Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Art or Artifice of Chinese Persuasion

I don’t know what it is about our four-greenhouse operation that attracts strange people, but we sure get our share of them. First there was Bjorn, the zealot Swede, enemy of polyethylene, friend of glass and herbs.

At least he spurred us on to expand from three to four greenhouses. And our herb producing operation is going really well, so we should be thankful to him. But he was still an odd bird, as my mother used to say.

Our latest arrival in that category was a Chinese-American gentleman, let’s just call him Mr. Wong. He knocked on the door of our Greenhouse Number One, the one that grows Boston Lettuce.

Mr. Wong tried to convince Chuck and I that lettuce is on the way out in terms of popularity, and that we should switch all four greenhouses over to Pak Choi production.

He went further than that in the persuasion department. He offered to sign a contract guaranteeing that he personally would buy every pak choi plant that we grew for the next five years!

He told us he was from Hong Kong, so we checked around with our Chinese customers to see if anyone had heard of him. Our main contact in the Chinese community said that he might be the offspring of the Hong Kong “Wong” family, who are super rich and—true to stereotype—inscrutable.

Pak Choi (Brassica chinensis) is also known as Bok Choy in Cantonese or Bai Cai in Mandarin. It is a member of the Mustard family and can be added to almost any dish. Also, every part of the plant is edible.

The four types of Pak Choi are:

Chinese White Bok Choy, which has thick green leaves and white stalks and grows to the height of 30 cm.

Shanghai Bok Choy features light green leaves on the same colored stalks, is usually 15 cm high at harvest.

Soup Spoon Bok Choy has cupped leaves that look like ladles on white stalks. This is the tallest of the four, it can reach 45 cm in height.

Canton type is short, with dark green leaves that appear convoluted on white stalks. This type is often harvested early as Baby Bok Choy.

Part of the deal with Mr. Wong would be that we grow all four types, one in each greenhouse. Chuck was tempted, but I guess I’m always the defender of the status quo, so I opposed the plan.

“I happen to like growing a variety of things,” I said to Chuck. “Besides, Chinese food is not bad occasionally, but I wouldn’t want to eat it every day.”

Mr. Wong wanted to know every single detail of our operation. Before we shared any of our secrets with him, we asked him for some references.

He had letters of introduction from the head of the Hong Kong Bank, from the Chinese-American Benevolent Association, and from Connie Chung, the well-known Chinese-American newscaster.

So we told him that we modeled our hydroponic greenhouse operations on the Cornell University Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) Model and that we’ll think about his offer and get back to him.

Then he started quizzing us about the nutrients we put into our Nutrient Ponds. We enthusiastically said that all the products we use come from one Canadian company, Advanced Nutrients.

Our base fert is Micro, Grow, and Bloom, without the Bloom. “We don’t want our lettuce to bolt,” we said with a laugh. He replied, quite seriously, that certain types of Pak Choi like cooler temperatures, while others prefer warmer ones.

“For instance, Canton ones, which are grown generally for Baby Bok Choy, like warmer climates. In the cooler areas they bolt too easily.”

Then we told him that in order to ensure crisp, crunchy leaves on our lettuce and Pak Choi, we use Sensi Cal Mg Grow, with its high level of Calcium and Magnesium.

He countered that Bok Choy has a high level of Calcium in each plant (10.5%), along with an elevated level of Iron (8%). “Bok Choy leaves are always crunchy,” asserted Mr. Wong.

We tried to tell him that Humic Acid and Fulvic Acid provide a fertile growing environment for our salad greens, even though Humic Acid colors the Nutrient Pond black. “We cut the roots off before we sell our produce, so it doesn’t matter.”

We also said that we make an exception for our Herbs, which we sell with their roots on. So we don’t use Humic Acid in our Herbal Greenhouse. “Fulvic Acid is okay, since it is Golden yellow.”

Then he said that his family is also in the import business and that they actually supply his other operations (he was fairly vague about these) with plant nutrients.

So part of the deal was that we’d have to buy our fertilizer and other additives from his family business. All made in and imported from China.

Now we’ve all heard about the tainted pet foods and the toxic toothpaste as well as the dozens of other examples of recent recalls and bad products involving Chinese ingredients.

Besides, Advanced Nutrients has always been loyal to us, so Chuck and I decided to stay loyal to Advanced Nutrients. We officially declined Mr. Wong’s offer.

As I mixed up another batch of our root colonizers, Piranha, Tarantula, and Voodoo Juice (at half=strength for hydro) I thanked our lucky stars that keep us safe from gigantic schemes that all seem to have a catch.

posted by silvio @ 7:33 PM   0 comments


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