Wang Lei, a farmer in Zhouqu county, Gansu province, checks a walnut tree in April. Wang is building a modern farm that combines green products with rural tourism. (Photo: Xinhua)
Playing in bands, writing songs, growing walnuts, raising chickens and bees-life seems to be full of possibilities for Wang Lei, a 26-year-old farmer with a passion for music.
Wang lives in a small village of Zhouqu, a county with a population of 142,800 in Northwest China's Gansu province.
A typical morning for Wang starts with the hum of bees from the beehives, the cluck of chickens and the sound of wind. "The sounds of nature make me feel euphoric," says Wang.
Influenced by his father, Wang and his two elder sisters have taken a keen interest in music since childhood. One of Wang's sisters became a violin teacher and the other one a dance instructor. Wang went to college in the city of Wuhan, with the dream of pursuing a career as a record producer.
Yet his father's sudden death in 2018 changed Wang's life. Wang Sen, the father, used to be the head of a local agricultural cooperative, helping farmers to shake off poverty by raising chickens and growing walnut trees.
Exhausted by constant overwork, the old man's final wish was that his offspring would take good care of his walnut trees and continue his unfinished work on the land.
It was Wang Lei who carried out his father's wishes. He packed his luggage and bade farewell to urban life, along with his dreams of a music career.
He returned to the farm and took over his father's walnut grove and hennery. He knew very little about farming or breeding, and had to learn from scratch.
However, he sniffed a fresh opportunity in the form of e-commerce, setting up a small firm to sell local farm produce through various online platforms. Within half a year, online sales exceeded 140,000 yuan ($20,440).
"I once sold more than 80,000 free-range eggs online in less than a month," says Wang.
Enthused by his success, Wang purchased more chickens. However, due to his lack of knowledge in chicken-rearing, more than half of the chickens died. Wang suffered a huge loss of nearly 200,000 yuan.
Though frustrated, Wang rose to the challenge and began to attend training classes, taking advice from experts and purchasing agricultural insurance with the help of the local government.
He adopted innovative methods to improve upon traditional farm work, and soon saw the benefits. He established a semi-automatic hennery, which was able to produce as many as 18,000 eggs a day, with only one worker taking care of everything.
Another business opportunity occurred to him when he learned that walnut hulls could be used in making dyes. Wang cooperated with a tech company in the city of Chengdu to extract plant pigment from hulls to make hair dye.
Last year, the farming cooperative that his father once led generated a total revenue of more than 1.4 million yuan, creating jobs for over 20 local farmers.
Yang Anjucao, a 38-year-old local woman who works at the cooperative, earns more than 3,000 yuan per month.
"I used to go out for work, leaving my children behind in the village. Now, I can make more money and take good care of my kids," she says.
Wang is now busy building a modern, comprehensive farm that integrates ecological agriculture, the production and sale of green products, as well as rural tourism, providing visitors with the experience of a pastoral lifestyle by feeding the chickens and picking walnuts themselves.
His new farm, which features catering, homestay and agritainment facilities, has received over 1,000 visitors since it went into trial operation in June.
"We provide various parent-children activities such as chicken feeding and vegetable growing, bringing families closer to nature and improving their farming knowledge," Wang says.
Tourists from other provinces also became interested in the local specialties sold by the cooperative, with many making online orders via WeChat. Sales of honey and eggs have doubled this summer, according to Wang.
Wang enjoys his rural life, but his love of music has never faded. Rather than giving up on it entirely, he has managed to integrate it into his daily life.
He recently set up a music studio nearby and often spends his weekends there, wearing his headphones, playing the guitar and making music. He even finds that life in the rural area provides him with inspiration for his musical creations.
"My pastoral life gives me limitless inspiration and imagination," Wang says. "I'm happy to see my music dream taking root in my hometown."