Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Beginnings at Pun Pun

My internship has begun at Pun Pun (means “thousand varieties”) farm in northern Thailand. We are about 35 miles north of Chiang Mai city in a small farming village called Baan Mae Jo. It’s beautiful here – much calmer, quieter and cleaner than Chiang Mai.

Pun Pun is an organic farm and seed bank that began a little more than three years ago. It was started by Jo Jandai, a Thai from the northeastern part of the country, and Peggy Reents, originally from Colorado. Peggy and Jo are married and have a two-year-old son, Tahn, who is already an energetic adobe builder.

Jo has more than ten years’ experience in earthen building (adobe, cob, wattle and daub, etc.) but is most passionate about Pun Pun’s seed saving activities. Peggy and Jo have traveled all over Thailand doing building projects, have held many workshops here at Pun Pun, and have helped numerous friends and neighbors with their projects. During the internship we will be building a yoga and meditation center primarily out of adobe, but using an array of earthen and natural building techniques as well.

Besides Peggy and Jo (and Tahn!), there are about eight full-time community members (mostly Thais) and about an equal number of long-term guests (a mix of Thais and Westerners). This group includes myself and my colleagues, a total of five winter interns. Many guests and visitors regularly come and go, including people from the village.

Since Pun Pun’s establishment, two neighboring communities have sprung up working on similar activities. One is, for the time being, called Baan Thai (“Thai House”), which is a group of about twelve North Americans organized by a previous Pun Pun intern to create a kind of permaculture laboratory on about ten acres of land adjacent to Pun Pun. The other is called You Sabai (“To relax and feel healthy”) and is run by a Thai couple who are writers and are working to publish a “lifestyle” magazine profiling sustainable living. They adapted some Pun Pun building techniques to create a very comfortable coffee shop at the top of the hill overlooking the other farms, and are planning to host retreat groups for Thai massage, meditation, etc.

Building workshops have provided the income for Pun Pun, as well as most of the structures on the farm, although building is not the main focus of Pun Pun as an organization. Currently, our planet is experiencing the largest mass extinction of species in its history (including the period after the asteroid impact in Mexico that killed off the dinosaurs). The rate of species dieoff seems to be accelerating, as the Living Planet Index shows about a 30% drop in the number of vertebrate species since 1970. Recognizing this precipitous decline in biodiversity, Pun Pun’s principle mission has been to create a seed center to collect rare, indigenous and beneficial seeds from around the region and world, propagate them at the farm, and share them through a network of farmers in Thailand, and in this way counter some of the destructive trends of biodiversity loss in food crops. Pun Pun has thus become an active learning center that hosts workshops, internships and trainings on sustainable living practices. Westerners pay tuition to attend these programs, which allows Thais and people from other developing countries to attend for free.

The success in farming that Pun Pun exhibits after only three years is a testament to the efficacy of permaculture methods. Before Peggy and Jo bought the land it had been forest which was clear cut to plant a few crops of corn. Tropical soils in general are very depleted in nutrients, and so only a very few harvests of corn could be obtained and then the land was nearly dead and thorny grasses took over. The people of the Baan Mae Jo village though Peggy and Jo were crazy for buying this land and trying to farm here: it’s a hilly site with sandy soil and many rocks -- it sold cheap since the owner believed it was nearly worthless for farming.

Immediately Peggy, Jo and a few friends began planting several varieties of banana trees, which grow easily and rapidly in these conditions and produce a good mulch of banana leaves that add nutrition to the soil. Skillful organic gardening since the beginning has produced a wide variety of edible plants that, including rice from Pun Pun’s paddy area, comprise about half of all food eaten by the community. Part of my internship is concerned with establishing some new garden beds as well as attending existing gardens; I will provide subsequent detailed posts describing this work and all the amazing and delicious foods that are growing here.

1 comment:

Jaime said...

I am a student in Salem, OR and I stumbled upon your site in a google search for simple water filtration system ideas. (It's for a project for my Global Issues class.)
So, correct me if I'm wrong, but you were living on this seed farm in Thailand for some time? What kind of work did you do there? Was it with a U.S. organization, such as the Peace Corps? Are you still doing work abroad?
I'm sure I could figure out most of this for myself by clicking around a bit, but I should probably just back to the assignment for the moment.
Fellow Dharma Bum,