A bird's eye view of Shengfeng village, of Youchegang town, Jiaxing city, East China's Zhejiang province, April 12, 2022. （Photo/for chinadaily.com.cn）
An improved rural environment has made a water village in East China's Zhejiang province attractive and promises to deliver higher incomes to locals.
"The villagers had once suffered from dirty lakes and rivers. The foul air even came from their own houses where the first floor was used as a hog farm," said Fan Zhixin, the Party secretary of Shengfeng village of Youchegang town, Jiaxing city.
The unpleasant smells were the by-products of fish farming and hog raising, which were the staple means of livelihood in the village. The waters, taking up nearly half of the total village area, were also heavily polluted by production and domestic sewage without treatment.
A photo taken on May 11, 2023, shows a family of water chestnut mascots in Shengfeng village, of Youchegang town, Jiaxing city, East China's Zhejiang province. [Photo by Zhang Wenfang/for chinadaily.com.cn]
The filthy living environment has prompted the village to make a thorough change.
Starting in 2014, the village has made conscious efforts to remediate and improve their water environment and reduce their dependence on the breeding industry by tapping new sources of income.
"The arable land per capita in our village is very low, less than 1 mu (about 0.067 hectares), so we recommended that the hog farmers and fishermen to grow high value fruits such as grape and blueberry," said Fan.
A photo taken on May 11, 2023, shows the clean rural environment in Shengfeng village, of Youchegang town, Jiaxing city, East China's Zhejiang province. [Photo by Zhang Wenfang/for chinadaily.com.cn]
At first, the breeders were reluctant to change because they already had, more or less, a stable income.
"The farmers were unsure whether fruit plantation would succeed or not. But the unhealthy environment could not last any longer. To take a leading role, though we could make 3,000 to 5,000 yuan a day at most by selling hogs, my family was among the first to cease the business and begin growing grapes," said Fan.
"After the elimination of pollution sources and other efforts such as dredging, greening, sewage treatment and garbage sorting, the water has become increasingly clear. The water quality has improved from Level V, the lowest of China's five-tier water assessment system, to above Level III," said Fan.
Handcrafted model ships are displayed at a workshop in Shengfeng village, May 11, 2023. [Photo by Zhang Wenfang/for chinadaily.com.cn]
Upgraded rural environment then has paved the way for the village to develop rural tourism.
In 2016, the village built a scenic area based on a 1,100-mu lake named Xiqianmudang Lake where water chestnuts grow and diversified folk cultural heritages are present. The visitors could have an immersive experience of agricultural scenery, life, food, handicraft arts and creative products.
The villagers have a long tradition of growing water chestnuts in the lake and have a healthy appetite for it. At picking season, you may take a boat with the locals to collect fruits among green leaves and enjoy dishes made of it.
A handcrafted model ship is displayed at a workshop in Shengfeng village, May 11, 2023. [Photo by Zhang Wenfang/for chinadaily.com.cn]
There is also an exhibition hall themed around water chestnuts for you to visit by the lake and creative products made of its shell for you to take back home.
A 69-year-old villager Zhang Jinquan boasts over 50 years of experiences of carving wooden cake mould. A large variety of cake moulds of difference sizes and patters are displayed in his workshop and he has kept making more.
In another workshop, shipbuilding is the focus. The craftsmen can build real-size wooden ships typically used in the southern Chinese water town, and also the palm-size handicrafts.
Villager Zhang Jinquan carves a pattern on a handcrafted cake mould in his workshop in Shengfeng village, May 11, 2023. [Photo by Zhang Wenfang/for chinadaily.com.cn]
Everything about the rural life can be drawn and recorded in the paintings created by the local farmers. You could spot many in a tour around the village.
The village's transformation has proven a success.
"We've planted grapes, mainly of the variety of "sunshine rose", of over 400 mu in total in the village and the production value per mu has reached 35,000 yuan," said Fan.
Art made of water chestnuts' shells are displayed at a store in Shengfeng village, May 11, 2023. [Photo by Zhang Wenfang/for chinadaily.com.cn]
"The village had a collective economy of 3.55 million yuan and a per capita disposable income of 45,592 yuan in 2022," Fan added.
"Now the village has become a beautiful place with great development potential. In the past, villagers were eager to leave and moved to nearby towns and cities, but now, they just want to stay forever," said Fan.
A display of cake moulds of different sizes and patterns in villager Zhang Jinquan's workshop in Shengfeng village, May 11, 2023. [Photo by Zhang Wenfang/for chinadaily.com.cn]
"More upgrade projects have been underway, such as developing a cycling route around the lake, more sightseeing routes in the village and a cultivation base of fine water chestnut breeds," said Fan.
Shengfeng village has a total area of 3.97 square kilometers, 825 households and a population of 3,263.