Rice is Life
Learning how to grow sticky rice at the Living Land Farm near Luang Prabang
Living Land Farm
The other morning I went to the Living Land Farm just outside of Luang Prabang to experience the Rice is Life program. It was fantastic!
Our small group met with Mr. Laut Lee – a phenomenal farmer and equally great tour guide and teacher (and also a beekeeper among many other things!) Our group instantly clicked and I knew it would be a fun time.
The tour goes through the 13 (14!) stages of rice farming. I’m sorry Laut Lee, I’m not going to remember them all but I will try! The 14th stage is of course the best – eating and drinking! No problem remembering that one.
We started off with learning about some of the tools and traps that are used on a farm in Laos. They look a lot different from the tools I’m familiar with back at home.
The traps are used to catch birds and eels, and what do they do with them then? Eat them for lunch!
In stage 1 we had some basic lessons – do you plant the seeds of rice that float or sink? (Correct answer: sink). I think after that we moved out to the rice paddies with our traditional farmer-style sun hats of course! We looked at the nursery where seedlings just begin to grow, and then we planted some seedlings in the next field.
We met the water buffalo named Suzuki and took him for a spin around the field – which was easier said than done. Suzuki did not like to listen to me! And the mud was so thick and sticky I was sure I would fall.
We went to a paddy with larger plants and weeded a few rows, finding crabs and snails along with the weeds. Finally we saw the full grown rice, all ready to be harvested.
We learned the ‘man’ and ‘woman’ techniques for getting the rice kernels off the stocks and how to separate the good rice from the bad rice. All you have to do is wave a fan at it and the wind does all the work for you! We learned how the lowland, midland, and highland ethnic groups carry rice and other products – in two baskets on a stick that you carry on your shoulders, in a big basket that is carried by a strap on your forehead, or in a basket worn as a backpack.
We pounded the rice, separated the edible parts from the hulls. And then we learned how to separate the two using a big bamboo plate – traditionally women’s work. We also learned to make rice flour, which took a lot of muscle!
While our rice was cooking we visited with some older men who were making bamboo baskets. We learned to slice the bamboo into thin pieces and a few weaving methods. We went for a tour of the herb and salad garden and got to taste some of the plants – the arugula is delicious. We also took a look at the new homestay, which has been converted out of an old rice shed. It looks like a great place to stay!
We went back to the outdoor kitchen and made some fresh cane juice and then went up and ate sticky rice with a spicy dip (jaew mak) along with crunchy rice cakes, rice crisps, and strong rice wine.
This experience was a lot of fun, from the beautiful land to the friendly host to the fantastic program. I had wondered many times before, while driving by rice paddies, how they produce as much rice as people eat. This was a great learning experience!