Of life and legend

Van Duc commune in Hanoi’s Gia Lam district not only boasts safe vegetables but also an intriguing history.

By Thuy Duong on October 17,2019 10:23 AM

Of life and legend

PHOTOS THUY DUONG

I deally located around 20km to the east of Hanoi’s city center, the ancient commune of Van Duc in Gia Lam district is not only famed as the largest grower of safe vegetables for the capital but also as a cultural cradle with a history dating back almost a thousand years.

Lush green villages

Of life and legend

We visited Van Duc commune one morning in the early autumn, blanketed by sweet golden sunlight. Though summer had officially ended, it was still quite hot as the sun continued to rise, but a light breeze off the Red River took the edge off. Lush green vegetable gardens were everywhere we looked, their fragrance filling the air. A trip out to this beautiful rural area truly is a perfect escape.

Different to other villages in the northern delta, where vast yellow or green rice fields are bounded by muddy roads or paths, fields of vegetables stretch into the distance in Van Duc. Like squares on a giant chessboard, the fields are divided by long and straight concrete roads. The whole commune is so tidy and well planned, with wide roads and beautiful houses adorned with plants and flowers and plenty of water and tall trees nearby.

Next to Kim Lan ancient pottery village and near the famous Bat Trang ceramic village, Van Duc is home to 2,000 households and nearly 10,000 inhabitants in five villages - Trung Quan 1, 2, and 3, Chu Xa, and Son Ho. All local farming families live peacefully together, earning a living by growing safe vegetables at a pleasant distance from the hustle and bustle of Vietnam’s capital.

Source of safe vegetables

Covering a large and fertile plain along the Red River and with a principle of “Three Nos” - No factories, No major roads, and No hospitals - conditions allowed the commune to become the largest safe vegetable growing area in Hanoi. The commune provides thousands of tons of clean vegetables every year to the capital and nearby areas, which are the main agricultural products households earn a living from.

“All households live off intensive farming, earning an average of VND3.5 million ($120) a month,” said Ms. Dinh Thi Luyen, the owner of a vegetable garden and also a member of the Van Duc Safe Vegetable Cooperative.

Modern vegetable farmers in Van Duc have seized upon the global trend of growing safe vegetables. They first began the practice 20 years ago, strictly following the country’s VietGAP standards. No pesticides or chemical growth stimulants are used, replaced by composted organic fertilizer, while the use of probiotics is limited.

According to Ms. Luyen, all local households that have registered to produce safe vegetables must attend a training course on safe vegetable production processes organized by the Hanoi Plant Protection Department every year. Each household is given a “field diary”, with information such as the suitable time to fertilize the soil and the types of fertilizers to be used.

Visitors will see large signs hanging outside every vegetable garden, displaying in detail the type of probiotics being used and when they are used. This is testament to the commune’s strict adherence to the rules.

With a total farming area of around 300 ha, different types of vegetables are grown in different fields, which allows for easy monitoring. It’s quite interesting to find that cabbage is grown on a substantial area, while in other big fields only red chilies are grown.

“Instead of killing pests with chemicals, we use probiotics and insect traps,” Ms. Luyen said. She pointed to green vegetable fields with yellow flags dazzling in the sunlight, which attract thousands of tiny insects. These simple, hand-made traps for catching butterflies, yellow flies, and bugs do the job really well and are a major reason Van Duc can thrive without relying on chemical spraying. It is also good for the air, water resources, and the land, which are always clean.

On average, Van Duc sells over 40,000 tons of safe vegetables every year, wrapped carefully in paper or degradable bags with origin labels and expiry dates. They can be purchased in major supermarket networks such as Aeon Mall and Mega Mart. The three most common types are Chinese cabbage, chilies, and Vietnamese cabbage, which are largely exported to South Korea, Taiwan (China), and China.

Of life and legend

Land of legend

On a small peninsula on the east bank of the Red River, Van Duc has a long history dating back almost a thousand years. The land is said to be where ancient Vietnamese lived. Chu Xa village, where some 80 per cent of the population have the same family name of Chu, is the fatherland of Chu Dong Tu, one of the four most sacred saints in Vietnamese folklore. One of the country’s oldest historical legends, that of “Tien Dung and Chu Dong Tu”, is recounted to this day.

The legend has it that the 18th Hung King, the last of the country’s first dynasty, had a beautiful daughter, Tien Dung. At 18 years of age, the princess had no interest in getting married, instead loving to take excursions into the surrounding countryside. In Chu Xa village, meanwhile, was the family of Mr. Chu Cu Van, Mrs. Bui Thi Gia, and their son, Chu Dong Tu, who lived happily and earned a living from fishing in the Red River. Those happy days, however, came to an end when Mrs. Gia passed away and the father and son were left in poverty. Too poor to buy clothes, they only had one piece of cloth between them, so they took turns wearing it, with the other staying indoors to hide their nakedness. The father then fell gravely ill, and before he died he told his son to bury him naked and take the cloth for himself. But the boy’s filial piety persuaded him to bury his father wearing the cloth, which meant he could never go outside.

One day, on a boat trip down the Red River, Princess Tien Dung made the boatmen stop at a particularly pretty spot called Tu Nhien, in Chu Xa village, where she decided to bathe. As she poured water over herself, the sand on the riverbank washed away, revealing a young man lying there totally naked. When he saw the princess’s boat approaching, Tu had rushed down to the bank and buried himself in the sand - at very place where Tien Dung decided to have her bath. So the princess and the poor man first met when they were both naked.

Believing their meeting had been decreed by destiny, the young couple decided to get married. Through many ups and downs, Chu Dong Tu was later revered as a saint, and a temple dedicated to him and his princess was built in Chu Xa village.

The temple of the Holy Lord Chu Dong Tu and princess Tien Dung and the tomb of Chu Cu Van and Bui Thi Gia were named national culture heritage sites in 1990.

The people of Van Duc commune and Chu Xa village are proud of their fatherland, which is the only place that retains one of the oldest dances of the Vietnamese people in the Red River Delta, called “Thien ha Thai binh” (Peaceful) dance. To “pray for a prosperous nation and happy people”, the dance is still performed once a year by 22 male teenagers during the Chu Dong Tu Festival in the spring.

Van Duc is well worth a visit, especially when combined with a trip to Bat Trang ceramic village and Kim Lan pottery village.

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