyen Thi Duyen and her husband, Nguyen Duc Chinh, decided to quit their jobs at the Viet Nam Academy of Agricultural Sciences to devote themselves to their organic vegetable farm.

Looking at the 2-hectare green field with many types of vegetables, it is hard to imagine that the area was almost a wasteland two years ago, and the couple overcame so many difficulties to find success.

Chinh has a PhD in biotechnology in Japan, and his spouse has a master’s degree in agriculture from Australia. They and two young colleagues established the GenXanh organic vegetable farm after renting pieces of land from local farming households in Hiep Thuan Commune in Phuc Tho District on the outskirts of Hanoi.

“I was born in the northern province of Thai Binh, and my childhood was associated with vegetables. My work is also associated with them. I now work with vegetables after studying for a master’s degree, so I am happy with it,” Duyen told Viet Nam News.

Her husband, Chinh, said: “The issue of food hygiene and safety of vegetables is always acute. We aim to create fresh and pure products at an affordable price to serve more people.”

However, their path was not easy.

During the first six months of running the farm, they built fences, dug ditches, built water filter tanks, made electrical systems, and built container houses to save costs.

All their accumulated capital was put into the farm, so the couple were upset when they suffered losses every month for the first year.

Struggling to do two things at once, in August 2020, Duyen quit her office job to focus on growing vegetables. In June 2021, ignoring an opportunity for promotion, Chinh followed his wife’s footsteps to become a full-time farmer.

Their family sympathized with them, but others said what they were doing made no sense. “Doing all that studying just to return to work as a farmer!” People made fun of them.

The couple were often a little frustrated, but they brushed the sneers aside as the number of customers gradually increased and they started to break even.

Natural advantage

According to Chinh, growing vegetables organically means eschewing chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Their farming revolves around nature, technology and indigenous living.

They strictly follow the 5 Nos: no chemical fertilizers, no chemical pesticides, no herbicides, no growth promoters and no genetically modified varieties.

Removing weeds and catching worms must be done by hand. If there are no seedling beds, they cut the grass with a machine and then use a plow to turn the soil.

Chinh said the notion that weeds are harmful to plants is not correct. When weeds are fewer than plants, they do not compete for light but have the effect of retaining water, avoiding soil erosion and keeping micro-organisms in the ground.

They absolutely refuse to burn grass, to avoid environmental pollution. After collecting grass, they leave it on the edge of the fields and spray micro-organisms into the soil to let it rot. After that, it becomes a natural fertilizer.

Besides the natural advantage, Chinh gradually applied agricultural technologies to the production process.

The first is microorganism technology. He and his colleagues collect and breed indigenous strains of micro-organisms to quickly improve the soil, using strains of microorganisms that have been isolated from compost manure and plant residues.

Chinh also uses automated drip irrigation technology to increase water usage efficiency, reduce weeds, and save watering and fertilizing work, which he learned during his one-year training in Israel.

One feature of organic vegetables is slow growth, so to rotate quickly, Chinh uses a seedling nursery for shortening the cultivation time in the field, thereby increasing the efficiency of land use, ensuring the density of the plants and having seedlings ready in adverse weather conditions.

“We don’t grow vegetables in a greenhouse entirely because that inadvertently limits biodiversity,” Chinh said.

After two years of operation, GenXanh is certified to produce organic vegetables according to Vietnamese standards. The farm’s vegetables are supplied to several clean vegetable shops, kitchens of several companies and many individual customers.

The yield is about 30 tons per hectare per year. The current yield is double compared to last year, and they are going from strength to strength.

“In my opinion, the most difficult thing is to create confidence for consumers. Producing organic vegetables is difficult, but selling them is even more difficult, because organic vegetables don’t have good appearance and are at higher prices. However, we are also gradually gaining the trust of our customers,” Duyen said.

“Some of my friends used to run organic farms, but then they got bored and gave up because they worked so hard. GenXanh has had some initial success, but there are still many difficulties. Doing anything requires a passion for getting results. Growing organic vegetables is more difficult than conventional farming. If you don’t have passion, you will easily give up.”

Not only providing clean vegetables to the market, GenXanh farm also creates jobs for seven local workers, including people with disabilities. They have worked here for one to two years.

In the near future, the couple will continue to perfect the production process so that it can be transferred to farmers and cooperatives. They are ready to share their experiences with local farmers. They also want to expand the production model to create more clean products at a reasonable price.

Compared to working at the state-run institution, it is harder for them because they have many things to do. However, they feel good now as they can do what they like and have more freedom at work. They are pleased with their new life despite the work it entails.

“Now, I am delighted with my decision to quit my job at the academy to set up the organic farm,” Duyen said.