When I first moved to Shanghai in November, I knew nothing about the city. I’d never even visited this place. In Beijing, I could tell you every good place to get groceries in any neighborhood, but when I first arrived in this new city, I realized I didn’t have a clue about where I should be getting any food. I was used to shopping in three grocery stores/markets: one for foreign packaged products, one for local produce, and one for meats and cheeses.
Here, I didn’t know where the wet markets were, where the foreign grocers were or if I could even find the sorts of vegetables I would want.
I googled, and googled and came up with discussion boards telling me that there was a grocery store underneath the Jing’An Temple… What? Or how about the one underneath the Ritz Carlton? What is it, I thought, with all of these Shanghai grocery stores? Why are they all underground?
So I rode my bike up to the only landmark I knew, the Ritz, and asked security guards one after the other until I finally found the store referenced online. I came back with basic staples to stock the fridge and shelves in my new kitchen, but it also left me feeling a little empty. Surely there were better options out there.
Six months later, I have finally found a rhythm in Shanghai, and have discovered wonderful local vendors and companies who I really believe in. For those of you who ever find yourselves in the Shanghai area, I thought I might share with you one of my favorite places to buy fresh produce. It’s called FIELDS, and they offer a delivery service of organic vegetables and products. They stock some things I’d never seen before and have since fallen in love with – that giant clove of purple garlic, for example, or those purple carrots. They stock fresh artichokes for goodness sake!
Aside from their online delivery business, they also set up a market on Saturdays from 11am to 4pm in front of El Willy’s on Donghu Road (near Huai Hai Road). In fact, I have plans to head out there in an hour or two. There are other wonderful vendors at the market, like Amelia’s homemade jams, Jenna’s organic cupcakes from OMG Bakery, and V Coffee. It feels like a small town operation (which is amazing in this very big city), and it’s an absolute joy to be able to support these businesses.
Steve Liang, from FIELDS was kind enough to answer a few of my questions, and I’d love to share them with you.
K: What drives you to sell organic produce in Shanghai? Was there a particular moment when you realized that the produce available wasn’t the quality that you wanted to buy yourself?
SL: Before starting FIELDS, I practiced ashtanga yoga daily and started to realize the importance of eating healthy, vegetarian, and having access to clean, organic foods. In ayurvedic philosophy, food is like a therapeutic medicine helping the human to be healthy. It is important to eat fresh, clean food to get the “prana” or energy in the food. When I was living in Alabama in 2006-2007, I started changing my diet and learning “strange” ideas like macrobiotic diets, the importance of incorporating a vegetarian diet, learning from friends about the importance of eating fresh, whole foods and I could feel incredible changes in my mind and body. When I was in AL, I was living at my friend’s house, Judy Bowles, who I met through the yoga community along with a host of friends. She really made a big influence along with a host of other people that started my change in philosophy about food and the importance of having access to clean, organic, well farmed products.
SL: I left my previous company and was about to leave Shanghai and go back to the US. I was a little disenchanted with the previous company and was thinking and planning about going back into corporate life. Then I met Josh Brookhart, Ben Tsen, and Frank Rocco. They met with me for a week and we decided to start a high quality and organic online grocery delivery business. We started that day, March 15. The day I started, I immediately had 2 customers and a restaurant order and wondering how to get this business really launched. It felt daunting. I had to deliver 100kg of tomatoes that day and didn’t have a car. So, I used taxis and the subway.
SL: Our first suppliers were the Japanese farm we work with a lot right now in Shanghai and Asahi Green Farms in Shandong. Now, we have about 10 suppliers and growing as a lot of people have asked us to work and sell their products.
SL: People in Shanghai are changing, especially the local crowd. There is this shift in realizing the importance of food and how it plays an integral part in our lives. And you can see on media (TV, magazines) and the importance of having a meal together, eating delicious and well cooked food.
SL: Typical customer right now are expat families and foodies. We have more and more local Chinese people buying our products. We need to do a better job marketing towards the Chinese market. We haven’t done a good job but they love our products when they taste it.
We try to have quality products and we try to listen to our customer’s demands and requests. I love to cook and eat and am always reading about food and restaurants.
SL: I have met a lot of great friends and people in this industry. I have and are beginning to see the importance of community. It would nice if people in China started to take care of the land better through conservation, recycling, and less pollution. I am not doing anything special or unique. At the end of the day, I am still a son, a father, a human. I am trying to get Shanghai and hopefully China to enjoy and appreciate good food and try to make this more of a community.
Right then. Off to the market at El Willy’s!