Food/Drink

Rice, Very Labour Intensive Crop

My meal wouldn’t be complete without rice. That’s the way we ate when I grew up in the Philippines. Even though I have been living here in America for more than six years now, I still eat rice almost every meal.

Rice is very important in the Filipino culture. There are many different varieties of rice there in the Philippines. Many were pioneered or bred by the Philippine Rice Institute. When you go to a supermarket or wet-market you will find dozens of different types of rice for sale at greatly varying prices. Rice is also the main ingredient in desserts like suman or rice cake. It is soaked, milled, mixed with coconut milk and sugar and then wrapped in banana leaves and steamed.

The first time I got here to the US, my hubby bought me long-grained rice but I did not like it much. I found that long grained rice to be tasteless. I like the medium grained rice better. Jasmine rice, in particular, is my favorite. It is medium grained and its texture is similar to my father’s homegrown rice.

Rice can be boiled, fried, stewed and steamed. Rice, as it is grown in the Philippines, is a very labor-intensive crop. The seeds must be sprouted and then planted by hand. Periodically, you need to weed before harvesting. The rice is ready to be harvested when the husk turns yellow. After the rice is harvested, chaff is shaken away. It is then dried, hulled and polished before it is ready to eat.

Dependent on Water

My father usually sticks to the same variety, especially if he gets a good harvest from it. Sometimes he will experiment with different strains in a small corner of the rice paddy. I still vividly remember how tiring a full day of weeding the paddies was. That experience motivated me to study hard so that I wouldn’t have to do a lot of weeding all my life. As much as I disliked weeding, I still remember those days in the mud fondly.

Rice harvests are nearly always dependent on water, whether through irrigation or rain. My father’s paddies were irrigated but the irrigation was often not good enough, especially during the drought season. He recently added an artesian well which has greatly increase his yield. Since my father’s paddies are near the lake, he gets two harvests per year. He could have three annual harvests if the nearby lake wouldn’t swell and flood the paddy during the rainy season. Unfortunately, it always floods so two harvests are the most he can ever get.

Like other farmers everywhere, rice farmers greatly depend on the mercy of the weather because, despite the fact that rice is grown in water, too much water can also harm it. The large raindrops that come with the monsoon can easily crush newly sprouted rice shoots. After the roots take hold, the water needs to be drained so that the roots don’t rot.