My Morning as a Rice Farmer (Luang Prabang, Laos)

If you have to do back-breaking work, pick a picturesque setting like this

Living Land Farm was by far my favorite thing to do in Luang Prabang. The experience takes you through the fourteen steps of growing sticky rice. The experience is highly interactive, and you are encouraged to give each step a try if you’re willing to get your hands and feet dirty. Ploughing with a water buffalo requires you to stand in knee-deep mud and try to keep up with the water buffalo, learning buffalo-speak (a tiny subset of Lao) along the way.

You come to really to appreciate not only the sheer amount of work but also the diverse set of skills that goes into each grain of rice. You learn quickly that each step has many subtleties that takes years of practice to master. For example, separating the husks from the grains of rice seem simple enough. However, after several tries by different members of the group, it was clear that brute force wasn’t the answer. After seeing our frustration, the guide demonstrated that the trick was to sweep in a graceful, figure-eight. Even when you know the strategy, it takes a several tries to get halfway decent.

Fieldwork (steps #1-8): 1) Picking the seeds 2) Ploughing 3) Planting 4) Watch out for pests 5) Harvest 6) Thrashing 7) Separating the husk 8) Carrying the fruits of your labor.

collage1

Processing the rice (step 10-14): 10) Use mortar and pestle to break up rice 11) Winnowing 12) Sort rice for eating from rice for livestock 13) cook rice 14) Eat and enjoy (everything picture is made from rice)

Processing the rice
The experience gives you a peek into the culture that has evolved around the practices and rhythm of rice farming. For example, you learn the songs that help set and coordinate the rhythms of planting. You see how the layout of the house is revolves around processing the rice. You also learn which roles were traditionally done by men and which were done by women (though the roles are starting to blur more and more nowadays).

The experience was definitely catered towards tourists and is a little on the pricey side. However, I appreciate the work and care that went into distilling the cultural wisdom of rice farming and a lifetime of knowledge into a format that was entertaining and enlightening. Unlike other attractions in Luang Prabang, I didn’t feel like we were be rushed along. We were treated more like guests than customers, and it is clear that the guide is passionate about teaching and has dedicated his life’s work to this farm and educational outreach. The farm is also deeply integrated into the local community, offering free english classes to kids and encouraging sustainable, organic farming techniques.

Working the field

As I travel to learn about food, I’ve become more and more interested in where the ingredients come from. My morning as a rice farmer was fun and educational. However, each of our efforts probably yielded at most one handful of usable rice. I probably should stick to cooking for now.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Somi Vamvanij says:

    Great writing. It certainly made me realized how we
    Have taken it for granted the grain of rice we eat daily.

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