This is the second in a series of stories looking at where food in Taiwan really comes from. We often buy our food prepackaged, and don’t know where it comes from or how it is made. People take for granted what it takes to provide the food we enjoy. There is an appreciation and connection to the land that comes from experiencing the process of growing, gathering and making food. There is no staple food more important in Taiwan than rice. Early June is one of the harvest seasons, and there are generally 3 harvest seasons for rice in Taiwan.
RICE HARVEST IN SIGANG
The weather on Saturday, June 6th was unseasonable mild, so my family and I decided to take a road trip on our motor scooters in Tainan County. As we were driving out of Sigang Township, I noticed rice drying on the pavement beside the road. I decided to take some video of the process of drying rice after it was harvested. I realized, this was a perfect time to film and take photos of the entire process of the rice harvest.
Rice is grown in practically every part of Taiwan, except in the harsh mountain terrain. Sigang township, being the farming area that it is, has plenty of rice farms. My wife told she saw for the first time in her life the automated rice harvesters in the fields of Sigang. After stopping by the roadside to take photos of rice drying, we heard the noise of a large diesel engine and noticed a rice harvester.
We hopped on our scooters and headed towards the sound of the diesel engine. There were rice fields of varying degrees of maturation. Many of the fields were golden in color, and were ready for harvest. The recent rains have helped the farmers keep the rice watered and healthy. We spoke to the local farmer overseeing the harvest of his field, and he was grateful for the rains.
We watched in amazement at the speed and efficiency of the automated harvesting machine. It sped through the rice field, chopping the rice in neat rows, collecting the rice grain, and re-depositing the stalks back on the ground to become fertilizer for the field. After collecting a certain amount of rice, the harvester parked next to a waiting truck to dispense the rice grain into the bed. After releasing its hold, the harvester circled the field again.
As the harvester circled mowed the rice field, flocks of birds flew in behind it to catch frightened and stunned insects. The harvester moved quickly and cleared out an entire field in a matter of an hour. What used to take farmers two days to pick by hand now takes an hour by machine. I imagine this increased efficiency will only reduce the cost of the most important food staple in Taiwan.
Rice was taken by the truck to be dumped onto pavement somewhere, where residents would rake it out in long, straight rows to be dried in the sun. You will often see elderly ladies in their 70’s doing this work. You don’t really see farmers younger than 55 in Taiwan. The process of drying could take a few days. After the rice was dried, it was collected once again, and taken to a local distribution center.
At the distribution center, large piles of dried rice was stored and later collected by bulldozer into the beds of trucks to be brought elsewhere. When we eat rice, we never really realize the amount of work that goes into growing and collecting each grain of rice. I have always been reminded about the effort involved. At least for now, a good part of that effort has been reduced. One day, it will be Taiwan’s greatest challenge to replace generations of farmers who have helped keep the island fed.