camau

CA MAU FIELD NOTES 17 NOVEMBER 2015

Twelve hours on the road through the beautiful, bountiful Mekong Delta full of orchards heavy with fruits, after an absolutely lip-smacking lunch stop in Can Tho where we tasted the local sour and spicy fish soup, and then for hours through miles and miles of green paddy field, we arrived at dusk at Ca Mau, the very southern end of Vietnam.

This part of the country carries a special sound to it and brings to mind the wildness of the terrain where continental land ends and the vast Pacific Ocean begins. Even the name of the mangrove forest itself, U Minh, signifies its dark, mysterious vastness. This area was a key hideout for revolu- tionaries during the war and it continued to shelter secrets.

We travelled here to visit Vien Phu/ Hoa Sua farms, one of the largest organic farm projects in the Mekong Delta. Earlier this year the most serendipitous encounter happened; I was pitched a few years ago to represent a brand of organic Vietnamese black rice, Hoa Sua, and use the product as a healthy alternative on our menu. I loved the taste of it – rounded, sweet and not quite as milky as Japanese round-gain rice but not quite as structured as a long-grain basmati. The antioxidant quality, I am told, is higher than blue- berries. But I was hesitant as we simply didn’t know enough about the prod- uct to feature it permanently.

So I was delightfully surprised to be introduced to the family owned business in Ho Chi Minh and got to know their family stories. Huy Vo and his father has worked the land for ten years to re-condition alkaline soil to grow rice and vegetables, all in a completely organic manner, USDA and EU certi- fied. The project is a lifetime, if not trans-generational passion of extraordi- nary scale.

It took us another hour from Ca Mau town to reach the outskirts of the farm, a vast area of over 300 hectare protected by a natural fence of the most thorny bushes. Many areas are only reachable by canoe through the various canals that run as arteries throughout the farm. Organic fish and prawn farming, rice fields, seasonal produce, poultr y, a
for workers, convenience store for workers and nearby farmers, bringing electricity and paving roads – that’s only a portion of the monumental work that has been done in the past decade – all based on one man’s dream.

The weather is unforgiving, either unbearable sun or pouring rain, and the mosquitoes are vicious. The living conditions are sparse but a sense of optimism and determination permeates through the farm. We picked our own vegetable and helped prepare the most delicious meal from the farm’s produce, accompanied by wild berry wine made on the farm too.

For the first time, I actually understsand the meaning of farm to table. More importantly, I got a first hand glimpse of the immensity of the hard work that goes into producing our food. Farmers are truly the unsung heroes of our happi- ness. From a traditionally agrarian society, Vietnam is losing its farmers to factories and white-collar work. But what we really need is more people like Hoa Sua, who has vision and passion, to turn to farming and change it for the next generations. In the end, what could possibly matter more than food?

Love,

sign