Education is a key for any developing community. Bali is no exception.
One form of education has come through the organic farms sprouting up in the Ubud area of Bali. One couple, Oded Carmi and his wife Nila, have spearheaded Sari Organik, an experimentation station for farming and food processing.
Oded, an Israeli, arrived in Ubud in 1990 and planted a small garden. At the same time Nila was cooking and running a small catering business. Fate brought them together and today their operation is divided into four parts: two farms where organic vegetables and fruit are grown; an organic rice operation; a food processing plant where they make jams, tofu, soy feta, natural sauces and many other products; and finally, Bodag Meliah Restaurant where everything grown in the fields is transformed into Nila's creative recipes - even pineapple wine!
Oded and Nila are a unique couple. Their intent has been to develop a model farm that concurrently operates as an educational centre to serve in the creation of a "green" Bali. Their Bodag Meliah restaurant, uniquely situated in the middle of rice paddies, is a huge success. In the beginning they initiated some local advertising. However, the travellers' grapevine has been the best form of publicity - attracting tourists to an organic oasis is effortless.
In the kitchen, Nila empowers her staff to "give love to the food." She operates from the belief that if you do everything from your heart, everything will be a success.
Although they have had their challenges, it's obvious the formula has worked. As Oded states, "For organic farmers anywhere in the world it's tough to exist. You can't just live off the garden.
"In the beginning our vision was to move into food processing and then the restaurant evolved from that. The idea was to build a model farm and processing plant, while using fair trade, for people to look at and copy."
As they see it, the businesses will grow organically. Today they employ 35 young Balinese and Nila is open to having anyone work for them as long as they have a willingness to learn. As she sees it she is also teaching them to think for themselves.
"I want people to be independent thinkers. I want to teach people how to make themselves happy and not to worry about tomorrow."
Oded and Nila cultivate two kinds of organic rice: Limbata and Ijo gading. They employ a few farmers whose land surrounds the restaurant to grow rice for them. The rice is stored in its husk and is prepared at the time of sale to insure freshness.
Oded says today's rice farmers don't make enough money just growing rice, many of them must have second jobs. Fortunately for Oded and Nila's farmers, they are paid two to three times more for organic rice.
Overall their operation is a remarkable success story. Their journey, personal and professional, inspires many and they are very clear in their belief that they choose to share their success with anyone who would like to learn.
As one travels across the island the rice terraces are the most striking part of the landscape. In Bali, rice is the main staple, therefore the population holds a deep reverence and respect. There are endless rituals to encourage the rice to grow well, for water to flow, to prevent pollution, to prevent birds and mice from munching.
An interesting fact regarding Oded and Nila's rice paddies is that the birds are flocking to and eating their rice - not their neighbours' crop. Even the birds are choosing organic!
Traditionally, before a crop is planted the local kliang (a priest) visits the small alter on the land and carries out the necessary rituals. Offerings are made to Dewa Sri (the rice deva) and the first nine sprouts are planted in a strict order, as they have been for generations. After the nine cardinal directions have been covered, the rest of the field is planted. At each stage of maturity more offerings and rituals are carried out. Finally, it all ends in a great feast at harvest time.
In the evening darkness, walking back from Bodag Meliah through the rice paddies is sheer joy. Coconut palms silhouette the skyline, starlight and moonlight lead the way and a rhapsody of frogs (whose homes are embedded in the elaborate irrigation systems) serenades wanderers down the pathway with fireflies dancing and celebrating the night.
Witnessing that serenity one can only believe that despite the economic and environmental challenges Bali faces that the island will move forward in today's world of globalization.
With a combination of ancient wisdom and new insight from entrepreneurs such as Oden and Nila, let's hope that those who are on Bali's watch will hold the vision and rise to do their best for the island. As for those of us who visit, we have a responsibility to be good tourists and do our part as we bear witness to Bali's future.
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