Our trip began when our team flew into Beijing and met for some last minute planning. The next day, we boarded another flight to the remote region of Ningxia. While looking out my window from the airplane, I was surprised to see a view of a barren desert. I began to wonder how anything could be fruitful in such an inhospitable place. All of my questions were put to rest when our plane crossed the Yellow River. The view changed before my eyes to a rich, agricultural wonderland with radiant greenery hugging the banks of the winding river.
We were told the goji berry is the life-blood of this region and once a year at harvest time the entire town comes together for an elaborate festival lasting several days. The festival pays homage to the goji berry, which has sustained the health and lifestyle of this region for countless generations. Of all the gifts offered by this bounteous region, none is more prized and cherished than the goji plant and berry that is cultivated and nurtured high in the mountains.
After a good night's sleep, we set out early to discover the heart of the ancient city, also known as the 'Goji Capital of the World.' Once we reached the site of the festival, we were ushered to the front of the celebration. I couldn't help but notice all of the eyes fixated on our team as we made our way through the crowd. Once arriving at the main stage, I saw a sight unlike anything I had ever seen before. This was no small-town country festival, but a thriving city hosting a major production.
It wasn't long before festival organizers, dignitaries, and onlookers huddled around us. We had the opportunity to listen to the enthusiastic people as they celebrated the goji fruit for strengthening their bodies as well as fortifying the all-essential 'qi' (chi), or life-force.
We met with some of the elderly in the town who have consumed goji on a daily basis and are living remarkably long, healthy, and vibrant lives. We talked with several locals who exceeded 100-plus years and heard how a bowl of goji a day in various forms is an essential part of their diet.
The next day we boarded a bus to a place where we could get a firsthand look at the production of the goji plant and berries. After driving through numerous small villages, the bus finally pulled up alongside an observation deck. As we looked out over the region, we saw nothing but goji fields for as far as the eye could see. We observed local harvesters with baskets overflowing with goji berries and workers running those baskets to the rickshaws where businessmen were sorting and selling the berries.
This is when the reality of our journey struck. We had actually made it! Standing in the endless fields, eating the berries straight from the bushes, shaking hands with the harvesters, and trying to impress upon them just what their efforts meant to the world. This is what we had been dreaming about.
Upon reaching a gate at our next destination, I felt someone tapping my shoulder and gesturing me to turn. As I began to turn around, my jaw started to drop. In front of us laid the breathtaking sight of the city's goji markets. There were never-ending piles of goji berries.
As we roamed the markets, we saw women sorting and grading berries based on color, size, and shape. Different mounds of different intensities of red signified their grades and commanded different prices. People rushed around filling bags, weighing them, haggling over prices, and then loading the bags onto their backs.
For more than an hour we roamed these markets, overwhelmed at where we were, wondering if we could ever truly impress upon the people back home the magnificence of what we were witnessing.
As we departed the mountains of Inner Mongolia and the people who cherish the goji berry as much as we do, we felt compelled to tell their incredible story as best we could. We have made it our mission to bring the good news of the goji berry to everyone around the world."