DaMorLee Leisure Farm
An Eye-Opening Escape from the Big City
Text: Steven Crook
For the past few centuries, Taiwan's south-central/southern lowlands have been the island's agricultural heartland. Thanks to reliably warm weather, and a vast network of channels and ditches, which carry water to farms during the long dry season, the region produces an abundance of rice, vegetables, and fruits. It's no surprise, then, to find an exceptionally popular recreational farm in this part of the Taiwan.
Yet DaMorLee Leisure Farm is quite different from the majority of local agro-tourism destinations. Hardly any food is grown on site, and there are no sheep, goats, and other cute residents to pet and feed. Rather, a variety of eco-friendly construction and living techniques are demonstrated, which visitors are encouraged to try.
“We welcome visitors interested in recycling and nature, as we provide recycling education in a great natural setting,” says John Lamorie, who owns and runs the farm together with his wife, Shelly.
John and Shelly have been developing this seven-hectare plot in Pingtung County's Ligang Township since 2007. Bananas, betel nut, and other crops are grown in the area, which abuts a tributary of the Laonong River.
“When we bought the land, it had been fallow for a number of years,” says John, who was born in Canada and later lived in New Zealand. “The previous owner had earned a little bit of money from the government by growing nitrogen-fixing plants, which were then plowed back into the soil. When we took it over there was nothing on it – no trees, grass, or even weeds.
“I only wanted flora and fauna native to Taiwan, but some compromises had to be made. I wanted the place to look more 'wild' than Shelly wanted, but we achieved a pretty good balance. When visitors come, I lead the paper-house DIY activities, and any English components. Actually, many groups ask us to do as much as possible in English. Shelly takes care of time management and food.”
Guests can make their own pizzas (NT$500), using German-style sausages, imported cheeses, and other choice items. Another food option is German-style pigs' trotters (NT$350), a feast of Canadian meat served with sauerkraut and mustard. DaMorLee's bread is deservedly popular, packed with tasty morsels such as macadamia nuts and figs marinated in rum.
According to Shelly, the farm gets 200 to 250 visitors during an average week, and groups should always book ahead. “We've had university groups and kindergarten groups, as well as tour groups. We try to limit larger groups to one bus in the morning and one in the afternoon,” she says.
John, an energetic sexagenarian, has acquired an impressive range of skills over the years. He's an eighth-generation woodworker who has held 45 different jobs over the years. He worked at a five-star resort in the US, and taught computer studies in New Zealand. Arriving in Taiwan in the late 1990s, he worked as an English teacher in Yunlin and Chiayi counties before settling in Ligang. He designed and built all nine of the farm's finished structures, proudly stating: “About 95% of what I use is found, scrounged, or rescued.”
John paid a nominal amount for an old blackboard that he then dismantled and turned into roof beams for the farm's coffee shop/restaurant. He crafted the window frames from a polished-hardwood floor torn out of a residential building. He made the tables from wood scraps and recycled panes of glass.
What's called the Japan House features incorporated screens and windows John salvaged when a local friend demolished a family property dating from Japan's 1895-1945 occupation of Taiwan. The roof tiles were taken from the house, not far from the farm, where Shelly was born.
A new addition to the roster of activities offered at the farm is traditional soap-making. As recently as the 1960s, factory-made cleaning agents were unavailable or too expensive for many ordinary Taiwanese. Many rural folk did their laundry with the aid of the fruit of the Sapindus tree.
Each Sapindus berry is about 1.5cm in diameter. Most of it is seed, there being just one or two mm of flesh beneath the yellow-black skin. As Shelly explains, the berries need no processing. If you break the skin of one with your fingernail, then start rubbing it between your fingers while adding a little water, suds appear straight away.
“We do sell bars of handmade soap and bottles of liquid soap, but we really want people to try and make their own,” says Shelly.
If any single attraction has made DaMorLee locally famous – it's been featured on at least 25 TV shows in Taiwan, as well as in magazines and newspapers – it is John's use and advocacy of papercrete. Those who've not previously heard of papercrete may well guess that this portmanteau word describes a concrete-like substance made with re-pulped paper fiber.
Conventional concrete is strong and durable, yet requires a great deal of energy to produce. In Taiwan, the associated extraction of gravel from riverbeds and hillsides has been blamed for environmental problems in certain areas. Concrete is also very difficult to recycle. In addition, should reinforced concrete (RC) roofs and walls collapse during earthquakes, the consequences for people inside are dire.
“The cost of papercrete is just a fraction of that of normal concrete,” says John. “Papercrete walls provide much better noise and heat insulation than concrete. Papercrete walls are less likely to fail during earthquakes, and even if they do fall on you, you're unlikely to be seriously hurt.”
John's papercrete production method – which he now teaches to students at Chang Jung Christian University in Tainan City – results in bricks almost as big as cinder blocks, but no heavier than a small bottle of water.
One drawback of naked papercrete is that it isn't waterproof. For this reason, exterior walls are sealed first with tung oil and then with an elastomeric coating. Interior walls are treated with tung oil, then plastered with a blend of liquid papercrete to which sand and a little cement have been added.
Insects, especially termites, have long been an enemy of those trying to build in Taiwan using materials other than steel, glass, and concrete. Based on his several years of experience, John avers: “Nothing eats papercrete, except snails!” To add an artistic flourish as well as let in natural light, John places vintage sake bottles between papercrete blocks.
John is now midway through his tenth building, a steel-framed, papercrete-walled structure on stilts that will be the couple's home. And he's considering assembling another, this time using bamboo, to serve two purposes. Elements normally hidden behind plaster or board would be left exposed, to educate visitors about vernacular architecture. (Even now, old single-story houses with bamboo frames and wattle-and-daub walls aren't uncommon in Taiwan's countryside.) As well, it would be a studio where he could indulge his passion for raku pottery.
The farm may lack domesticated animals, but the two-hectare pond is an ecological hotspot. More than 20 species of dragonfly, plus butterflies, damselflies, and water striders present themselves as reward to those who stand still and pay close attention to the surface of the water and the surrounding plants.
John estimates the fish population as 6,000 or higher. “We've at least seven different fish species. Some of them are quite tasty, I might add,” he says. These water dwellers attract kingfishers, egrets, and herons. There is also a handful of turtles.
The bridge which links the “mainland” to one of the three miniature islands was built according to ancient Chinese principles, meaning not a single metal nail was used. “We advise everyone to bring a hat, sunscreen, and a change of clothes for children who might play around or on the pond. The raft is a very big thing for the kids!” says John. “If there's been a lot of rain, however, we do unfortunately get quite a few mosquitoes.”
Self-Drive: Finding DaMorLee can be a little tricky. Those approaching from beyond the borders of Pingtung County are advised to take National Freeway 3 to Jiuru, then proceed north on Provincial Highway 3 into the center of Ligang. For a short stretch, Provincial Highway 3 merges with Provincial Highway 22. When these roads bifurcate, follow Highway 22 due east for almost 5km. Just before the Gaoshu Bridge, which takes the road over a broad gravelly riverbed, take the small road on the right. The farm’s name is marked clearly in Chinese, but there's no English sign. Drive straight down this side road for a minute or two, until you see another Chinese-language sign with an arrow pointing to the left. Then keep going to the very end. On weekdays it's usually possible to park just inside the farm's entrance gate.
Public Transport: From Pingtung City you can take bus No. 8217 of Pingtung Bus Co. (www.ptbus.com.tw) get off at Daqiaotou bus stop. From there, it is a walk of about 20 minutes to the farm.
Visitors to DaMorLee Leisure Farm who have their own cars and a few days to spare are spoiled for options. As the crow flies, the Hakka town of Meinong is 15km to the north. The indigenous communities of Maolin and Sandimen are less than an hour away. For those who prefer the sea to the mountains, the driving time to Kenting National Park (www.ktnp.gov.tw) is around two hours, even for those taking the scenic but slowish County Road 185.
English and Chinese
|Kenting National Park||墾丁國家公園|
DaMorLee Leisure Farm (大茉莉農莊)
Add:No. 20, Aly 12, Ln 19, Zainan Rd., Zaixing Village, Ligang Township, Pingtung County (屏東縣里港鄉載興村載南路19巷12弄20號)