Friday, October 12, 2012

Gyeonggi Province's Icheon, land of abundance

A field of rice before the harvest stretches across farmland at Buraemi Village in Icheon, Gyeonggi Province. The village was designated as an experimental farming village to attract students on field trips so that they can harvest grapes, pears, peaches and other fruit and crops.

/ Korea Times photo 

ICHEON ― From the ancient Goguryeo Kingdom, Koreans have held many rituals to celebrate and give thanks to their ancestors and gods for the successful harvesting of crops.

The tradition carries on. Chuseok/Hangawi,  the Korean equivalent of Thanksgiving Day, which falls on the 15th day of the eighth month in the lunar calendar, continues until today where people hold rites to give thanks to their ancestors. This tradition of thanksgiving began during the Silla Kingdom according to the sources,.

  Now a days, the celebration has been evolving into the form of a festivals. Icheon in Gyeonggi Province holds the Icheon Rice Culture Festival every year to introduce Icheon rice and promote the region. Traditional thanksgiving rituals are reenacted here, a place which boasts the best quality rice in the country.

This year, the 14th rice festival will be held for four days starting from Oct. 25 through 28.

The harvest

Harvesting is a job that requires teamwork. In order to create a waterway in a rice paddy or to build a reservoir for water storage, a large workforce is required.

This need for labor led to the creation of “durae” or farmers’ cooperative groups where each member helped their neighbors when they were short of hands. They then received help back from those they gave assistance to.

Another interesting culture that began in the rice paddies was the creation of “pungmulpae” which is a troupe that performs traditional percussion music.

In the past, the pungmulpae played music to boost the energy of farmers who became bored with the repetitive work during harvesting. The groups no longer exist to provide entertainment for the farmers but continue to stage traditional performances during festivals.

The rice

The main crop harvested during the month of October is rice. Rice is not only the major crop harvested but the most important crop in the daily diet of Koreans.

Of all the rice producing regions across the nation, Icheon has the highest quality rice; thus rice from this region is the most expensive.

Since the 15th century, Icheon had been famous as the region supplying rice to be served on the royal table. With the reputation of being the “king’s rice,” it later became branded “imgeumnimpyo,” meaning “king’s mark.” Other regions famous for rice are Cheorwon and Yeoju.

The reason Icheon was able to produce such high-quality rice is attributed to its fertile land, geographical location and weather conditions.

“What differentiates the taste of Icheon rice is the geographical advantage it has. Located in the inner part of the peninsula, the region is rarely disrupted by typhoons,” said Yoo Sang-gyu, director of Icheon’s Agricultural Technology Service Center.

“There is always plenty of water in the land from groundwater and the large difference in the daily temperature range between day and night also contributes to the good quality,” he added. “The big temperature difference creates an environment for the soil to store nutrients well. This is why Icheon can produce unpolluted and healthy rice.”

The city produces around 45,000 tons of rice from 9,500 hectares of land every year, and also exports it to the United States and Indonesia, and to Hong Kong since last year.

One tip for preserving rice to ensure the best taste is to buy it in small portions. If it is left for too long, rice loses its taste. The best taste can be experienced within 20 days after purchase.

Rice should also be stored in a refrigerator to prevent it from becoming warm.

The festival

The annual rice festival is not only known among locals but is also popular among tourists ― last year, 7,000 foreign tourists visited.

At the 14th Icheon Rice Culture Festival this year, various events introducing the city and advertising its rice will be held.

A marching ceremony reproducing court officials bringing a feast table for the king will be held on the first day and a thanksgiving ritual will also reenact the traditional way farmers used to commemorate the annual harvest.

Icheon rice will be cooked for 2,000 people in a large iron pot and be sold for 2,000 won. The numbers are symbolically set at 2,000 because the number is pronounced “icheon” in Korean. A 600-meter rice cake will also be produced as part of a performance.

A contest selecting a master of rice cooking will also be held and the winner’s efforts will be available for sample tasting.

For children, farming activities will be organized so that they can actually get hands-on experience of farming. For children living in big cities, experiencing farming culture may be an excellent opportunity to learn about teamwork.

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