The first in a nereusmedia journal series on Exploring Thailand, discover the Rice Cycle in the Isaan region of Northeast Thailand with essays and photos by following the farming practices of traditional hand planting, harvesting, threshing, and milling for this staple food of Asia at the heart of Thai cuisine and culture. Here is a excerpt from the Introduction:
Rice is an important part of more than just Thailand’s agricultural infrasturcture. As the staple food of Thailand, it has a cultural role as well, and no where is this more evident than in the Isaan region. The name comes from the Thai word isan or ‘northeast’, where the region is geographically located. To the north and east of Isaan is the country of Laos, with the Mekong river serving as the border, while to the south the region borders the country of Cambodia. It would be here in the Sakhon Nakhon region of Isaan that I would get to learn about and experience the Rice Cycle in a traditional way. For while Thailand is a modern country with modern mechanized farming techniques and equipment, you can still find traditional farms with people working the land as they have for hundreds of years. And while arguments can be made for the need for modern mass production farming, the merits of traditional farming have an equal if not an even more important role, not only in the lives of the local farms still using these techniques, but to the world at large, to get a better sense of the connection between humanity and the earth which is the source of our food.
This cultural side of traditional farming is what I discovered quiet by accident while learning to plant and harvest rice by hand. Cultural in the sense of learning more about Thailand and Thai people, but also about some undefined culture of all humanity, something that all people who have spent any time on a farm in any country of the world experience. One may feel the same thing in France when visiting a vineyard and winery, or a wheat field and a bakery. In my home region of New England, we have apple orchards and pumpkin patches and strawberry fields. And yet removed from the familiarity of our home, we can often appreciate these things in better as a guest in a foreign land, where every experience registers that much stronger.
I was able to participate in traditional hand planting of rice in flooded bogs, harvesting rice with a sickle, manually threshing the rice, and working on a milling machine that milled the rice until it is in the form that we love to cook in our kitchens and eat at our dinner tables. And yet, the people and land coming together would be my favorite part of the Rice Cycle that I experienced in Thailand.
In an age of every mechanized farming practices that separates the people from the land that provides their food, we can all learn a lesson from the ability of Thailand to preserve this aspect of the importance of farming and agriculture to everyone’s lives. We can only benefit from remembering and acknowledging the hard working farmer who cultivates the food we bring to our tables when we sit down for our meals.