A fresh taste of Beijing
Fresh air and wide-open spaces may not be the first things that come to mind when thinking of Beijing. But just an hour outside the city center is an Italian-style organic farm that allows urban families to leave the stress of the city behind. Plenty of grass to play on, animals to pet, and even fresh fruit and vegetables to pick makes Agrilandia a great spot for a family daytrip.
Founded in 1999 in a location east of Beijing’s airport, the farm moved to its current location in Baigezhuang in 2006, and now extends across 21 acres to include features such as space for planting, a country villa restaurant and a bed and breakfast. There is also a playground, fishing pond and ample space for picnicking, and the farm not only welcomes pets but also has a “mini zoo” with deer, sheep, ducks, and peacocks.
Owner Lu Hong Wei was living and working in Italy as a translator when she fell in love with the country’s cuisine and agriculture. Back in China, she wanted to create a place that would evoke the spirit of both Italy’s farms and the countryside of Hebei province, where she grew up. “I wanted to dedicate myself to treating the land and soil the right way, and also to treating local farmers well,” says Lu. “Agrilandia has been a dream of mine for years, but it’s also a responsibility, to show how food should be grown.”
On the farm, Lu and her team of dedicated farmers grow trees using seeds imported from Italy. There are many varieties of cherries, apples, pears, plums and apricots, most of which are new to the Chinese market. Two greenhouses allow the farm to produce fresh produce all year round. One is home to many different lettuces and herbs like rosemary, basil and mint; the other houses rows of fresh strawberries. Try a sweet, fresh-off-the-vine strawberry – the local store-bought versions pale in comparison.
Families that visit the farm can have a field day with picking fruits and vegetables. For a few kuai more than you would pay at a supermarket, you can get tomatoes, bell peppers, zucchini and more, all of it lovingly cultivated on a small scale. Kids can learn hands-on what it takes to get food from the farm to the table and sample some of the most flavorful produce in the city. According to marketing manager James Wang, Agrilandia will also introduce an Adopt-a-Tree program this spring: Families that adopt a fruit tree will receive all the fruit off a given tree for the growing season.
The produce, in addition to being picked by visitors and sold to shops like Jenny Lou’s, is served at both Theme Restaurant (on the farm) and at its sister restaurant, Il Casale, in Lido. Theme Restaurant, an impressive space with high wood-beamed ceilings and a large fireplace, churns out rustic and hearty Italian fare. Pastas, sauces, and fresh cheeses are made in-house, while staples like olive oil and Parmesan are imported from Italy. Meat and fish come from trusted local suppliers.
The menu has a range of options for the entire family, from grilled chicken to pumpkin gnocchi. Salads come with an assorted bounty of freshly picked vegetables. Even when indulging in guilty pleasures like french fries and pizza, you can still rest assured the ingredients come from just outside the front door. “We focus on the quality of the food,” says Lu. “In addition to health, there is great pleasure in tasting something very fresh.” As a mother of two young children, Lu knows how important it is to cook and serve with the best ingredients. The farm, she hopes, will spread the message of healthy eating to other Beijing families.
The farm already succeeds in drawing out families from Shunyi and central Beijing, who come on the weekends for the tranquility and relaxation. From the fields to the greenhouses to the dining room, Agrilandia offers a chance to gain new perspective on the food we eat every day. The hearty pastas, vibrant salads, and homemade desserts don’t hurt either. Who knew learning could taste so good?
Daily 9am-10pm. Baigezhuangcun, Mapozhen, Shunyi District (6940 7650, 130 0127 1094) 顺义区马坡镇白各庄村