By Samantha Lees
When Lyfetribe co-founder James Hu was building his health and wellness platform, he noticed the lack of diversity of fruit and vegetables in regular supermarkets in Hong Kong. It was the same few types of vegetables everywhere, all year round. In 2018, Lyfegreen was founded as a joint collaboration between Lyfetribe and Fushan Grange, Taiwan’s leading social enterprise for organic agriculture and sustainable producers.
Today, Lyfegreen supports and works with a network of more than 100 carefully curated organic farms and sustainable producers across Taiwan, showcasing an array of over 200 varieties of fruits and veggies throughout the year.
What Looks Fresh Isn’t Necessarily Fresh
It’s common for fruit to be kept in storage for months upon harvesting before being delivered to supermarkets, using a wax coating to keep them looking fresh. “We’ve been conditioned to perceive quality as equating to physical beauty. Why does fresh food need to look beautiful?”
Lyfegreen has completely defied conventional retail norms: the produce they source is harvested on Thursday, and is delivered and received by customers in Hong Kong on Saturday morning, with less than 48 hours from soil to door. “Freshness isn’t about how it looks, it’s about when it’s harvested, how long it takes to get from the soil or the vine or the tree to your table. That’s what fresh means.”
Outside of sourcing from farms in Hong Kong, Taiwan is arguably the closest producer of fresh organic food in the region. Taiwan also has diverse landscapes and climates, enabling it to grow a huge variety of food, including avocados, quinoa, kiwi fruit and all sorts of produce that most of us might not even have heard of. From superfood leafy greens like Osaka Komatsuna to premium items like Hokkaido White Fruit Corn, they believe the best food has to be fresh, grown naturally, and grown in season. “Do you have to buy avocados all the way from Mexico when Taiwan has avocados? We’ve been conditioned to believe that certain things come from certain regions, and expect things to be available all year round.”
An Eye-Opening Experience
Taiwan has one of the toughest organic certification programs in the world, as organic produce in Taiwan must satisfy a de-facto zero-tolerance policy towards agrochemicals, pesticides and other contaminants like heavy metals. “But being ‘real organic’ isn’t just about not putting chemicals into the soil, but are you putting good stuff into the soil, do you understand the soil and how to maintain it and restore it? Are you just taking from the land or are you contributing just as much if not more?”
All of Lyfegreen’s suppliers are smallholder farmers, and while some might not have the money to get the certification, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not organic. “We know they’re organic because we don’t only do audits, we also get to know the farmers as people, and knowing them as people is more important than a certificate. They are the real gatekeepers of the diversity that’s dying out.”
“It’s an eye-opening experience, not just seeing what organic farming is about and the real benefits of it, but also the challenges they face.” These challenges include having their margins squeezed by large supermarkets simply because they have the bargaining power. “One of our rice farmers used to supply to a supermarket but he stopped because he wasn’t making any money, so it was a lot of work for nothing.”
Lyfegreen is able to give farmers a healthy margin partly because it has an extremely short supply chain which keeps costs down. “We have no staff or storage space in Hong Kong for repackaging, so we have a very low-cost operation. We have no overheads.”
You don’t have to look very far – there is plenty of biodiversity just next door
By joining the Food Made Good community, Lyfegreen is expanding their B2C service to B2B and aims to give chefs and restaurants the opportunity to source an outstanding variety of produce that is truly fresh, organic, and socially and environmentally sustainable. “This is an opportunity for chefs to add more ‘story’ to their dishes.” Lyfegreen’s short supply chain allows restaurants to make a real impact on the livelihoods of smallholder farmers while benefiting from the freshness that it brings. Lyfegreen will also work with chefs to meet specific produce needs while giving farmers the assurance for their supply.
Chefs – get in touch with James directly at [email protected]
For more information about Lyfegreen, please visit https://www.lyfegreen.com/