Happiness with Por Peang Life #1


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Notes on Video: Thai Language Only, From Moo Baan Jumrung in Rayong province

In the village of Jumrung in Rayong province, the children are following the same principles of backyard vegetable gardening that has been practice for generations. Whenever the children want to eat any of the fruits, vegetables, leaves or flowers that are grown surrounding their homes, they can pick them whenever they want. Some of the edible plants grown on their own and some are grown intentionally. Furthermore, the children know the uses parts of the different plants that are grown.

Rice is the staple of the Thai diet and the fruits and vegetables in the backyard garden provide the necessary vitamins and minerals for strong and healthy bodies. This ensures that the people of the household have good food to eat, even in the leanest of times. Not only does the edible plants cultivated by the families provide for the basis of a good diet, any surplus can be sold for extra income for the household.

Is urban farming sustainable in Bangkok?

An apartment building with a small flower and ...
Image via Wikipedia

I’ve been growing my vegetable garden for six-months now and I’ve got Asian greens and cucumbers to show for it. Now that it’s the rainy season, the plants are really taking off. But, having seen urban farming being practiced in the US, I really am wondering if the urban farming movement can take root in Bangkok?

Traditionally, Thais have been a culture which maintained kitchen gardens and often raised small animals like ducks and chickens. However, things have changed as large numbers of Thais now live in Bangkok and its suburbs. With more people living in crowded dwellings like condos and apartments without any land for gardening, many of the traditional ways have been forgotten. I’m sure the retired grandmothers and grandfathers who live in the city have the knowledge and time to grow a vegetable garden, but what about the younger generation? Moreover, the rapid lifestyle of the average worker means that few have time to spend gardening, even if they have the time to do so. Many young Bangkokians spend their days pushing computer keyboards and nights working late before heading grabbing a bit to eat at the nearest food court or street vendor. They rarely have time for a home cooked meal, let alone grow their own vegetables.

While I am keen on urban farming in general and think that now is the time for people everywhere to embrace the concept. I truly wonder if the average Bangkokian teenager, twenty- or thirty-something would want to be part of the urban farming movement. Most Bangkokians are a bit on the lazy side, try to keep out of the sun and are not looking to get their hands dirty. Bangkokians are notorious for rushing to the malls and movie theaters on weekends to enjoy the shopping and air conditioning. Doesn’t exactly sound like the types who would have fun pulling weeds and turning compost.

So, again I ponder the question : Is urban farming sustainable in Bangkok?

Portrait of Urban Agriculture by Canadian Expat

Urban Agriculture in Thailand

By Carmenella Aspinall

I was raised on a small hobby farm and attended University of British Columbia where I completed my Bachelor’s in Agriculture with a major in Agro-Ecology and specialization in Sustainable Agriculture. I now work at a mid-sized NGO in the north of Thailand called the Association for Community and Ecology Development. We do everything that is politically correct to do in the north of Thailand (ie. running a high school for girls being rehabilitated from the sex trade, market community products for impoverished villages, seek citizenship for hilltribe people, facilitate the formation of civil society, rally for community rights to forestry and natural resource management, etc).

My role as a volunteer here is to help with the agriculture programmes (through both extension and running a model “sustainable” system for lowland and upland farmers at our training centre. I find that many Thais are rapidly loosing their connection to the earth as their world becomes quickly industrialized. Farmers are becoming poorer and there is little policy instrumentation to ensure their survival. Thus, the need for urban agriculture is quickly growing.

I have a small house with no land. However, I have turned my driveway into a garden with herb, flower, and vegetable production. I compost elephant poo, rice straw from my neighbours (who would have just burned it), kitchen scraps, and rotten fruits and veggies from the market (which are usually thrown out). I also collect my rain water for my gardens, have ten egg-layers, make my own IM (Indigenous Microorganisms – see below) and bioextract, and am starting to do human waste composting (oh joy to Joe Jenkins).

I find that practicing urban agrology has helped me integrate with Thai culture more easily as my neighbours have an excuse to come visit, talk, bring me their kitchen scraps, paint the sides of my planters, get their hands dirty, have their children feed the chickens, etc. So, that in a nutshell, is my interest in urban agriculture.

My Garden
I moved into a house in Chiang Rai (pop. 30,000) that had no green space at all. No yard. No grass (ugh, grass). However, it did have a driveway that could probably accomodate two cars. Being that I had no car (just a motorbike and bicycle), I built long troughs out of bricks/wood for gardens. Soil is quite expensive and of poor quality here, so I made my own from sawdust from my neighbour who was gutting his house at the time I was building my gardens.

I started small with three boxes (each about 1 meterx3meters) and started planting Thai crops like morning glory, pumpkin, cucumber, long beans, cabbage, lettuce, various medicinal plants, herbs, lemon grass, etc. I have basically built a shelter/lattice out of bamboo for the climbing plants to shade the other plants and herbs. Underneath the shelter, I have a picnic table and my neighbours regularly come and hang out there even when I am not home.

Also under the shelter is my compost box (soon to be boxes plural). I compost whatever I can get my hands on — buffalo and elephant dung, rotten veggies from the market, kitchen scraps, waste from my chicken coop, sawdust, leaves, etc. I used to inoculate the heap with IM (Indigenous Microorganisms) that I made myself since I started out on pavement, but now I don’t bother.

Luckily, I don’t have much of a pest problem because none of my neighbours have any green space of their own, but I do make my own pest control out of lemongrass. I also make bio-extract out of rotten fruits and veggies that I can get from the market for free. I use rice straw as a mulch and have a few sesbania plants that I will be using as a green manure.

I collect rainwater in a big sealed barrel (gotta be careful of standing water here because of malarial mosquitos) although right now, in the dry season, I am using city water. I am currently building a little composting toilet of my own (although in Thailand we use squatter toilets, so don’t waste all that much water compared to the west, however, the more nutrients in my compost the better). Also, I will be building a small mushroom house soon.

I live alone, so that means I have plenty of extras for my neighbours. They love coming over, sitting in my garden, collecting eggs and vegetables for dinner, and taking part in whatever I happen to be doing on that particular day (ex. making yoghurt or peanut butter, cooking foreign foods, making crafts, etc.) Many of them are quite excited by the fact that I produce food in the city (and do it single-handedly no less) and think that I am quite a strange foreigner.

My biggest constraint is that I have built my gardens on top of concrete, so drainage is poor. If I were to do it again, I would put a good layer of twigs or rocks or granite jelly under the soil first. The other constraint is that, well, this is selfish of me, but sometimes, I can’t get my neighbours to go away — they seem to love my gardens too much.

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IM – Indigenous Microorganisms
IM is indigenous microorganisms — a new spinoff on effective organisms. I’m doing my best to battle effective microorganisms (EM) here in Thailand. When I tell farmers that I am an alternative agriculture advisor the first thing they tell me is, “Oh, I use EM.” When I ask them why, they really aren’t too sure, but they know they should because a bunch of local NGOs have told them that that’s a good thing to do if you want to do organic production.

I battle with this issue for one reason, mainly — EM is too expensive for farmers who have close to nothing. They don’t know how to use it properly and, in most cases, are just pouring money onto their compost piles. For most of them, the ambient temperature is so high and their compost piles are well enough established that they don’t need to add EM (the rates of decomposition are high already); however, they insist upon doing it cuz someone else has told them they should.

So, I am making IM with them instead. This way, they collect their own indigenous microorganisms from a culture on plain rice. This makes more sense to me as the microorganisms are INDIGENOUS and will have the best effect on INDIGENOUS plant species and manures. I really can’t fathom why anyone would want to buy microorganisms from Japan to use in Thailand or Canada or wherever else when it takes ten minutes effort over a week of time to make it yourself.
Source: http://www.cityfarmer.org/thai.html

The Dinner Garden Improving Food Security

Raised bed of lettuce, tomatoes, 6 different t...
Image via Wikipedia

As I started reading more about vegetable gardens, especially urban gardens, I began to see the link between gardening, food security and poverty. Even in the US, many families struggle to eat healthy because packaged foods are more readily available in urban settings and often are more costly. But, the negative side effects of the lifestyle and eating habits which have resulted are plaguing the US population with health issues such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and so forth. We all know we should eat more fruits and vegetables, but the modern city lifestyle simple isn’t conducive to it.

As people are increasingly realizing this link, more and more people have begun to start urban gardens to increase their ability to easily integrate fresh produce into their diets. For urban apartment or condo dwellers, the garden may be a few plants in containers. For urban or suburban home owners or dwellers, they may have room for a small in-ground or raised bed garden. Some lucky urban residents may have access to a community garden where they usually have more area to work with in collaboration with a group of other urban gardeners.

The Dinner Garden is a non-profit focused on increasing the trend of people to grow their own fruits and vegetables, even in small areas. They distribute seeds for free to families and school children in an effort to encourage gardening and increase food security for families across the US. As any teacher or parent knows, eating fruits and vegetables is extremely important for children’s development and studies show that it can improve energy and brain function. By getting kids involved with gardening at a young age, it can help promote healthy habits that can last a lifetime.

The Dinner Garden has accomplished so much since their beginning in 2009 and the work they are doing is amazing. Check out their website or read some other blogs which feature this organization.

Other blogs on The Dinner Garden: http://foodfreedom.wordpress.com/2010/04/29/the-dinner-garden-free-seeds-tips-tools/

http://lifeonthebalcony.com/interview-with-holly-hirshberg-from-the-dinner-garden/

http://www.cityfarmer.info/2010/11/28/the-dinner-garden-has-provided-seeds-to-48000-families-since-2009/

Bangkok Vegetable Garden Preparations

The last few weekends I have been working on the
preparations for my vegetable garden. During the last few months,
my father put some of the leftover pulp from composted pineapples
in the ground. Now, we added more layers of organic compost, this
time mostly from leaves and grass clippings, as well as cow manure.
We also put a fence with netting around the area. This is to make
sure the dogs don’t get into the garden, since they love to dig and
chew. Three weeks ago, we started some seeds in small folded-paper
pots filled with a mixture of soil, coconut coir and manure. Most
of the vegetables have sprouted and the seedlings are ready to go
into the ground. I’ve also started more seedlings last week. This
time I have some sage, Thai pumpkins, Baby Boo pumpkins, dipper
gourds, and butternut squash. The last three were from seed packets
that I bought at the Jim Thompson farm for 20 baht. Each packet
only had 4-6 seeds so I take extra special care of those ones. This
Bangkokian can wait to see it when everything is in the
garden!