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Thailand's Three-Generation Farm joins world volunteer organization WWOOF

I heard about the Three-Generation Farm through the organization WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms http://wwoofindependents.org). This is an organization that helps volunteers find organic farms around the world and a great way to combine travel with hands-on learning that’s not only good for the environment, but easy on your budget. Once you sign up and receive the list of host farms in the country of your choice, it is then your job to contact the host, and arrange your stay. In return for a number of hours work each day (or five days a week), you receive accommodation, food, and are introduced to the local area and culture. Depending on the farm you go to, you can stay from one week to a few months. It is an opportunity for volunteers and farmers alike who are interested in organic farming to learn from each other and work together, sharing their skills.

I arrived on Three-Generation Farm not knowing what to expect, having never done volunteering or “WWOOFing” previously. Interestingly, I was also the farm’s first “WWOOFer”, as they had just become a member of the organization. Despite this lack of experience, I was certainly not expecting the tidy and orderly farm that met my eyes. Neat rows of vegetables and plants were interspersed with water and rice patches and salas. It was obvious that a lot of effort was put into keeping the farm looking methodical, as well as working productively: one of its functions is to serve the adjoining school (Prem Tinsulanonda International School - www.ptis.ac.th) canteen with vegetables.

I was fortunate that my first full day here began with ‘Jungle Cooking’. An activity run for Three-Generation Visiting Schools Program (VSP), in which a group of kids from a visiting Indian school got to prepare and sample local ‘jungle’ Thai cooking. This included using traditional methods of cooking: with charcoal fires, bamboo skewers and banana leaves, and resulted in a mound of delicious foods, with sticky rice, barbequed meat, marinated tofu, chili paste, tomato salsa, omelette, salad from the farm, and so on.

Throughout my time here I have been lucky not only to experience farm life, but also get involved with kids from the local schools and the visiting schools, who come on the farm to engage in various farm activities. Whether for “farm fun”, “young farmers’ club” or otherwise, they have learnt about composting, planting, vermicompost worms, making a mud pit for the pig, painting pots, using the bicycle blender to make fruit shakes, learning about healthy eating, making healthy snacks, and the list goes on. It has been great to see the children have these opportunities outdoors, especially those who have come from more sheltered backgrounds, and may never have had the opportunity to work with animals or plants. Every child should have the chance to get muddy sometimes!

One of the most interesting things I discovered early on about the farm (and indeed about recent Thai culture), was that it is based on the current King (Rama IX)’s model farm: 30% water (to ensure there is water all year round, even in the dry season), 30% rice (to ensure that there is food for the local community at all times), 30% vegetables and fruit (to ensure a healthy and balanced diet), and 10% animals (for protein and dairy products). This model seems to make a lot of sense, on top of which if you add organic practices, you will no doubt have a farm to be proud of.

I have been largely involved with looking after some of the animals on the farm: the goats and the pig (although there are also two water buffaloes and an extensive collection of rabbits). Currently the pig is fed with food waste from the canteen, the advantages of which are that we use up the left-overs and therefore are more sustainable. However the disadvantages are that it is not the healthiest food for the pig, so the plan is soon to introduce a Biogas chamber for the canteen waste. The goats have become a firm favourite of mine, especially a baby born on Valentine’s Day, and not surprisingly named Cupid. Unfortunately his mother has not taken to him so kindly, and we had to syringe and bottle feed him for a few days, before he started feeding off another mother who had milk to spare (her baby having just died of fever after three days). In total I have watched three baby goats be born, of whom two were twins. I was impressed by how little help the mothers needed; it was truly amazing to watch. And certainly for the first birth I saw, it all happened so quickly, the baby just popped out in one bloody, slimy mass, and began to stand within ten minutes! OK … attempt to stand.

Day-to -ay activities are often done alongside or to help the other Thai farmers. Most of these cannot speak English, but are nonetheless very smiling and friendly. Lung Nong and Lung Ngow especially have made me feel welcome, despite our inability to truly understand each other, although sign language and a few words can go a long way sometimes. I have spent most time working with Supon, whose English is very good. Coming from a local Thai hill tribe (Karen), he has incredible knowledge and skill of not only farming, but also making things out of bamboo. I have been fascinated watching him make various bamboo frames, toys, mugs and so forth, and although I have had a go and loved it, I can see that it takes a practiced hand to be fast and successful in working with bamboo.

Mixed in with the general daily tasks - the more mundane of which I have thankfully not got bored of yet, whether mucking out, sweeping and watering - I have had the chance to learn from those working on the farm. As well as learning about organic farming (including collecting seeds and cuttings from plants to use for the next growth), helping with the building of ‘Billy Goats’ Island’, I have had the chance to sample some Thai cultural treasures, such as how to make a rose shape flower out of a Pandanus leaf, various food recipes, lemongrass tea, and making a woven horse out of bamboo strips.

Throughout my stay here I have been living on the Traidhos (Prem) Campus (http://threegeneration.org), to which the farm lies adjacent. The facilities here are quite exceptional, including an Olympic-sized pool and a cricket ground, which I have been able to take advantage of (since I’ve been here the school has hosted the ACC U-16 Cricket Tournament). The grounds themselves are beautiful; you look around to see greenery and trees everywhere, fitting in nicely with the school’s ethos of sustainability and green living.

I cannot end this piece without mentioning Chrissie Bleach, who has not only arranged this whole experience, but been an immense help, support and good friend throughout. I can only wish her and Three-Generation Farm the best of luck with all future volunteers and projects.

by S. C.
20 august 2012, World News > Asia

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