The Mopan persimmons in Dayugou Village, Zhangfang Town, Fangshan District of Beijing become ripe. This village has been a magnet for tourists thanks to its clean roads, cozy farmstays and attractive persimmon forests. People who come here to enjoy nature and pick persimmons can always return home with great satisfaction.
The persimmon forest in Dayugou Village boasts a history of nearly 200 years. Persimmon trees are planted everywhere, on the hillside behind the village, along the village roads and in the villagers’ courtyards. When persimmons grow red, harvest season comes, and it is a time local villagers most look forward to. The persimmons here have thin peels and are so juicy that you can suck most of the juice with just a straw. Even if the tourists don’t pick persimmons themselves, they will buy some from the villagers who set up stalls on the roadside to have a try.
Walking in today’s Dayugou village, the vibrant scene makes it hard to imagine another scene a few years ago. “I returned to my hometown to renovate my old house. The flush toilet I installed even became something unusual that people lined up to have a look.” said Zhu Qizhen, an honorary director, professor and PhD supervisor of the Institute of Farmers’ Issues of China Agricultural University, who was born and grew up in the village.
In 2019, Zhu Qizhen, together with Zhu Qijiu, a professor of Beijing Vocational College of Agriculture, who is also from Dayugou Village, returned to their hometown with the hope of bettering local villagers’ lives with their know-how.
“At the outset, even the village officials didn’t pay much attention to us, let alone the villagers. They doubted how a returned teacher can revitalize the village.” Zhu Qijiu said. Most people living in the village are the elderly. How can they understand those new concepts of farmstays, leisure agriculture and rural tourism? The two people decided to set an example first: renovating the old house into one with both local cultural elements and modern lifestyle. They also invited designers to give ideal layout and make the courtyard more enchanting.
The renovated house later on attracted many neighbors and started a craze for building new houses in the village. Zhu Qizhen and Zhu Qijiu built on the success and began to provide local farmers with training. They invited experts to teach modern cultivation techniques of persimmon trees, impart culinary skills, train home cooks, and help villagers make their courtyards more inviting. Villagers also learned through the training how to build distinctive courtyards, sort garbage and maintain a pleasant environment in the village. The two professors’ farmstays, namely, the “Doctor’s House” and “Doctor’s Farm”, became a success in the village, and a number of featured farmstays such as “Phoenix Tree Courtyard”, “Pine Courtyard” and “Red Persimmons Courtyard” were built one after another under their influence.
How much difference will the training make? In Zhu Qizhen’s view, some changes are subtle. At least now, “no one litters, and people’s living environment has been improved. These changes are already very encouraging regardless of whether the villagers run farmstays or not”.
“Beautiful villages are not built by money, nor by enterprises.” Zhu Qijiu believes that demonstration and training can provide farmers with help and guidance. After everyone sees the changes and gets the benefits, the ways of thought will evolve, and naturally, beautiful villages will be just around the corner. “In fact, a village itself is a team. When everyone works together and complements each other, the village will get better and better.”
In order to better organize the villagers, Zhu Qizhen and Zhu Qijiu established the Persimmon Farmers’ Cooperative to promote new technologies, introduce new varieties and develop new products and projects. “Together, we think of good ideas and ways to increase the added value of persimmons and increase our incomes.” Zhu Qizhen said that as a suitable industry is put in place and the living environment is becoming better, more people find the village more livable. “It is suitable not only for the elderly, but also for the young, and everyone can find a place and play a role in the village. Only when the village gets better can we live better, and only when the villagers becomes rich can we all be happy.”