Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Buffalo, A Blacksmith, and a Sticky Rice Basket....

How fascinating!  That was my first reaction to an invitation to go out to Living Lands – a working organic rice (and vegetable) farm about 10minutes from Luang Prabang in Ban Phongvan.  Living Lands aims to promote and educate on the traditional art of rice growing and harvesting through an interactive experience on their stunning property.  At the same time, they offer to Luang Prabang the first organic produce farm using European methods, growing vegetables and herbs including many non-native or uncommon in Laos.  Finally, the project provides extremely valuable work opportunities to a community with fewer prospects but a lot of dying skills, such as blacksmithing, as well as opening tourism to the village through sustainable methods and showcasing traditional ways.  What a great initiative! 

GVI Volunteers were invited to trial the Living Lands experience free of charge in a mutually beneficial arrangement – we got a fun afternoon in the mud and fields and they got feedback on the experience and what works well. 

Our guide Lei took us through the 13 stages of rice growing, from germination, to ploughing the fields with the help of a (very heavily pregnant) buffalo named Susan, to planting, harvesting, threshing, milling....and lucky 13....eating!  Each stage has an interactive component where visitors can use the equipment or practice the technique – with as much skill as they can muster.  Some volunteers found a new calling! 

We had the added bonus of learning about a sweet named ‘khanom’ made from sugar cane juice (with a demonstration of the press), ground rice flour (with one keen visitor giving the grindstone a try), sugar and coconut cream.  Yum!  Our labours lead us to enjoy Laos’ ubiquitous and renowned sticky rice, along with a traditional rice cakes, khao kop, and jeow bong – a chilli dip which is much less spicy than you’d imagine but oh-so-delicious!   

Khao kop, Khanom and Jeow Bong...yum!
The day was topped off with a stroll through the organic veggie garden and learning about methods used to grow the produce, which is sold to some of Luang Prabang’s most luxurious hotels and restaurants. 
Volunteers with Living Lands team
Volunteers all had a terrific afternoon in the village learning about this age-old process, and came away feeling a little more in touch with Laos!  Thanks to Mark and the Living Lands team for your hospitality.  Good luck, or as they say in Laos, “Sok dee”.