There have been people passing through our place for a while now, friends and friends of friends, a few people connected with the local permaculture network, some tourists, small groups of university students. But today we received our first official visitors.
Mainly through word of mouth people are finding out about the mad farang and his new garden, yesterday a group of Karen from the surrounding mountains were taken to our place by a government official in charge of agricultural policy in the area. The group comprised about forty people, they were very curious about our choice to come and live here and work on the land, when we could afford to live in a house in the city, most farmers dream of a different future for their kids, better education, an easier life, a regular job, more money etc.
They also wanted to know about adobe construction techniques, from what I understood they think it could be an idea for their outside shower/toilet, which often tends to be a pretty ramshackle structure and in this context they had a good look at our compost hot water system as well. In the photos you can see Khun Taen, our master adobe builder, going through some of the basic steps, the other guys working on our project at the moment are also Karen, in this way what we are doing does not look so far fetched or difficult to achieve, as we are all learning this work together as we go along.
This was the ideal occasion for me. I got to say my piece (in thai, are you impressed?), not with the intention of convincing anyone of any specific idea, rather because the people were interested in our choices and the reasoning behind them, so it was a very relaxed and natural conversation. It is very difficult to offer alternative solutions that can compete with chemical agriculture as far as income is concerned, until we have a model in place that works and provides income through an easy-to-access market, as well as other useful outcomes. So, for example, the only thing I have to say about weedkiller is, “please when spraying use gloves, a mask, goggles, be careful which way the wind blows, don’t go near your kids before you’ve had a shower, keep your dirty clothes out of the house, you must protect yourselves and your family, better safe than sorry.” If in the future we can show that by growing in a different way we can produce a similar income, once all the costs are taken into account, I am sure people will be more than willing to listen, but of course we are not there yet, a long way from it…
As far as growing organic, we said that we think it is important to develop this knowledge of growing good food without using chemicals as it might come useful in the future, in case rising fertilizer prices make conventional agriculture uneconomical, as well as providing safe food to eat now. I have seen places where the example and practices of one person have slowly spread to others, but someone has to start and develop the ideas and the contacts to put them in practice and get a return on investment, however small at the beginning.
This is also what we are trying to work on, after all if we are to create a sustainable model, we have to produce something that is useful to other people as well as us, and that creates an income. To quote David Holmgren, “There is no point in attempting to plant a forest for the grandchildren if we haven’t got enough to eat today.” He also points out that “Whether we attribute it to nature, market forces or human greed, systems that most effectively obtain a yield and use it most effectively to meet the needs of survival, tend to prevail over alternatives”.
It was a very enjoyable day, we made some new friends, planned a return visit to some of the nearby villages and promised to keep in touch when we have something useful to share, seeds, seedlings, etc.