This year PaperTigers celebrates Earth Day by kicking off Jan Reynolds’ blog tour of Cycle of Rice, Cycle of Life: A Story of Sustainable Farming.
Author/photographer of Celebrate! Connections Among Cultures and the “Vanishing Cultures” series, Jan is no stranger to turning world cultures and natural environments into beautiful and educational books for children. With this new title, Cycle of Rice, Cycle of Life, she has put together a fascinating photo essay that explains sustainable farming by using the Balinese traditional system of rice farming as an example of “growing food while being conscious of the needs of other people and the well-being of the planet.”
The book shows us how rice farming in Bali has been practiced for a thousand years (“from seeds to rice-bearing plants to cut stalks that go back into the soil”), and how its cycle is closely connected to that of community life in the island. For the Balinese people, the natural rice cycle involves a hierarchy of water temples; community rituals performed by high priests to thank the goddess of water and the goddess of rice; careful planning of water-sharing schedules to meet everyone’s needs, allowing for a fallow period between growing cycles to keep the fields fertile; the help of ducks to eat worms and bugs and to fertilize the soil naturally with manure; and more. But in the end, the essence of the process, i.e the spirit of a connected community sharing water to ensure a rice harvest and a good life for all, comes through quite clearly through Jan’s images and words.
Cycle of Rice also serves as a cautionary tale: in the 1960’s, in an attempt to increase and speed up production and to turn Bali into the biggest producer of rice in the world, the Balinese government introduced hybrid rice and chemicals and pesticides through a program called (ironically, as it turned out) “Green Revolution.” The new measures, which among other things replaced the work of high priests to help plan and manage the system of water distribution, with that of water scientists, drastically disturbed the ancient system and caused damage to soil, the crops and the overall environment, thus putting an ancient and harmonious way of life under serious threat. According to the book, their traditional practices have now been mostly restored, thanks to the work of American anthropologist J. Stephen Lansing and ecologist James Kremer. By advocating the marriage of old and new in the development of sustainable practices, their research and efforts have led Bali and others “to evaluate traditional ways before imposing modern techniques”—a message that goes far beyond farming and can certainly be applied to different spheres of life.
Jan Reynolds seems always to have been ahead of the game when it comes to advocating for the environment—which might explain why this book took over 10 years to get published (and kudos are in order here for Lee & Low, for embracing the project). She was talking about sustainability when most people still thought it was too hard a concept for kids to grasp. Luckily times have changed, and now our children can count on books such as this to show them examples of sustainable paths to our global future. Thanks, Jan, on behalf of our children and our planet, for this gift of a book! To use a metaphor related to the cycle of rice, may the book’s stalks go back to the soil and help grow a new crop of children’s books on this important topic.
For more on Jan Reynolds’ work and Cycle of Rice, Cycle of Life, check the blog tour schedule (we will be linking to the posts directly, as they become available):