Of planting rice and the broken food system

Since childhood, we’ve been hearing the folk song, “Magtanim ay di biro” roughly translated as planting rice is not a joke and I was able to confirm this when I joined a farm trip last weekend at Capas, Tarlac.

The farm trip is an activity of Good Food Community that allows participants to do farm work and get to appreciate and understand where our food comes from. Good Food Community is an organization that promotes Community Shared Agriculture and aims to bridge the gap between producers and consumers.

It’s always refreshing to get away from the buzz of urban living and be re-acquainted to the land and attempt to once again find that connection which we seem to have lost. My grandparents were vegetable farmers in Benguet and my childhood summer days would entail me and my brother going to the mountains to help out in the work – tilling the soil and watering the plants. Kids in the area would taunt how us, the city boys, didn’t know what we were doing. They couldn’t any more be right.

These were my thoughts while we traversed through dirt mounds to get to the rice field. Once we got to the field, we couldn’t wait to plunge into the mud. Time to get dirty, although soil is not dirt or dirty for that matter. And apparently, soil has anti-depressant microbes. No wonder it was fun walking around the mud barefooted while we applied carbonized rice hull to the soil (this helps retain moisture). It could just be the novelty of doing something new but it could also be the “happy” microbes working its magic.

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Applying carbonized rice hull with glee. (c) Ernest Barreiro

Using a tilling machine, our farmer guide plowed the soil effortlessly then we started planting. There were 11 of us who worked on an area which is around 200 square meters and it took us almost an hour to finish. Typically, a single farmer can do the work for two hours and gets paid P80.

I already knew that 57 is the average age of farmers in the Philippines. That despite being an agricultural country, our farmers don’t get much support from the government. And farming is looked down upon. The farmers themselves wouldn’t want their children to follow the same path as they don’t see any hope in it. I couldn’t blame them but the problem now is who would feed us in the future?

Farm Trip (4)
Time to work those knees! (c)Charlene Tan

It was a good workout after all the bending under the scorching heat of the sun. We rewarded ourselves after with snacks of corn and freshly harvested bananas. While munching, we talked about food and how broken the system is. We don’t exactly know where our food comes from, how it’s produced, what’s in season. We rely on junk food and fast food which are readily available. However, the farm trip participants make an effort to eat healthy, organic food mainly due to health and environmental reasons. As a challenge though, organic food tends to be more expensive. But if you factor in the production process plus benefits of eating healthy, the price is actually reasonable.

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Food conversation over corn and bananas. (c) Marvin Almonte

It was a nice experience overall. Waking up the following day to sore legs reminded me that indeed planting rice is not a joke. So the least we could do is to show appreciation to food and the people who grow it.

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Author: Ryan Bestre

Environmentalist. Teacher. Writer.

4 thoughts on “Of planting rice and the broken food system”

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