Sustainable agricultural and organic farming is an alternative way to live life, preserve a culture, and protect nature in Northern Thailand.
Ek-ii-aek-aekkk…the Thai language call of the roosters aroused me from my warm, comfortable mattress. I can glimpse the sun beams seeping through the walls and under the wooden door. I can sense chilly, white fog of the Thailand highlands morning while walking downstairs to help my host mother prepare vegetables to sell at market.
“You seem sleepy. Why don’t you go back to your bed and sleep longer?”, Mae Ratri asked gently. Mae in this instance means ‘mother’ and is the way to address ones host mother; for about 2 weeks I was very blessed to have Mae Ratri Kruengngern’s as my surrogate mother. Mae Ratri and her family are a rural farming family in Mae Tha, an idyllic green village in Northern Thailand. I was part of a group of university students studying sustainable agriculture and as inviting as the offer of extra sleep sounded, I was much more excited to continue with another day of learning.
Mae Tha is a small community of Mae-On sub-district in Chiang Mai, located amidst the mountains on the boundary of Lamphun province. Most of the population speaks the “Yong” dialect or the Thai language.
Mae Tha villagers earn a living by farming rice and cultivating indigenous vegetables using organic and sustainable practices.
Mr. Phat or Por Phat, dressed in his pale blue cotton shirt, traditional style pants and wearing flip-flops, is a leader of the village who firstly introduced organic farming and sustainable way of living to people in Mae Tha.
The transition process to change the farms in Mae Tha from chemical to organic ran effectively since there was a good cooperation from villagers in the community.
“I dare say it is because our families have a long and dear relationship. Our past generations live here. We are all related and that support is the community’s strength” Por Phat said proudly. Most mornings people will venture out to their own farms but if there is a time of harvesting they will willingly go to help others from farm to farm.
The most impressive thing about farming and living in Mae Tha is learning how to give and receive. You will always get assistance whenever you need and the state of giving perpetuates when you feel that you could help others. That is the beautiful and endless circle of support that people in Mae Tha adopted from their ancestors and pass on through the generations. Every Wednesday and Sunday Mae Ratri and a group of villagers will wake up around 2-3 am to prepare all the green, fresh, and chemical-free vegetables to sell in the organic food spots in Chiang Mai – JJ market and Nhong Hoi market.
The organic food selling areas are established by Institute for Sustainable Agricultural Communities or ISAC, an organization that aims to build and support sustainable agriculture communities in Chiang Mai. The sun shines more brightly as it is time for a big truck to come and pick up both the produce and the sellers for the trip to the market.
Mr. Weerapon Thamkhun, one of the ISAC’s committee members said “giving high priority on home consumption is our first concern.” He added “the goal of Organic Market is to promote the products from natural processes with not using chemical fertilizers or pesticides, including processing and marketing.” The number of organic food consumers is increasing due to the increasing attention to health concerns and agricultural sustainability.
The smiling faces of the people who come and buy organic vegetables at the market marks the appreciation of receiving healthy, safe foods and reasonable price. The increasing demand and appreciation for quality is the challenge that the organic and sustainable farming community readily accepts. Mrs. Wannapa Tachai, a fan of organic food said “organic farming is the greatest idea for both consumers and farmers. We both have a clean and safe food for our health.”
Mae Ratri turned her face to Mrs. Wannapa and gave her a nod. “And it seems we, both farmers and consumers, are friends. They will pay a reasonable price for the good quality of fresh vegetables, while we can also provide them healthy food.” Mae Ratri added that she felt like it is a kind of making merit. Since she and people in the village produce the safe organic food for consumers, not introducing potentially harmful chemicals.
The sunlight gets stronger and moves its position to the top of our head showing that it is time to have lunch and go back home. We all gathered around and had lunch together. Sharing food is a common thing to Mae Ratri and her friends because it shows the easy and close relationship of people in Mae Tha. After the meal, the people were ready to go back home and prepare for working in their farms. We planted, plugged, watered, pulled weeds, and hand dug the soil. The work was exhausting but every single drop of sweat will in turn be reward when the vegetables are grown.
Since it is during winter time, broccoli, cauliflowers, and many kinds of winter green vegetables can be grown. So we grab a hoe and started plowing new plots for them. The sun still shines brightly bringing hotness and humidity but the cool breeze helps ease the heat. So, we keep working the farm.
Time passed by, the sound of birds flying back to their nests was a sign that it was time to finish work. We went back home and cleaned ourselves. I found that although working in the farm was tiring and made my two palms rough and bruised, it brought freshness and delight to me.
“I feel happy because I know that I have spent my sweat for growing healthy and safe foods for the goodness of my customers”, Mae Ratri’s words have repeated several times in my mind. Organic farming is not only bringing her family safe food for healthy life, but also widens the view to perceive the rule of nature. The more they protect nature by farm with natural methods, the longer nature stays with them.
“We have only one chance to live our lives. Being healthy and to live happily in sufficiency are much more important than earning a sum of money and being wealthy by trickery and take-advantage doings”, Mae Ratri remarked. I think these are strong words of wisdom learned from generations of people living close to the land and respecting strong community values.
I’m a 22-year-old named Suttira Kaewthep. I think practicing is the most important factor for achievement. And that’s what I’m trying to do. If you have any question about traveling in my beautiful country, Thailand, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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