Zuohong Ed Yin of Queens Farm in West Chester will gladly explain his scientific reasons for growing organic vegetables and fruit. The DuPont chemist and family farm owner has a Ph.D. in plant physiology, a master’s in chemistry and a longtime interest in Chinese medicine. Stop by his farm stand at Headhouse Square (2nd and South) on a Sunday, and he and his daughter Sarah will show you numerous Asian mushroom varieties, which Yin claims support the health of the kidney, liver, cardiovascular system and immune system. The 200 Asian vegetables he grows on his 38-acre organic farm—including Chinese lettuce, Fava beans, bok choy, Chinese eggplant and Japanese basil—are a reaction to the over-fertilized crops typically found in American supermarkets, packed with more carcinogenic nitrogen dioxide than nutrition.
Yet Yin’s decision to become an organic farmer was made on behalf of his taste buds. When he came to America 16 years ago from China, Yin experienced a flavor drought. The produce available at his neighborhood supermarket, he says, all tasted the same—like water. So, Yin decided to plant a few sweet peppers in his backyard. The first bite was his eureka moment. “I realized that it’s not because we are in America, but because of how we plant,” Yin recalls. “I said to myself, ‘Since that is the case, I will decide to make an organic farm.’”
Yin and his wife, Xiuqin Qin, started planting. Their farm, which Yin named “Queens Farm” in honor of Qin, began as a three-acre backyard garden. Despite their book learning (Qin is also a chemist) and farming background (both came from farming families in China), the couple has had to do a lot of additional reading and research on organic gardening. They’ve developed devoutly chemical-free practices including heat tunnels, crop rotation, and house-made fertilizers of mushroom and composted crops, weeds and leaves. Still, applying their extensive knowledge of plants has had its challenges. Yin recalls the Japanese beetle outbreak in their first few farming years that devoured nearly all their edamame. They had to wake up each morning to remove the pests by hand, a practice they continue today. Luckily, Queens Farm has no neighboring farms so once the bugs are gone, they don’t come back.
In the eight years since the farm has been selling produce, sales have continually grown. The family now sells three times more than their first season at Headhouse Farmers Market. They also sell at West Chester Farmers Market and a market on their farm property, which has built a loyal following drawing from both the West Chester and Asian communities. Qin has since quite her job at DuPont to work full time as a farmer, and the operation is eager to hire more farming labor.
Queens Farm will never produce mega-sized, supermarket-style peppers and tomatoes. But its diverse, patiently harvested, naturally-sized veggies, beans and fruits are dense with flavor, nutrition and antioxidants. Next year, Yin hopes to expand Queens Farm and follow his wife’s lead by leaving DuPont to be a full-time farmer. In the meantime, he has just one wish for the future of American produce: “I hope everyone in this country gets healthy, good-tasting vegetables,” he says. “I hope that more and more farmers choose to grow organically.”
Fresh produce from Queens Farm (2069 W. Street Rd., West Chester, 610-793-2834) is available at the Headhouse Farmers Market on Sundays and the West Chester Growers Market on Saturdays.