This week, our Travel pics series is G for Gardens.
Here in Australia, as in the US and other industrialised nations, agriculture has been industrialised – we have massive combine harvesters and air-conditioned tractors and giant insect-like cane cutters, and tea-picking machines that replace dozens of workers, and … well, you get the idea.
While there are still some ‘market gardens’, and small-scale intensive farming operations, they are the exception, rather than the rule.
In other nations, like Vietnam, the reverse holds true. While there IS some large-scale agriculture, most is still manual, intensive farming – either subsistence or commercial.
One example of this was the area around Hoi An, in Central Vietnam. The Quảng Nam province, centred around Hoi An, is dependent on agriculture.
In fact, until the turn of the century around 40% of the people in the district were employed in fishing, farming or forestry.
That’s now down to around 20% – but it’s interesting that ‘industrial’ agriculture still plays only a minor role.
For example, one of the largest industrial crops is peanuts – and the crop is only around 17,000 Tonnes. Rice, on the other hand, is still grown and harvested by hand – and it takes up three-quarters of all the agricultural land in Quảng Nam.
And then there are the ‘market gardens’.
As you travel out from Hoi An, you pass rice paddy fields on either side of the road. I would suggest you do the trip on a bicycle, if you can – it’s a fun ride, and not too strenuous because the area is so flat.
But once you’ve gone a few kilometres, you’ll come across small villages – and in these villages, you’ll spot ‘market gardens’ like the one we feature in today’s #travelpic
These gardens are tilled by hand, and produce everything from flowers for sale in the Hoi An markets, to vegetables grown for the cooking-pots of the nearby restaurants and cooking schools which dot the region.
They are quaint, and picturesque, and quintessentially South-East-Asian. But most of all, they are incredibly productive.
Nothing grows here that isn’t meant to be growing – and nothing grows here unless it has a value.
The flowers aren’t grown because they look good; they are grown because they have a commercial value.
The shallots aren’t grown just for the home kitchen – they are also harvested and sold in town by women who trudge in the 5km or so with their produce carried in ‘Quang Ganh’ – the twin carrying baskets on a long bamboo pole that you see everywhere in Vietnam.
As an aside, the Quang Ganh is used in the gardens themselves – with the baskets replaced by water cans on either end of the pole. You see people walking between the garden beds, watering both sides as they pace down the paths.
Like farmers the world over, the market gardeners of Hoi An live their lives according to the rhythm of the seasons … and like farmers the world over, their young people often leave as soon as they can, seeking their fortunes in the big wide world.
Which brings me back to the earlier observation – that the growth of manufacturing has meant the number of people involved in agriculture has dropped from 40% to 20% in just 15 years.
As young people move off to the factories, the market gardens will become more and more the province of their parents. And grandparents. What will that mean in the long term?
Watch this space, I guess – and spaces like it all over the world.