maemutgarden

simple living, home grown food, clean air


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Homeschooling and MyWay #4

Our daughter Serena is 4 years old. Before she was born I had never given much thought to children education as an issue, because I did not think somehow that fatherhood was going to be a part of my life. Things changed pretty  comprehensively when she arrived.

Being able to spend a lot of time with her and watching her grow and develop naturally, it became quite clear to me that, at least during the first 10 years or so, children don’t really need schools to learn, they just do new things all the time as a matter of course, they are naturally curious, imaginative and full of energy.

I thought (somewhat lazily) that schools are important as a social environment and that kids should be with other kids, I had very little idea about homeschooling until, during a casual conversation, a friend mentioned a camping weekend organized by a group of Thai parents and which was going to be hosted by our friends Pun Pun at their site in Phrao.

The group is called MyWay and this was their fourth gathering, people came from all over Thailand, we packed our basic camping gear and joined them.

It was a good move, which set us up to think seriously about homeschooling, we met many  interesting people with a lot of experience and we found a group in Chiang Mai with children of similar age, one of the families happened to pitch their tent next to us.

We dispelled many uncertainties and insecurities by listening to people who had been plagued by the same doubts and came through and we saw many children of various ages who had all managed to thrive and develop outside the school system. It felt positive and real.

Homeschooling also fits with our life here and is consistent with the choices we have made, now we just need to work out the logistics of joining (or not) various groups and activities. One group meets on Thursdays not too far from us and we have since met other people with similar ideas while visiting a friend’s place, so we are quite optimistic.

Serena is also on board with it and knows that she needs to cooperate and that the usual restrictions on computer use still apply…   Here she is with her new best friends.


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A new guest cottage at Mae Mut Garden

Those who have visited our place in the last couple of years know that this project has been on for some time, and was almost but not quite finished for a while. We pushed on last winter to host a large sleepover organized by Lisa at Thai Freedom House.

After that we completed the last small decorating and plumbing jobs and the cottage is now ready for use, there are two large bedrooms, one bathroom with solar hot water and a large verandah on two sides with an outdoor living room space. The cottage is set in the garden’s orchard/food forest, surrounded by mango and lychee trees, coffee, limes and bamboo.

We are thinking about a medium/long term rent option, we love to host people here who can join with any of our activities if they want, but also just hang out or work on their own stuff, while being close to nature, breathing clean air and eating healthy food.

We prefer to connect with people by word of mouth and don’t advertise of Facebook sites or other similar platforms, so if you know of someone who is looking for this type of situation, please share this with them.


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Home grown Mae Mut Coffee.

 

Yesterday we went to visit our good friend Hswe in his village Baan Nong Tao, half an hour up the road from us. He has been producing coffee in his farm for some years now, so it was the lazy choice to ask him to guide us through the process using our home grown beans.

As a first attempt, we harvested about 10kg of fresh beans, thanks also to the children of Thai Freedom House who helped us a lot when they came for their sleepover.

We then took out the first layer of skin before letting the beans dry in the sun for some days. Some of these beans we took to Hswe’s place so he could show us what to do. One initial comment he made is that the beans in their dry yellow state can be kept for a few months before roasting, if the drying process is totally completed, this will result in a more even result when roasting.

The second skin was removed using a mortar and pestle again and the beans were then put in the hand roaster, which is Hswe’s own design, and roasted to the desired level. After that we ground them and made our first ever cup of home grown coffee. I am not a connoisseur, but it tasted good enough to me, the satisfaction of it being home grown adds to the flavour somehow…


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Thai Freedom House sleepover.

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Thai Freedom House is a language and art community learning centre for refugees from Burma and Indigenous Peoples of Thailand founded by the awesome Lisa Nesser in Chiang Mai twelve years ago. The centre is supported by its  Free Bird Cafe and by donations and by the work of volunteer teachers. Nok and I also volunteered there for a time some years ago, before moving to Mae Mut and have stayed in touch with Lisa, but this was the first time we had the opportunity to host the group for a sleepover, in all about forty students of various ages came along with some family members and volunteers, and Lisa of course.

The lives of these children and their families are quite precarious and difficult, some of the children don’t have the necessary paperwork to enrol in Thai schools. Lisa has been working tirelessly for this community for twelve years, often on the brink of running out of money, having to move the school at least four times, it’s a testament to her never say die attitude that the place has been able to survive and it’s now become a Chiang Mai institution. Some of the older students are now being tutored towards their university entrance exams, some hope to go back to Myanmar some day once the situation there is more peaceful.

These are some of the images from the weekend, everyone had a great time, swimming, singing, cooking, playing and eating together, it was remarkably smooth and everyone was so helpful that the clean up on the next day only took a few hours. We managed to get our coffee harvest done too….

We are very happy when our place can be used this way, it fits in with what we are trying to do and what we believe, that nature gives us most of what we need to be happy and that clean air and healthy food should be available to all, which unfortunately is not always the case.

 


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Observations about (the stupidity of) elephant tourism.

The Mae Wang district is rapidly becoming the centre of the dreadful “elephant tourism” in Chiang Mai, with many new camps springing up by the river and in the forest in the last couple of years . Tourist buses and pick up trucks bringing food for the elephants now make up most of the traffic on the main road. Only a few of the long established camps have the space to grow their own elephant food, all the new camps have to bring food in, with teams of cutters criss-crossing the province harvesting and transporting bana grass or corn.

Elephants can put it away, it’s no joke, they spend virtually the whole day eating, one adult will consume up to 400kg of food a day, meaning a full pick up truck feeds on average three elephants for one day. Assuming there are two hundred elephants in the Mae Win area, a very conservative estimate by the way, this means around 60/70 food truck trips every single day, during the dry season food can be difficult to find and trucks have to travel increasingly long distances to procure increasingly low quality food for the pachyderms.

 

“The greatest change we need to make is from consumption to production, even if on a small scale, in our own gardens. If only 10% of us do this, there is enough for everyone.  

Bill Mollison

While at first glance the 10% figure could look low and achievable, when one starts thinking about it and looks around it’s clear that most people just consume and are not really aware of the consequences of their choices, it is especially troubling to see how many young people seem to go for this type of mainstream mindless tourism. The whole experience is completely fake and valueless, I will say nothing of the people on top of the elephants with their GoPros and selfie sticks. Of course our man Guy Debord had seen this coming from afar.

Tourism — human circulation packaged for consumption, a by-product of the circulation of commodities — is the opportunity to go and see what has become banal. The economic organization of travel to different places already guarantees their equivalence. The modernization that has eliminated the time involved in travel has simultaneously eliminated any real space from it.

Guy Debord  Society of the Spectacle 1967

 

On top of the obvious exploitation of the working elephants who are still wild animals and not domesticated, in Thailand there is the additional exploitation of the mahouts, the elephant handlers, who perform a very dangerous job without adequate recompense or recognition. I urge you to spend a few minutes reading this very well researched article from the Atlantic, telling the story of the recent death of a mahout in Mae Wang.

While I am not particularly interested in foisting my opinions on anyone, I wanted to share this as another example of the many stupid and unthinking ways we have found to ruin the planet and the lives of the more vulnerable in our midst.


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Marcel brings a drone (MaeMut Garden from the air)

Our friends Marcel and Ning came to visit this week and, along with many treats from the city, they brought a drone to take some aerial shots of the garden These four photos give a good idea of what the site looks like.

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View from the top

This view shows the current volunteers’ house in the bottom right hand corner with our (watery looking) rice field and the house, dining area and workshop in the centre. To the left of the rice field, below the forested area, two ponds are visible, the square more muddy looking one was dug this year, before the rainy season.

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View from W

The photos were taken at around 7am, the sun is rising over the hills, Mae Mut village is nested under them about 1km to the east of us.

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View from N

This view shows the road leading from the village to our place, the garden terraces slope down from N to S. At the bottom of the garden, close to the forest at the top of the picture, runs the Mae Tian river.

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View from E

The Mae Mut valley runs from W to E, to the W the mountains rise to gradually reach over 2500m above sea level towards Doi Inthanon, the highest peak in Thailand,  which in this photo is obscured by the clouds on the left.


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Natural building workshops reviews

With the experience gained over the last four years of building, this latest job has gone very smoothly so far. We have developed a schedule that takes into account the different seasonal weather patterns. During the winter, Nov to Jan, we prepare the bricks, this is the most physical part of the job and it’s good to be able to do it when the weather is dry but cool and the sun is not strong. Before the rains come we prepare the foundation and the roof and we can move the bricks under cover. This allows us to work throughout the rainy season in comfort. Working under a roof has many advantages, and I would strongly advise this as the most convenient schedule and one that allows work to start and stop at anytime without worrying about sun, rain,etc.

During August we hosted three four-day workshops, with twenty two participants in total. We found that eight people is the maximum number we can have at one time and still be able to give everyone a meaningful hands-on experience. The work has proceeded well and it feels we are ahead of schedule, if there is such a thing.

All the kids who have been passing through while we have been building have had a good time playing with the mud and various homemade paints, Serena and friends also come and play sometimes.

These shots were taken yesterday, the work has advanced well and the quality of the workmanship of the volunteers is overall of a good standard. The rest of the job will be completed by our usual crew who have taken care of their seasonal farming jobs and now are free to come and work here for at least a couple of months, by which point the job should be done or very close to it.

Just as importantly, we have got to know many great people and shared many good moments together. We hope to see everyone again here at some point when our paths cross once more. Here is what some of them have said about their time here.

 

REVIEWS

Our time at MaeMut Garden was short but full of great experiences and knowledge. Marco is such a great teacher with a laid back philosophy and character. Although short, we learnt all of the fundamental skills required to build a earth brick home. It was great to take part in a course where you are actually helping to build a house from the ground up. The small group of 8 lets everyone have time to get their hands muddy. The whole experience exceeded our expectations. The food from P’Nok was diverse and delicious and the accommodation spacious with amazing views of the surrounding mountains. We would have stayed for a month if there was time. Thanks you so much Marco , P’Nok and the beautiful Serena.

Kai and Jackie from Singapore (and other places)

 

I was lucky to participate in a natural building workshop at Maemut Garden over the course of 4 days in August 2016. Nok and Marco have created a wonderful permaculture farm in the North of Thailand and it was a wonderful experience to see how everything can be done and what amazing results can be achieved. The place is simply beautiful and a big source of inspiration.
The course itself was well executed and I learned a lot during the days. We came around all of the major parts of building a house using adobe bricks, from making the bricks themselves, how to mix the mud, plastering, putting in doors and windows, making corners, decorating, final plaster, coloring etc. etc. I feel well equipped to begin experimenting myself. Marco did a good job of explaining everything and best of all: we all got a lot of time to try out the different techniques ourselves. The group of 7 people was just right and it didn’t feel too crowded.
The practical details of the course were also smooth – we had delicious food and fine sleeping arrangements. The atmosphere of MaeMut Garden was warm and hospitable.
I can highly recommend!
Martin from Denmark (and Pai)

 

I really enjoyed attending Marco’s and Nok’s five day earth building course. I think Marco has successfully managed to take the unnecessary complexity out of sustainability and tell you plainly, simply and honestly how to build an earth house, based on his own experiences. I arrived hoping I would acquire the right information and confidence to pursue my own earth house project one day, and when I left, I felt I had obtained what I needed and could build on these useful and insightful experiences.

We worked through soil type selection, making of physical bricks, methods for mud brick formwork, suitable mud recipes for this region, production of bricks, how to correctly layout walls, doors and windows (making sure items are straight and plumb), how to place bricks for different functions, grouting bricks, general plastering and final plastering.  The course is hands on where we learn as we actually construct an earth house, which someone will eventually live in. Marco patiently mentors you through the process. It’s useful to make notes and sketches during the stay, so you don’t forget things.

We finished the five days with a brief overview of permaculture methods, as we walked around the surrounding farm with Marco. I look forward to visiting Mae Mut Garden again sometime in the future, and I wish them continued success.

Duncan, architect at Solarei

 

I would like to let you know that I really enjoy your workshop. With the reasonable and fair price I got such a great hands on experience and all the techniques in every detail I need to know about adobe house building.  And Marco is such a great teacher. He never get tired of explaining every single thing I asked and always willing to share his own experience. Thank you for your patience and being attentive to all students. Beside, I really enjoy local food freshly cooked by P’Nok and also lovely accommodation. Little Serena also make me smile everyday..I miss her soooo much..I can say that I get more than I expected from this course. I definitely would love to go back to Maemut Garden and enjoy a sustainable and peaceful life again in my next holiday.

Kim, director and star of Along Way Home