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Berry, berry good

Updated: 2012-08-20 11:16
By Mike Peters ( China Daily)

Berry, berry good

Villagers in Xihue tempt Henry Sunda with unexpected snacks, including a silkworm. Photo Provided to China Daily

Berry, berry good

Sunda expects China's blueberry market to be very lucrative in the next decade.

A Texas blueberry grower finds a lot to like in China as he helps give a boost to a new industry, as Mike Peters discovers.

Most Westerners who visit China for the first time are overwhelmed by how different the country is from their own. For 59-year-old Henry Sunda, though, a lot of his experience in Shandong has been rather familiar, although not the same. In 1988, when Sunda first started growing blueberries in his native East Texas, it was a new idea in that part of the US. He retired from managing a 9,000-acre (3,642-hectare) mixed farm in 2010, but he's not been fishing or playing golf. For the past two years, he's been working with Chinese farmers in Shandong province's tiny Xihue Village. His mission: to expand production of the tiny, sweet "superfruits" in a new industry that's seeing explosive growth here.

Of course, not everything was like back home.

"It was a step back in time to live with the farmers," he says. "They had electricity and running water but beyond that not a whole lot. I would say the living conditions were similar to rural East Texas in the 1920s, although electricity didn't arrive (there) until the 1950s.

"At home I live in a very rural setting - literally at the end of the power line, with my nearest neighbor one mile away. So here I have been very aware of the numbers of people living and working in such close proximity to each other," says Sunda.

"The villages are compact and the individual farms and gardens immediately outside the village proper are immaculate and well-tended. The tools are simple. The older folks still use hand carts and water buffalo, while the younger generation use the very utilitarian two-wheel motorized tractor for hauling incredible loads of brick, tilling, plowing and pumping water to their fields," he adds.

Sunda has enjoyed China since his first visit to the Nanjing area in 2008, when he was fascinated by the culture, the monuments, the gardens and, of course, the many people.

He had accompanied horticulturist David Creech to China for a series of agriculture exchanges with experts from Nanjing and Creech's home base, Stephen F. Austin University in Nacogdoches, Texas. Creech, who had been hired to help develop the Texas blueberry field, was the recruiter this time.

Last fall, Sunda was on his way to China again: to Xihue village as a consultant for a budding blueberry operation there.

"I felt comfortable on the streets any time of the day or night," he says. "I had some exposure to Chinese agriculture along the road sides where crops were grown up to the edge of the pavement - even inside the cloverleafs of highways."

Back at home, Sunda got his start in agriculture managing a pine timber farm for an old family trust, which also cultivated white-tail deer for hunting and developed some gas wells on its more than 3,600 hectares.

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