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Bao Bao Farms. Photo by Shini Ko.

Bao Bao Farm is bringing Asian vegetables to Ottawa markets

By Jamie MacPherson on September 9, 2022


Bao Bao Farms at the market. Photo: Shini Ko.

“Bao means ‘treasure’ or ‘precious’ in Chinese, so Bao Bao translates to precious treasure,” says Shini Ko, farmer and owner of Bao Bao Farm, a small-scale ecological farm in Perth specializing in Asian vegetables. The new business was founded on Ko’s heritage and traditions.

“I designed the logo myself. I didn’t have the budget to hire a professional designer,” Ko says. Originally a placeholder, it’s stuck around. “The bright red colour in my logo is called Cinnabar Red, which is a popular colour throughout Chinese history that symbolizes good fortune.”

Shini Ko hard at work at Bao Bao Farm. Photo provided.

The farm is presently closed to the public, but you can find Ko at Perth Farmer’s Market regularly.

“Most of my customers there have never seen some of the veggies I offer, but they are very curious and open to trying them. A lot of them come back for more and tell me how much they love the veggies. I have a few Asian customers who really appreciate being able to buy Asian veg locally, which really makes my day and keeps me going!” Ko says.

At pop-ups and special gatherings like Vegans Who Snack, Ko is helping people reconnect with their roots through food. “People get excited about a particular veggie because it reminds them of home or their culture.”

Photo: Shini Ko.

Bao Bao’s harvest is an all-star line-up. Regular market staples include “a range of Asian vegetables that are important to many Asian cultures…water spinach, gai lan, baby bok choy, okra, edamame, shishito peppers,” says Ko. With anywhere between 12 and 20 crops growing simultaneously, and plans to further scale up production in the new year, the farm, which uses only hand tools and has no tractor, is next-level. Bao Bao’s output refreshes seasonally, but Ko’s unique approach and method mean “the veggies are more flavourful, nutrient-dense and totally safe to eat without worries about harmful chemicals getting into their bodies.”

Photo: Shini Ko.

What else separates Bao Bao from the pack? “My growing methods are actually more in line with how food is historically grown by peasant farmers around the world, before industrial fossil-fuel-reliant farming took over.” It requires patience, Ko says, and a “philosophy…to farm in step with nature. For example, instead of spraying pesticides to kill pests, I rather focus on creating a more favourable environment for my veggies by fostering biodiversity on the farm and improving soil health, which brings in more beneficial insects that feast on the pests.”

This way of thinking includes no-till farming that “minimizes soil disturbance, which allows the soil microbes to thrive, creating healthier soil and a more resilient farm.”

Photo: Shini Ko.

“A lot of our ancestors were farmers even a couple of generations ago,” Ko says. “We were displaced from the land, and most of us are very disconnected from the land, so I hope to create a space that allows Asian folks to reconnect to land stewardship and food sovereignty. As an immigrant, being able to grow foods that remind me of home is nurturing and healing. I want my produce to be a link to their cultural identity for Asian folks.”

Photo: Shini Ko.

Mushrooms are on next year’s growing list, as is a brand-new Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) option that will allow customers to sign up in the spring and receive a weekly harvest share throughout the summer. Stay tuned for the release. Right now, the fall vegetable starting lineup is set to dazzle Ottawa’s local markets.

Learn more on Bao Bao Farm’s website.