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What a lot of pumpkin

Local farmers thought officials in Huaxi, China had gone mad when they invested $72 million to make a garden of super-sized fruit and vegetables. Two years on, they are eating their words.

by: Kitty Bu | 29 Nov 2007

Thousands of cashed-up tourists are flocking to this booming Yangtze River delta town to marvel at its 100-kg pumpkins and miniature watermelons.

The Huaxi Modern Agriculture Garden is the latest success story in this market town of 36,000 people, where business acumen and unorthodox thinking have combined to reap a rich harvest.

Huaxi, in eastern Jiangsu province, has been dubbed "China's richest village".

It draws government officials from all over the country hoping to learn how to provide their own constituents with the health care, education and material benefits that local people here enjoy and expect.

Many of them, along with several hundred thousand farmers, drop by the Huaxi Garden every year, to sample gargantuan produce, and perhaps reap a profit in their own villages.

"I never thought a place like this would actually make money," Wu Jinfu, the garden's manager, told Reuters.

Intending to build an education centre to raise awareness, Wu's scientific venture yielded 250 kinds of fruit and vegetables, some in bizarre colours and shapes.

Huaxi Garden's "king pumpkin" weighs about 130 kg. Peppers can be purple and loofah, the tropical vegetable popular in local dishes and often used as a coarse bath sponge, grow up to 2 meters long.

Officials insist the growth is all organic and strenuously deny any genetic tampering.

Despite being twice the price of regular fruit and vegetables, much of the 85 square km park's produce has made it to supermarket shelves, tapping into soaring demand for organic food in the wake of a recent string of food safety scandals.

"I hope this can be an eye-opener for the tourists," said Wu.

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