While we were staying with Kevin in Chiang Mai (for the second time), we were able to tag along on one of his jobs. It was burn season in Thailand and the three of us were happy to leave the city where it was so smoky that the big mountain, Doi Suthep, was invisible. It turned out to be smoky everywhere else too, but at least in the mountains it’s mixed with less exhaust.
Kevin does filmmaking for non-profits and his friend Sean had a project for him. Sean is an American who is working to improve the wellbeing and economic stability of his wife’s Karen (“Kuh-RIN”) hill tribe village in the Omkoi district in the southwest part of Chiang Mai Province. He is experimenting with vegetable growing methods that are kind to the earth and result in organic produce that can be sold at higher prices to local markets and restaurants. He is shouldering the burdens of trial and error and hopes to pass on the knowledge to local farmers who may be interested in switching from conventional (chemical) farming.
Here is an explanation from Sean’s website:
“Over the past decade or more chemical fertilizer companies have come into many of the local hill tribe communities promoting their product and investing into local farmers to grow many different crops. This created many jobs for many poor Karen farmers. Over time farmers have become reliant on this market and the chemicals and have since lost the ability to take care of the land and use natural resources. They are have no other market and are forced to sell to middle men and make no money almost every year, growing things like tomato’s and chilis. We aim to make it possible for these farmers to go back to their roots of working with land in a more natural way and help them find a higher price for their produce.”
Sean built his house himself, and it features an open-air kitchen and a porch with a great view of the valley below. (His wife and children were visiting friends back in Chiang Mai, so unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to meet them.) It was fun making dinner together and throwing the scraps to the chickens waiting just outside the window. Sean’s mother-in-law helped chop vegetables and brought over a really big knife to cut the meat.
If this were a blog about organic farming, we probably would have taken better notes about the seedling trays, the vermicompost (worm tea), the natural fungicide sprays that cost the same as the chemicals, the greenhouses, the rice paddy irrigation, and the way the roots respond to the placement of drip irrigation lines. Pictures will have to stand in for actual information.
Kevin shot lots of great footage that will help Sean share organic farming methods with Karen and Thai farmers.
On the last day before we made the long drive back to Chiang Mai, Sean’s mother-in-law called us into her house and fried us some sweet sticky rice batter.
Tony asked about the little star tattoos that dotted her hand and wondered if they had any particular meaning or purpose. Sean translated her response:
“When I was young, it was the fashion. There is no meaning, we just thought it looked pretty.”
Big smiles all around.