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    Chapter 226 - Collaboration

    After the Shi Hu Canjun delivered his congratulatory gift, several more officials in their uniforms visited the next day. Apart from the Xu family who lived closer to the outskirts and could distinguish the different ranks of officials by their attire, they also had Chu Qichang's reminder to identify the visitors. How would someone like Old Man Chen, Old Woman Chen, Old Man Lu, or Old Woman Lu be able to recognize them?

    Ordinary farmers like them hardly ventured into the city unless it was for business, such as Sangluo's trading in the Ten Li Village. In their entire lives, how many officials had they actually met? Before settling in Xizhou City, the village head was the most common official they encountered. The biggest authority they knew was the grain collector during annual rent and tax payments, whose presence could weigh heavily on their backs.

    Now, with officials in uniform and armed attendants, those working on their own hills rushed towards the Shen residence when they saw the visitors approaching. Even Feng Liu, who was pregnant, followed from a distance, eventually joining a few other families not far from the Shens. They watched from afar, but seeing that Shen Lie and Sangluo seemed unperturbed, no one dared to approach.

    As the officials chatted with the Shens, then climbed up to their hill, and finally left amicably, the whole village was left baffled. By the time Shen Lie and Shopkeeper Xu sent them off, everyone impatiently waited for their return and swarmed around the Shen house.

    Old Woman Chen first observed Sangluo, relieved to see that she looked fine and showed no signs of distress. With her worries easing, her curiosity took over as she asked, "A'luo, who were these officials? Why are there three of them with different colored uniforms? Red, green, and blue? Did this have something to do with A'lie and Daxian passing the state school exam?"

    Old Man Chen shook his head. "No way. They didn't visit the Xu family either. They even went up the mountain."

    Old Woman Chen wanted to mention that Lord Chu hadn't visited the Xu family yesterday either, but considering that Chu Qichang had sent Shen Lie and Daxian into the mountains to search for someone, she decided against it.

    Sangluo listened with a smile and explained the differences in the colors representing various ranks of officials. This piqued Old Woman Chen's curiosity further. "Then which one is the highest-ranking official?"

    "The Governor, I suppose."

    "The one in the green robe?" The Chief Secretary was the one who spoke, as they were familiar with Chu Qichang, while the other two seemed older.

    Sang Luo shook her head. "That's the Chief Secretary. The one in the deep crimson robe is the Governor."

    Old Lady Lu gasped. "So young? He's the highest-ranking official?"

    Sang Luo smiled. If this Governor could marry a daughter of the Fan family from Chenliu, his background couldn't be humble. Age didn't determine one's rank. Praising him for his youthful achievements, she shifted the conversation to the main topic. "The Governor and the Chief Secretary came together today because last night, my family prepared a dish with yams. Lord Chu happened to see it. They're here to inquire about the method of cultivating yams."

    She explained the possibility that the government might exchange grain for their yams.

    Upon hearing this, no one was unhappy. Old Man Lu said, "Exchanging for grain is good, very good. We're more accustomed to eating grain."

    The yield of yams was indeed high, especially since Sang Luo had experimented with different cultivation methods this year. The harvest far exceeded their previous casual planting on mountainous lands. Thus, every household would plant yams this year, and not a small amount.

    However, this was relative. In reality, some stored yams were occasionally used as staple food. After eating them for several years, how could yams compare to proper grains in terms of comfort? If the government offered to trade grain for their yams, they would naturally agree.

    Gan was more astute and asked, "Did they mention how the exchange would work?"

    Sang Luo shook her head. "They said it's being handled by Lord Chu, so we should receive news within a day or two. Yam is a medicinal herb, so its price should be quite high. But since it will be cultivated in large quantities, the price will inevitably drop. Moreover, grain prices are currently high, so it's really hard to say. We'll just have to wait for the news."

    This made sense. On that day, Gan and the others had also seen the high prices of grain in the city, even for old rice and insect-infested beans. However, upon hearing that Chu Qichang was taking care of the matter, everyone felt much more reassured. In the eyes of the people of Daxing Village, Chu Qichang was an honest official. Putting aside other matters, he had paid the full seven taels and fifty copper coins for each family when they were brought out of the mountains, and had also generously granted them mountain land as a reward.

    Knowing that the government was getting involved was a good thing, and something everyone could accept. Thus, they dispersed and returned to their fields.

    While the other families left, Chen Po stayed behind.

    "Aro, how much of this root do you plan to offer to the government? And how much will you keep for yourself?"

    Chen Dashan and Zhou Ge had informed their families about the previous night's events when they returned home. At that time, Old Lady Chen lavished praise on Chen Dashan. In her opinion, working as a low-ranking official was inferior to being associated with Sang Luo. Even if Sang Luo sold tofu, and they were only in charge of growing the beans, Old Lady Chen felt a sense of security in this arrangement.

    For now, it was naturally best to hear what Sang Luo had planned, so he could determine how much to offer the authorities and how much to keep for themselves.

    This year in the mountains, Sang Luo experimented with a small plot using refined cultivation techniques. The yield was indeed remarkable, but it also consumed a substantial amount of seed tubers. Old Lady Chen pondered and said, "I recall that you planted nearly two hundred pounds of seed tubers for your three acres of refined crop land this spring, didn't you?"

    When they fled into the mountains, they had scales at home - tools not easily acquired, and none would willingly abandon them. Thus, they were brought along as well. Of course, the household scales were not used to weigh every single seedling; only approximate measurements were taken. Most relied on estimation and judgment.

    Sangluo nods, "Yes, this year is just an experiment. Next year, we plan to divide the land into several plots and try different planting densities to see how they affect growth and yield. Given the current situation in Shezhou, though, it's not easy for the government either. I intend to donate all four or five hundred jin of yams from this trip to the authorities, while keeping the batch still remaining in the mountains for our own planting purposes."

    They had left in a hurry, with the outer areas bustling with land clearing activities. A few skilled hands were constantly occupied assisting the authorities in recruiting mountain dwellers to move out. Thus, many households within the inner valley still had hidden supplies of food, yams, and even sheep raised in the valley.

    Old Lady Chen's eyes widened. "Didn't you have around seven or eight hundred pounds of yams in the mountains? Were you planning on using them all as seed tubers?"

    Moreover, she could read between the lines. Was Sang Luo actually going to plant all those one thousand two to three hundred pounds of yams as seed tubers?

    The old lady was utterly stunned. After all, not counting the rough cultivation this year, the three acres of carefully cultivated land had been estimated by everyone to yield over three hundred pounds per acre.

    If Sang Luo intended to use more than a thousand pounds of yams as seeds, Old Lady Chen, who had never dealt with such large numbers, couldn't even begin to calculate how much land it would cover or how many yams they would produce.

    She might not be able to figure out the exact amount of one thousand two to three hundred pounds, but seven or eight hundred, she could manage. This year, Sang Luo had used roughly seventy pounds of seed tubers per acre. Seven or eight hundred pounds, let's say seven hundred for simplicity, would mean ten acres. That would result in... three thousand pounds??

    Three thousand pounds!!

    Old Lady Chen tried to picture the enormity of that quantity, feeling her heart thumping wildly. She touched her chest and asked, "How can you possibly consume so much? Even if you sell them, these yams can only be stored for up to half a year after being dug out. If they're not sold by then, won't they go bad? Besides, everyone is planting yams now. Where will you sell them when the time comes?"

    Already worried, the old lady knew that Sang Luo always had a plan. Steadying herself, she inquired, "A' Luo, tell me, do you have a surefire way to sell these yams, or can they be made into something that can be stored for a long time without spoiling?"

    Sang Luo chuckled. She had always been close to the Chen family, especially Old Lady Chen. She took the old lady by the hand and led her to the kitchen. "Grandma, Brother Da Shan said yesterday that your mountain plot will be managed like ours. He and Ah Ge must've told you, right?"

    "The matter was discussed, and it's the right thing to do. There's no safer option than following you, and Ama also appreciates your willingness to agree."

    In truth, the old lady knew that the connection between Da Shan and Shen Lie was one factor. Over the years, A Luo had always remembered the rice and sugar water they'd given her and her late husband.

    Sang Luo replied, "Let's not dwell on formalities. I've already informed Brother Da Shan and Sister-in-law about the risks involved in farming and raising livestock. I believe you're aware of this as well."

    Old Lady Chen nodded. "Yes, yes, riches don't count if they're in the form of livestock. Even farming depends on the mercy of the weather. These are all understood."

    Reaching the kitchen, Sang Luo got straight to the point. "There's something I need to discuss with you. I won't hide it – yams can be prepared in more ways than how we consume them now. As you guessed, these tubers can be transformed into popular food items for sale."

    A glint appeared in Old Madam Chen's eyes. "Do tell me more."

    Sang Luo chuckled. "This can be used to make yam flour or yam noodles, both fresh and dried for longer storage. But we can't do that now; we need flour first. I plan to rent a shop in the eastern market of the state city after next year's yam harvest. Then, we can run a business based on this. Our two families can collaborate – I'll provide the recipe and the shop, while your family will be responsible for making the noodles and handling sales. What do you think?"

    "Partnership? Teach us the formula?" Before Chen Pozi's arrival, she had hoped merely to sell the raw materials to Sang Luo. Her family would earn their living from farming. Now, upon hearing that they would also be taught the recipe, she was taken aback.

    "Yes, you know that my family is small, and making noodles requires strength. Looking at Anning and me, which one of us seems capable of doing this daily? I have the recipe, and your family has the labor. I trust you with it, so I believe that our two families partnering up would be ideal. Thus, I'm not worried about having an excess of yams, as they will sell. The challenge for me would be acquiring flour. However, since the actual production wouldn't start until next winter, I suppose I should be able to source it by then. I plan to cultivate some wheat on my thirty acres of land in the future."

    In her own time and place, the north could only cultivate one crop of rye, while the south could manage two – rice followed by winter wheat. Though here, it seemed nobody followed that practice; most fields rotated with beans, likely due to concerns over soil fertility.

    But Sang Luo was willing to give it a try.

    They had emerged from the mountains rather late this year, and their land wasn't prepared in time. They missed the opportunity.

    Old Lady Chen was still in disbelief. "You're really taking us in as partners?"

    Isn't this formula supposed to be kept under wraps?

    However, she was well aware that her family's children all had pure intentions. Even Zhou Ge's wife was an excellent person. No one would have any ulterior motives. With this thought in mind, she straightened her back and patted her chest. "Ah Luo, don't worry. Since you trust us, we'll definitely keep this formula safe. If the partnership comes to an end, we won't take advantage of it for ourselves."

    She then spat twice. "What am I saying? This is such a lucrative business. The partnership won't end; it should continue indefinitely."

    Sang Luo laughed upon hearing this. "That remains to be seen. If there's a better future ahead, it won't be a loss even if we stop at some point."

    Old Lady Chen beamed with joy. "Should I plant more yams this year then? Our harvest isn't as abundant as yours, so what we can offer to the government won't be much. At most, I'd be willing to exchange about a hundred catties for food. Any more than that, and I'd feel too reluctant."

    Sang Luo didn't think it was a big deal. "A hundred catties is already considerable. Besides, it's not just our village. All the mountain folk have started planting these. Once the officials' envoys go around inspecting, they'll find out. Most of these planting blocks will be for those who originally lived in the state capital or the counties below. Distributing less to each household would still suffice for them."

    An idea struck her, and she spoke to Old Lady Chen again. "For the remaining mountain land, Ah Nai, plant more green beans."

    Chen Ma looked at her, "Green beans can be made into food to sell?"

    Sang Luo nodded, "Yes, they can. It's similar food. When the time comes, I'll teach your family how to make them too. We can start preparing once we harvest the green beans next autumn."

    While Shen Lie was away delivering someone, Sang Luo had already negotiated the partnership with the Chen family. All that was left was to discuss the profit sharing and draft a contract.

    There was no rush for now since the sweet potatoes and green beans had yet to be planted. Chen Ma didn't have any preconceived notions about this venture. She believed that their family would only contribute labor, and whatever Sang Luo gave them would be acceptable.

    The old lady was so delighted that she could hardly close her mouth. She began contemplating how to protect the recipes Sang Luo would provide. Recalling the walled backyard with a large lock that Sang Luo had built in Mile Village years ago, she said, "Our land is spacious, so I won't be planting vegetables at the back anymore. Next spring, we'll cultivate everything on the mountain plots. There's no rush to build a house either. Let's first enclose a large courtyard. A'Lu, can you help me figure out how to arrange the space for these products you mentioned? Do we need to construct workshops? Draw up a plan for us when the time comes, and we'll build accordingly."

    A senior and a young one emerged, both beaming with joy.

    Shen Lie caught only the latter part of their conversation and inquired, "What workshop are you building?"

    Granny Chen chuckled, "Ask A Luo. I need to get back to work on the mountain. By next spring, we aim to cultivate as much of the land as possible."

    Saying this with a smile, she walked away briskly, her steps lively.

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