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Plants, People, and Places:
Goji Harvest in Ningxia

By Chris Kilham

They are found in snack packs, cereals, trail mixes, snack bars, and drinks: goji berries (Lycium chinense, Solanaceae) have become a popular so-called “superfood” and a widely used botanical in traditional Chinese medicine for overall health and vitality, liver detoxification, and for improving eye health. In Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region in northern China, goji production is a big business and a source of income for thousands of people.

 

All images ©2022 Chris Kilham

A large pile of orange-red, oblong fresh goji berries

Goji, the Treasure of Ningxia
Goji berries, also known as wolfberries, are cultivated in Ningxia, a small autonomous region in north-central China near the Mongolian border. The region is bordered by the Helan Mountains to the north. Goji berries provide income for large numbers of people in the region.

A wide shot of goji bushes with multiple harvesters

Harvesters Work a Field
During the goji harvest from late June through early August, regional workers pick goji berries on more than 10,000 hectares (roughly 25,000 acres) of land. The land is owned by the Chinese government.

A woman and a young boy pick berries off a bush

Mother and Son Harvest Goji
Farmers rent parcels of goji land from the government and hire harvesters to bring in the crop. During the harvest, all family members help out. Except those who work in restaurants and at gas stations, anybody who is able works the harvest.

Long stems of a goji bush display narrow green leaves and plenty of fruits

Laden with Berries
The lifespan of a goji bush is about 15 years. Younger bushes produce smaller berries. Here, a mature bush is laden with ripe berries.

A man in a field drinks from a large plastic container

Hot Work
In early July, it is hot in the goji fields. This man stops for a much-needed water break.

A boy in his early teens smiles at the camera while harvesting berries

Young Boy Harvests Goji
This smiling young man has the goji touch. The berries are very soft and can easily be ruptured. Harvesting takes skill and dexterity. Each harvester will pick approximately 30 kg (66 lbs) of fresh goji berries in one day.

A man pulls a cart with two full baskets of berries

Goji Harvester with Two Full Baskets
The more berries harvested, the more money made. This man is happy with his two baskets, groaning full of fresh berries.

A man drives a motorbike that pulls a cart full of people and baskets

Buyer Rolls In
One of the main buyers working this farm rolls in to start weighing baskets, carrying some harvesters on his truck.

A woman holds some berries and gestures to several full baskets

Proud of Her Harvest
This skilled harvester shows off two full baskets of berries, which will yield much-needed family income.

A man weighs a basket of berries using a counterweight scale

Buyer Weighs Berries
Using a basic stick-and-weight scale, the buyer weighs baskets of berries. Weight determines pay.

A woman places a very full wicker basket of berries into a truck

Woman Loads Goji onto Truck
This woman assists the buyer, loading weighed baskets of goji into the truck for transport to drying.

A man makes notes about a basket of berries

Calculating Payment
Another buyer calculates payment for baskets of berries. Accuracy is key.

A woman, man, and small child smile and wave at the camera

Happy Goji Family
After a hard day of harvesting, this family was quick with smiles and happy to be photographed.

A man rakes at a large flat area full of drying berries

Raking Berries to Dry
It takes about five days in the summer sun to dry goji berries down to 13% moisture.

A man holding a narrow paddle taps at a pile of berries

Tapping off Stems
When goji berries are dried, their stems are lightly tapped off using a narrow paddle.

References