Escape the city for a wilderness retreat

Zhu Yile
A boutique island farm offers a truly unique camping experience that should prove to be much more than just a simple way to avoid the hustle and bustle of a busy city at weekends.
Zhu Yile
Escape the city for a wilderness retreat

A relaxation area at the entrance of Farm Fjord.

Leisure options for weekends are diverse, but an increasing number of people are choosing camping as a way to spend their weekends. While urban camping and suburban camping each have their own merits and drawbacks, they still attract a considerable audience. For activities such as friend gatherings, romantic dates, family trips, birthday celebrations, and corporate team-building, camping is a great choice.

Urban camping terraces, like those on the northern Bund, Nanjing Rd W., and Lujiazui area, have sprung up across Shanghai. Here, people enjoy afternoon tea, coffee or wine, and watch outdoor movies, all to seek relaxation amid the hustle and bustle of work. The contrast between tents brimming with wilderness charm and the city's towering skyscrapers provides a novel experience.

At the same time, there is another group of enthusiasts who venture away from the city center to experience suburban camping. Setting up tents and movie screens by the riverside, arranging tables and chairs, baking cakes together, and enjoying delicious treats beneath the stars.

As the weather turns cooler, the winter camping season arrives. With relatively less crowded surroundings, a unique camping atmosphere emerges and the tranquil wilderness brings a different beauty of nature.

Warming up by the fire, wrapped in blankets while gazing at the stars, the aroma of barbecue wafting through the air, barbecue, hot tea and warm coffee await, showcasing the wonders of winter camping. These experiences await you at the Farm Fjord.

Escape the city for a wilderness retreat

The rustic beauty of Farm Fjord seamlessly blends with nature.

Located on Chongming Island, just 60 kilometers and a 90-minute drive from Shanghai's bustling People's Square, Farm Fjord offers a unique blend of luxury, comfort and natural beauty, providing an escape from the fast-paced city life. You can immerse yourself in an unforgettable experience here, rejuvenating the mind and soothing the body.

The establishment of Farm Fjord was inspired by the European expeditions of Sven Anders Hedin in wild China.

Born on February 19, 1865, in Stockholm, he was a Swedish explorer, geographer, photographer and writer. He led multiple extraordinary and fruitful expeditions in Xinjiang and Tibet, including the Sino-Swedish Expedition, from 1893 to 1935, gaining great fame for discovering the ruins of the ancient city of Loulan.

Another reason for the establishment is personal interests and hobbies of Jack Chen, founder of Farm Fjord.

"My initial goal was to grow healthy rice for personal consumption. Given my love for camping and canoeing, I thought of combining these interests to create a camping project. I spent a considerable amount of time searching for suitable locations, and in this process there were land leasing considerations that required assistance. Fortunately, the local government, such as the village committee, was very supportive,"said Jack.

"I collaborated on planning and design with an architect friend. He asked, 'Are you sure you want to do this? Can you endure it?' I confidently replied, 'I am very sure.' In the process, I discovered that there would be moments that could be frustrating and maddening. Only with enough passion could one persevere.

"At the very beginning, the area was just barren land. Now we have figs, kiwi fruits and oranges here, all grown by ourselves and available for direct consumption. We also plant green leafy vegetables according to different seasons, such as sweet potatoes and fava beans. All are organic vegetables, promoting a very healthy lifestyle."

"Besides that, in the area designated for yoga and meditation, there is a Melia azedarach L. tree. In May and June, it blossoms with beautiful purple and white flowers, even more stunning than cherry blossoms when in full bloom."

Escape the city for a wilderness retreat

Host Jack, seated under a Melia azedarach L. tree, chats with a friend in the yoga area

Jack's primary occupation involves European fund investment. From Monday to Friday, he maintains a regular work schedule, and he forfeits weekend rest to manage Farm Fjord.

Due to his work, he has made numerous expat friends who, in turn, bring their families here for camping, inadvertently forming a camping community for other expats in Shanghai. The campsite has minimal entertainment facilities, aligning with Jack's vision of providing a tranquil space for people to enjoy nature and spend more time with friends and family.

Escape the city for a wilderness retreat

Jack's expat friends at Farm Fjord during a weekend camping getaway.

Escape the city for a wilderness retreat

Jack's expat friends enjoy their weekend camping trip to Farm Fjord.

When it comes to the paddy, one cannot ignore the concept of permaculture.

Permaculture, short for "permanent agriculture" or "permanent culture," is a design approach that aims to create sustainable and self-sufficient systems. It involves designing ecological and productive landscapes, often including elements such as agroforestry, organic farming, and sustainable architecture, to mimic natural ecosystems and promote long-term environmental harmony.

"To the best of my knowledge, this concept was introduced to China around the year 2000. Currently, some professors in the architecture department at Tongji University are also promoting this theory,"said Jack.

The Farm Fjord applies permaculture principles to camping, creating a sustainable and low-impact camping experience. This can include practices such as choosing eco-friendly camping gear and minimizing waste. Designing camp layouts that consider natural elements and promoting a connection with the environment are also in line with permaculture principles for camping. The goal is to minimize the ecological footprint and promote a harmonious relationship with nature while enjoying outdoor activities.

From wilderness to farm, from farm to table, it embodies the principles of Farm Fjord's simplicity.

Escape the city for a wilderness retreat

Tents amid scenic views along the river at Farm Fjord.

All the joys that camping can bring are within your imagination. You can savor morning coffee overlooking the rice paddy, share delicious meals with family and friends under Metasequoia trees, gather around a campfire for drinks and guitar tunes, or enjoy popcorn under the starry sky while watching a nostalgic movie.

Throughout the process, you will also learn some basic camping skills (based on 'leave no trace' outdoor etiquette, camping history, tent setup, campfire management among others), understand the safety essentials of canoeing, and master basic paddling techniques for tandem canoes. Additionally, you will gain knowledge of the organic rice cultivation process and grasp the sustainable principles of Farm Fjord.

"For those who love skiing, they're familiar with 'Ski-in & Ski-out,' which means being close to the ski resort, allowing direct access to skiing from your accommodation. It offers an ideal accommodation experience. Similarly, just as 'Ski-in & Ski-out' is perfect for skiing, 'Canoe-in & 'Canoe-out,' having a canoeing experience right from your campsite, adds a lot of fun,"said Jack.

"Therefore, I've set up a small deck outside each tent, where canoes of different colors can be found. Since the waterways are interconnected, you can paddle to any part of the Farm Fjord area you'd like to explore. After a brief tutorial on the basics of canoeing, you can navigate on your own."

Escape the city for a wilderness retreat

Ideal for family fun: a boy masters canoeing after professional training.

The bathroom, well-concealed here, is also Jack's most proud design. Its appearance is cone-shaped, like an Indian teepee, and it is supported by environmentally friendly bamboo. For every angle inside the teepee, Jack has made precise mathematical calculations, including the space and the angles of inclination. This design ensures that the space is not too large, making people feel insecure (considering the bathroom is set outdoors), and not too narrow, preventing bathers from accidentally hitting their heads.

It's worth mentioning that some parts of the bamboo shows signs of blackening. This is not because the bamboo is dirty but because Jack brought them from Anji in Zhejiang Province. He worked with local craftsmen, watering and baking the bamboo simultaneously to straighten the bent ones, which led to the discoloration. There are also warm lighting, a wet separation function, and water at over 40 degrees Celsius, ensuring everyone can take a comfortable hot shower.

Additionally, Jack bought a piece of industrial canvas, specifically seeking a Shanghai tailor's help to cut it, similar to tailoring clothes.

The tents here are available in both multi-person and single-person sizes, catering to individual preferences, and are particularly warm inside during winter with thick carpets laid throughout.

Escape the city for a wilderness retreat

The unique bathroom designed by Jack, a distinctive feature of Farm Fjord.

Indubitably, in the realm of camping, the epitome of delight lies in the culinary experience. A spectacular South African BBQ event, hosted by Jean Louw and his wife, the passionate owner of the acclaimed Farmer & Butcher, which they took over from a South African woman, will be offered.

Jean and his wife moved from Cape Town, South Africa, and previously lived in Beijing before coming to Shanghai in 2018. Adjusting well to the fast-paced life in Shanghai, they love their local community, residing in green villas with both Shanghainese and people from across China and other countries. Their favorite spot is a street filled with restaurants where they, often the only foreigners, order food through body language. Despite the language barrier, their son plays with local kids, and they're well-known in the neighborhood. "So we just feel at home," they said.

They particularly enjoy strolling down the street, savoring spicy food everywhere they go. Their love for food extends to sharing their best barbecue foods with friends, enjoying wine, chats and shared meals. Jean also frequents a local coffee shop in the community called Neighbors Coffee, forming a close friendship.

Escape the city for a wilderness retreat

Jean (left) and a friend enjoy a weekend camping retreat at Farm Fjord.

Under the skilled direction of Jean, Farmer & Butcher has been acclaimed for its outstanding array of meats.

Gathered around the bonfire, they offered delectable dishes, including oopsies, skilpadjie, braai broodjie (fire-toasted quarter sandwich with cheese and onion), Black Angus T-bone steak, Boerewors, potato salad, dessert, and a glass of Leopard's Leap limited edition red blend wine (South African).

This culinary venture ensures an immersive experience in the realm of premium meats and expert grilling methods.

Friendly reminder

Due to the overall nature-oriented planning and design, and the absence of fences along the riverbank, safety precautions are especially crucial during camping activities. For family outings, please ensure close supervision of young children.

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