A rural education: Guanshan Farmer's Association Rice Country School
By Cheryl Robbins
The Guanshan Farmer's Association is responsible for promoting the agricultural products of this town, which is located in the high quality rice-growing belt of Taitung County, in the East Rift Valley. As such, this association has developed a visitor center to display and sell local agricultural products, just beside Provincial Highway 9, the main road that connects Hualien and Taitung in this valley.
But, there are no pushy salespeople here and there is no pressure to buy. The emphasis is on creating a place of learning. Thus, this visitor center has also been dubbed Mi Guo Xue Xiao (Rice Country School). Pulling into the parking lot, visitors are greeted by statues of cartoon character rice grains at the entrance to the rice processing facility. In the next building is the agricultural product showroom.
Here, an association guide can lead visitors in understanding the steps in rice processing, making use of 10 wooden buckets with rice grains and husks in different stages as visual aids. Visitors can take this experience home with them, filling a small bottle at each bucket. Then, the 10 bottles are placed together in a special box.
Visitors can also learn about the machinery used to package rice and fill their own souvenir bag of rice.
A homey cafeteria has been converted from a former rice warehouse for visitors to eat locally grown rice and other produce. There are high ceilings and colorful murals on the walls. Local farming women take turns cooking like they do at home. So, the menu changes every day to reflect the availability of fresh ingredients.
Into a large pottery bowl is first placed steamed rice. On top of that are placed local cooked vegetables and a pork cutlet or other meat entree. Other ingredients may include hard-boiled egg and stewed tofu. This hearty meal costs NT$100 per person.
There are also DIY classrooms for learning how to make rice-based foods and for creating rice sculptures. With advance reservation, visitors can experience rice processing firsthand.
Children will appreciate the cute rabbits in an enclosure outside the entrance and the free roaming chickens, as well as the fish pond. Also outside, local farmers carry out demonstrations, such as processing of royal jelly. The adjacent lot is for the holding of seasonal exhibitions, such as of rice straw sculptures and floral landscapes.
A visit here can be easily combined with a ride along the picturesque Guanshan Bikeway (please see the article entitled Guanshan Bikeway: Taiwan's rural beauty at its best in this section). Moreover, five-hour tours that combine rice processing activities and lunch at this visitor's center with an exploration of the nearby indigenous Bunun community of Kanding are offered. In Kanding, tour participants can try out traditional processing methods of millet, once a staple grain of many of Taiwan's indigenous tribes. They can also visit a Bunun hunter and learn how to make traditional traps and snares. Ten persons are required for tours to depart and the cost is NT$800 per person. Tel: 089-814903