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The garden as an outdoor classroom.

Many thanks go to our very good friend Jeff Rutherford for organizing a visit for a group of international students from Singapore Management University and their business ethics professor, the awesome Dr. Stephen. It was a very good day for us and we felt very fortunate to have had this opportunity to meet all of them.

20170802_101413We receive a steady stream of visitors, from groups of small farmers down to families with young children, but this was the first occasion where we prepared and delivered a somewhat coherent short speech about what we do and why we do it.

We have read in many different contexts about the benefits of conducting lessons outdoors, but we never really thought of ourselves as a demonstration site. This visit and the very positive reaction of the students showed us that the current set up of the garden offers many opportunities, not only for the sharing of farming techniques and strategies, but also for discussion of various issues.

A presentation about sustainability and uncomplicated living seems to possess a louder and clearer resonance, when it is delivered in a context where some of the ideas and methods discussed are actually put into practice. We talked about some aspects of our activities here, focusing on our efforts to achieve a level of sustainability while at the same time generating  a basic income that we can live on.

 

Self sufficient living.

We are working to achieve some level of self sufficiency in food, medicine and shelter, we grow a sufficient amount of our staple grain for our own consumption and there is a regular production of fruit and perennial vegetables, as well as herbs and roots that provide the basic ingredients for a number of natural remedies. In addition we grow annual vegetables and we have started harvesting home grown bamboo and planted a number of hardwood trees for future use.

The three R’s and permaculture design

Our choices are informed by the principles of reduce, reuse and recycle, and we aim to show that most of the unnecessary consumption can be done away without suffering great hardship on anyone’s part, with the help of some conscious design. In our garden as little as possible goes wasted. We try to integrate our plant and animal systems to reduce waste but also labour, we compost all our excess biomass and any excess food goes to the animals, from the dogs to the worm bin. We design to keep the use of pumps and petrol powered equipment to the absolute minimum.

The social aspect

Community living is a necessary path to follow as we try to reduce our use of  non renewable energy, it also happens to be a very happy and easy way to live, sharing our time and effort with people we love and respect. On another level, meeting like minded people and sharing knowledge and experiences, like we did on this occasion, is one of the most rewarding by-products of our work here and something that we truly cherish. We also host a small number of volunteers/interns and run a lazy schedule of workshops about natural farming and earthen building.

The business model

We are focused on being as flexible as possible, so as not to be dependent on any one source of income, and to be able to incorporate other activities by future residents. We currently receive  a small regular income from long term residents,  organize the odd workshop,  at times host  interns who pay a small contribution and families with children for stays of various lengths. In addition we sell some of our excess and have begun making a small quantity of high quality organic jams and sauces from our own grown produce. We have made a conscious decision not to use mainstream tourism as a source of income.

 

 

 

 

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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.