Yang Peizhong, owner of Xinyi Family in Xiantao, Hubei province, picks grapes last month. (YANG YANG / CHINA DAILY)
Xiantao, Hubei province, is leveraging its region's richness in selenium to promote agricultural tourism, or agritourism.
Selenium - Se, as it's known in the periodic table of chemical elements - is one of 14 essential trace elements needed for human health.
Yang Peizhong, a fruit farmer in Xiantao's Chenchang county, has benefited from the central government's policy that encourages new types of operators in the agricultural sector and the development of the Se-enriched industry.
"Thanks to the policy, I had the opportunity to register Xinyi Family Farm in September 2014 and went into agritourism," he said. "Because the fruits and vegetables growing in Xiantao are rich in selenium, which is good for people's health, the number of visitors who come to our family farm has increased very fast."
The farm used to sell all its stock to supermarkets, wholesalers or customers. Now, about one-third is picked by tourists.
The market price of grapes is about 10 yuan ($1.50) per 500 grams, but it can be as high as 20 yuan for the same amount on the farm.
Overall, the farm has been profitable. But it's about more than money - it's also a mindset, according to Yang's wife, Tian Xijiao.
"I used to be a merchant and couldn't accept being a farmer at the beginning," she said. But after learning about clean technology, she found planting green vegetables to be a lot of fun. "Now I consider it my career," she added.
Urban residents visit the family farm to enjoy the fresh air and green environment while picking grapes.
Yang said he has enjoyed a lot of government support in getting loans, fertilizer and advanced technology to build the agricultural infrastructure.
Xinyi is not the only family farm that benefits from Xiantao's selenium richness. A Er Di, another organic agricultural base that caters to tourists, also promotes local economic development.
Li Xianmei, an employee at the base, said her life has improved a lot after picking its Se-enriched peaches.
"The work of picking peaches here keeps me very busy, and I can make about 2,000 yuan a month," she said. "Compared with planting rice in the past, my life has changed a lot."
Song Qixuan, the owner of A Er Di, said it is important to respect the rules of nature and use natural cultivation methods to plant fruits and vegetables, as it is not only important for this generation but also future generations.
"I plan to start an activity called Small Hands in Big Hands to provide more opportunities for children to acquire natural science knowledge and experience agricultural life," Song said.
To satisfy tourists' diverse needs, some farmers have transformed their houses into homestays for visitors. Local resident Zhang Shaohua used to sell baby products in Guizhou province, but he was attracted back home by the emerging opportunities brought by Se-enriched agriculture and tourism.
The rapid development of Se-enriched agritourism in Xiantao is in line with a program that allows urban residents to conduct business in the city's rural areas.
Entrepreneurs are eligible for stipends of up to 100,000 yuan for certain types of business, such as farm-based entertainment and agritourism.
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