Looking for unique things to do in Laos? Add this into the bucket list. In this article, we will take you through a hands-on experience at the Living Land Farm located in Luang Prabang, Laos, where you will get to engage in the full process of harvesting rice under the guidance of a local farmer. This immersive tour offers a unique opportunity to gain a genuine understanding of how rice is harvested in the region. We will also answer the question of whether this tour is worth taking. So let's dive into the fascinating world of rice farming in Laos and discover the secrets behind this staple food.
Rice farming in Laos involves a series of 14 steps. It requires substantial effort and physical labor. During the Living Land Farm rice experience tour, you will have the opportunity to engage in all 14 steps giving you a real feeling of how Rice is harvested in the region.
Step 1. Grain Selection
Upon completing a harvest, farmers at The Living Land Farm immediately begin preparing for the next crop. A small proportion of rice grains are carefully chosen and saved as seeds for the next planting. Traditionally, these grains are sorted by submerging them in a bowl of saltwater. The grains that sink to the bottom are deemed healthier and are selected for replanting. After rinsing off the salt, the floating grains are used as nutrients for the farm's livestock.
Step 2. Planting the healthy grains
The seeds that were identified as healthier in step 1 are now planted in a designated nursery area. This requires you to build a pile of soil and flatten the surface. Planting them is a straightforward task that involves scattering the seeds over the mud in an empty paddy that you piled up. The Living Land Farm Experience will guide how to correctly plant the healthy grains.
Step 3. Preparing the paddy
Once the seedlings have gained strength, farmers begin the process of preparing the paddy by ploughing the land with the assistance of a water buffalo. This to some might seem cruel, however these practises have been around for centuries and the Buffalos are well-fed, well-cared for and not used for racing or fighting activities. There is no mistreatment or signs of cruelty towards the buffalo; she was simply a hardworking farm animal. They do not whip the buffalos and only amplify a sound for it to start moving. At the Living Land Farm, they have 1 water buffalo to rely on the traditional practice for this task. For a water buffalo it will take 4 hours per day for 4 days to prepare the paddy, however with the recent machinery they have invested in, it takes only 4 hours and the paddy is ready.
Step 4. Transferring the seedlings
Subsequently, the farmers during The Living Land Farm Experience transfer the seedlings from the nursery to the prepared field. Each individual seedling needs to be carefully planted by hand in the muddy soil. This can become a time-consuming task, particularly during the hot weather season. To make the process more enjoyable, farmers engage in singing songs to pass by time.
Step 5: Irrigate and maintain the seedlings
The seedlings are carefully watered to ensure their healthy growth. Watering is typically done manually by the farmers at The Living Land Farm, either through controlled irrigation or by applying water directly to the fields. It is important to maintain an optimal level of moisture for the seedlings without causing flooding. Additionally, the farmers diligently weed the fields, removing unwanted plants that may compete for resources with the rice seedlings.
Step 6: Harvesting the crop
Farmers need to carefully observe the rice plants. If they wait too long, the grains may drop into the water and become unusable. It's important to harvest the crop without delay, so farmers must always be prepared. When the rice is ripe and ready, farmers use a special knife to cut the stalks near the bottom and gather them into groups. These groups are then left in the sun to dry. You will get to experience the cutting of the stalks during The Living Land Farm Experience.
Step 7: Separate the rice grains from the bundles
Once the rice has dried, the bundles are vigorously beaten against a wooden board to remove the grains. The Living Land Farm Experience allow you to give it a try by using a pair of batons to beat a bundle and skillfully toss the stalks aside, releasing all the grains.
Step 8: Remove the straw from the grains
When the bundles are disposed of, it helps to separate a lot of the rice from the stalks. However, this process also scatters straw and rice husks all around. Since these materials are lighter than the rice grains, farmers use a fan to sort the rice from the rest. They move the fan in a back and forth motion, somewhat like a sweeping movement in the air. This way, straw and husks are blown away from the rice grains.
Step 9: Store and transport the rice
The rice is carefully placed into baskets to be taken to homes or storage areas. People from different communities like the Hmong, Khmu, and Laos have their own unique methods of carrying these baskets such as a rucksack, balancing the rice on the shoulder or even the head. It's important to note that carrying such a heavy load of rice is extremely demanding. Some women have to walk for hours or even longer to bring the baskets of rice to their villages. These baskets can weigh up to 50kg.
Step 10: Husk the rice
Living Land Farm chooses not to rely on machines and instead upholds traditional practices for husking rice. Instead of using modern agricultural tools, they employ a method where they stomp on a long piece of wood that pounds the rice in a stone bowl. It's an intense workout for the legs, as we tried jumping on the end of the wood in a natural rhythm to pound the rice. Once you get a hang of it, it's not that hard for a short period of time!
Step 11: Remove the outer covering from the rice
Even after husking the rice once, farmers still need to separate the edible part of the rice from the husks. Resourceful women in Laos create trays using bamboo to toss the rice into the air and catch it. As the rice is thrown, the husks fly away while the edible grains fall back into the tray. This requires a lot of practice with the movement of the arms.
Step 12: Soaking the rice
Sticky rice is a staple in Laos, playing a vital role in traditional cuisine and cultural practices. Its unique texture and versatility make it a preferred choice for meals, as it can be easily eaten by hand and enjoyed with various dishes, symbolizing unity and sharing in Lao culture. To prepare sticky rice for cooking, it is necessary to soak it beforehand. You can soak it for six hours, which is sufficient, but soaking it overnight is ideal to achieve the desired level of stickiness. The Living Land Farm Experience will show how it is soaked for the optimal sticky rice result.
Step 13: Cooking the rice
Preparing sticky rice involves steaming it instead of boiling. Bamboo baskets are placed on top of a pot filled with boiling water from a fire. The rice is flipped, not stirred, by tossing it into the air and catching it in the bamboo basket. This ensures even cooking throughout. During The Living Land Farm Experience do ask to smell the rice whilst its being cooked, the aroma is to die for.
Step 14: Enjoying a delicious meal
At the end of The Living Land Farm Experience and tour, we had the opportunity to replenish our energy with refreshing sugar cane juice mixed with lime. You will also get to taste the delicious rice wine which tastes very sweet. Additionally, we tasted various sticky rice dishes, including rice candy, rice cakes, sticky rice with jeow bong, and sticky rice with chicken dishes.
Is The Living Land Farm Experience worth it? Yes Yes Yes!!! We don't really book tours during our backpacking trips, as we like to do things ad-hoc depending on the day, weather and time. However, The Living Land Farm rice experience tour caught our eye as it offered a unique opportunity to actively engage in each step under the guidance of local farmers, providing an authentic understanding of rice cultivation in the region. From grain selection to enjoying a delicious meal, this immersive experience really highlights the hard work that goes into a small plate of rice, and its significance in Lao culture and cuisine. By participating in the tour, you will really gain appreciation for the hard work and traditional methods involved in producing this staple food.