I grew up in Pampanga where vast lands are made into rice fields. 20 years ago, I could pinpoint a lot of people who earned their living by harvesting rice. Rice is the main staple food of Filipinos. It’s worth is equivalent to gold for every farmer and every poor family. It’s the source of wealth for hacienderos and the symbol of power for wealthy families in provinces.
Our region is known as one of the biggest suppliers of rice in the whole country. During planting season, I see the green farmlands along the expressway. During harvest time, I see the long golden yellow rice stalks that cover the land.
Growing the Rice
When I was a little kid, the smell of fresh green rice stalk seemed nice. I was always amazed of how everyone busily worked during planting and harvesting season.
The first thing to do is to plow the land for preparation of planting. Though machinery is often used nowadays, carabaos were the best option decades ago. We even have this old adage that “carabaos are the farmer’s besfriend.”
I remembered a battalion of farmers marching down the road to go to the farms. They are in their farmer suits (hat, boots, farm pants, long sleeves shirts). Usually, the farm owner would provide the food and water. The term “bayanihan” was often used for farm activities like planting. Bayanihan (pronounced as buy-uh-nee-hun) literally means “being in a bayan (town/community)”, which describes the spirit of communal unity, work and cooperation to achieve a specific goal.
I wanted to feel the mud on my feet and to try planting rice but it never happened. I just had to watch them from afar. Take note that we don’t own any farm. There are just a lot of arms in my province. Sometimes the farm owner will come to my parents to get funds for rice planting. In exchange, they will pay with sacks of rice after the harvest.
A Farmer’s Struggle in my Point of View
I just learned at school that the typical split from profit of owner and farmers is 60-40. 60% goes to the owner and 40% goes to farmers. For this reason, the owners (especially the hacienderos who own hectares of land) became richer and managed to invest on other businesses while the farmers have to split the remaining 40%. Each farmer’s profit is usually the only means to survive until the next harvest season. There goes the income inequality gap.
I read books and watched documentaries about Filipino farmers and I know how hard life is for them. They produce the main crop consumed by people in the country yet they rarely have food on their own table. They still live in small huts or wooden houses. They don’t have access to good education and medical assistance.
At present, the farmers are also deeply affected by climate change. El Niño is causing yearly drought that kills their crops including rice. Super typhoons drown and also kill the the crops.
Motivated by a Farmer’s Life
It’s rare to see a farmer leave his simple life and gain more possession during his lifetime. That’s why I will always hear our elders say, “Make sure you eat every grain of rice on your plate. Blood and sweat of farmers were used to just grow the rice.” My grandpa would not allow me to leave the table until he saw that no single grain of rice is left. He would also scold us if we dropped grains of rice or any food on or under the table. He is a farmer’s son so he knows the hardship of a farmer.
As a kid, I hated it but the lesson was instilled. I don’t waste food. I just get the food I can consume. I feel bad to see others wasting and throwing away food. I always give my prayer of thanks for my food on the table. Every grain of rice I cook and serve is important.
I am hoping to impart this lesson to my kids as well. However, it is a difficult challenge for me because they are raised to have excess food on the table. My parents have spoiled them such that they don’t see the value of the food they eat. Maybe, if they will read this post someday, they will know why I scold them for wasting their meals.
Daily Prompt: Grain