Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Random Christmas Updates and Ponderings

Hello Everybody. I am very sorry I haven’t written or posted pictures more. However, internet acess was tough and I made a constant choice to live my life in the present, than to just always be running to the internet. Now I am in Bangkok and I have posted a number of entries which are just free form journal entries I typed up. Please ignore any errors or confusing parts. If you have time, please enjoy my random rants and hopefully you will find some part that interests you!

I posted more pic and organized some Flickr pictures, so check that out by clicking the link to the left.
If youre interested Please click “Subscribe to” at the bottom of this page so that you can know when I post and not have to keep checking back.
I hope you all are great and I miss all my friends and family deeply. You are always with me in my heart! And in only one day you wil be coming with me to Ethiopia!
So, stay seedy and love your life!

Christmas Updates

I once again have too much to say and don’t have too much time to sum it all up. The past week I have been in the south on an island with my crazy uncle and his family. It’s been great to connect with the kids (my cousins). We have been playing a lot, running on the beach, etc. My uncle is still crazy as ever and I feel bad for his wife as she has a lot she has to deal with. It is a dysfunctional family and my uncles antics are starting to wear on me - but they are very happy I came and we have had some funny adventures here on this strange island (we went to a tiger and crocodile show). They don’t really celebrate Christmas, plus it rained and he got in a little argument with his wife but I had fun playing with the kids - I brought them presents and they loved them!

Before that jaunt I did settle more into the farm life here at Pun Pun. In case you forget or I didn’t tell you, I am doing an internship in Green Building and Seed Saving at Pun Pun in Northern Thailand. Pun Pun means a thousand varieties and the man who runs this project (Pijo) wants Seed Saving to be the main focus. However, at the beginning I was very disappointed to see how little seed saving is actually going on, how disorganized the seed bank was, and how many foreigners there were around with little room for privacy. As time went on I debated leaving, but ended up enjoying life here more and more.
While I was resistant at first, many of Pijos philosophies have penetrated my hard exterior. Part of it is that we are living so simply, but now I feel more relaxed than I have in years. I take joy in the companion of others, sun sets, sprouting seeds, and the pride of a hard day’s work.
The weather got cold, so no more swimming in the evenings. But, I have been busy working. We have been doing a lot of building for this house we are working on and I have learned a ton. I am not naturally good at building and have done much less than the rest of the people here. As a result, I often feel frustrated or inadequate when I can’t keep up or my nail keeps bending. In the end, it’s good to be challenged and Pun Pun is a good place to get some experience with building.
I have also been doing as much gardening as possible and am helping them to organize the seed bank and create a system. In my free time I spent some weekends in the city with Kate Sherwood - an old pitzer friend. We danced it up at a funny club and at a huge festival for the king. It felt great to dance and made me miss dancing with friends back in the states. Both times here we were the only foreigners and we had a huge group of Thais form a circle around us and clap as we tore it up!
I also built a cob oven with Kate at the Women’s shelter where she works. It was such an amazing day and we had a ton of fun dancing and throwing mud with all the women and their children (it is a home for women in crisis - either pregnant or single mothers). We finished the oven and even got to decorate it with the whole crew there. They were extremely grateful for our visit and even gave us bracelets and necklaces to thanks us.
That’s most of my life - just working on the farm, learning, and reading a lot too (I just read East of Eden by John Steinbeck and was blown away again!). Also, I gave two talks on seed saving and my year so far to communities here. The talks were adlibbed, but I used my pictures which I organized before. I wasn’t sure how people would respond, but in both people stuck around for hours. Even two weeks later, everyone was raving about my slideshow and many people told me how inspired they were seeing all my pictures and hearing stories.
This has really become a journey of hope for me as I see all the diversity which is left around the world and how many passionate people are working to conserve it. Through the preservation of this crop biodiversity communities are also conserving their cultures and diverse heritage. I am continually blown away by the stories I hear and communities I see. I am very excited to keep sharing this hope with others and have lost interest in dwelling in all the negative information.

Seed Saving Updates at Pun Pun
I have been working to organize and put a system into place in the seed bank- this has been rewarding albeit tedious work. Nonetheless, the organizers are very grateful for my help as they have wanted to do this, but never had time. Pun Pun just got a large donation from Red Bull for seed saving projects over the next year. It is a turning point for the farm and despite the strange sponsor it is an incredibly motivating amount of support for these efforts. Red Bull (the energy drink) is actually a Thai company and they support efforts to help villagers and those in need throughout Thailand. They were convinced seed saving is important for self reliance and the survival of village communities. Their funding will provide support for local trainings throughout the year with at least 11 local farmers, regional trainings for 8-10 different organic farmer groups, volunteers to help farming and seed saving efforts here at Pun Pun, and a large international seed saving fair and seed swap next year.
Aside from the money they will also help advertise, recruit volunteers, etc. Pijo, the calm and inspiring man who runs Pun Pun, has been working for years to spread awareness about seed saving and its importance. He became famous through his Green Building work in Thailand and has been featured in many magazines, radio programs, and even talk shows. As a result of his hard work and mesmerizing talks he has spread awareness for these issues and convinced many about the importance of self reliance and seed saving as a crucial part of our lives. There is a massive self reliance movement in Thailand that includes the Kings Support, many rural project, Heifer International, and large Buddhist groups like the Santi Ashoke. Each project and group differs slightly. However, they all seem to push simple living, community self sufficiency, production of soaps, shampoos, and other natural products.
Pijo is very outspoken and well known for his emphasis on seed saving as a part of a joyous simple life. Pretty much every day there are scores of visitors from all throughout Thailand who come to meet with Pijo – see the farm and earthen homes, and learn how they can live this life. Many come from Bangkok and are tired of the stressful urban life. They are inspired by the simple, joyous life here at Pun Pun and some are shocked at how easy we live in this beautiful little oasis.

I believe that I began to enjoy life at Pun Pun more partly because I tried to spend more time with Pijo. I have taken over weeding and watering a portion of the gardens. Many evenings we meet in the gardens and chat as the sun sets over the lush green hills. Pijo talks to me about everything from the way they plant many crops together in his home village to how to easily compost humanure. This man is a wealth of knowledge and he transfers each lesson in calm, mesmerizing way. Sometimes I find hours pass as I listen to his melodic voice sharing words of wisdom with me. I find some things he states confidently are simply things he read and I don’t necessarily agree with. However, he has a lot to share about the state of Thai agriculture and various sustainable systems. If nothing else, it is great to see him really following his heart and living a joyous life.
Like so many other seed savers I met, Pijo has a deep passion for plants. Pijo talks to me frequently about his love for tomatoes or melons. Unlike most farmers and groups I have been with so far, Pijo is most passionate about vegetables from around the world. He is passionate to grow Thai crops when possible, but this is not his sole focus. Many other groups in India and Italy are working very hard to gather all local crops, grow them out, and restore local ownership over these indigenous or ancient crops to that region. On the contrary, so much of the diversity has been lost in most of Thailand that Pijo grows many varieties which he got in the USA or Europe from Seed Savers Exchange and other groups. At first I was confused by this and disappointed he wasn’t into local grains – which have really been inspiring me. However, I have grown to really appreciate Pijo’s calm passion and diligent work to spread these efforts. In some cases the Thai peppers or basil Pijo grows he actually got from America. His plight represents the loss of biodiversity around the world, but also the hope seen through seed conservation projects and the ability to restore a sustainable agriculture even if diversity is lost in that region. Many Thai farmers have visited Pun Pun and become convinced of the need for seed saving. Some were amazed by the taste of some tomato varieties; others exclaimed how the food reminded them of their grandmother’s food.
Numerous farmers right in this village and at least ten regional farmers groups are asking Pijo for trainings on self reliance and seed saving. Pijo believes that if he can convince them to change their thinking and switch to simpler lives, the seed saving techniques will come naturally. In his talks with Thai farmers Pijos mesmerizing speeches focuses more on philosophy and the beauty of this lifestyle than concrete techniques. He teaches seed saving methods, but believes that farmers can figure this out once they begin to switch to a more sustainable, closed loop system without chemicals and many external inputs. The results can be seen at Pun Pun. The ability of old varieties to grow with little input is outstanding even if the seeds are from around the world.

Random Emotional Ponderings

The Watson year is a true roller coaster ride of emotions! There are days when I really question what I am doing as this pseudo “researcher.” Many people don’t get it when I talk to them about seed saving and here in Thailand the efforts are spread out throughout the country and hard to connect with. I constantly face language barriers! Sometimes I view it as a good challenge and have become excellent at using hand signals and smiles. Nonetheless, it is just hard when doing interviews or trying to learn from rural people.
As a Watson fellow, the only person you need to live up to is yourself. I try to keep telling myself this, but am continually shown my workaholic tendencies. Many things I do because it is interesting and I want to learn and hear the stories. However, other times I force myself to do things because I feel like I have to be a good researcher or live up to some standards or just be productive. The freedom of the Watson is very liberating, but also leads me to question many of my natural tendencies and internal problems. I have definitely calmed down a lot since the Pitzer days when I killed myself working. I have relaxed into my role as not a leader, and am focused on learning from others.
It is an ever evolving problem and I come to different conclusions all the time. In general though I am incredibly inspired and hopeful by all I have seen on my journey. I am feeling tired and homesick these days, but these feelings dissipate as I think about all which lays in front of me. I am very excited for Ethiopia, Canada, Peru, and Mexico! I am kind of ready to leave Thailand, even though I still have three weeks here. I have ten more days on the farm and then I will spend the rest of the time travelling and meeting with some other seed saving and self reliance groups in other parts of Thailand. It will be a whirlwind tour with many language barriers and I’m not sure how excited I am for it. We will see what happens. It may be incredible.

I have mostly avoided cities on this whole trip and seen the beauty and diversity which still lies in rural areas. Nonetheless, I can’t deny that there is a mass exodus of people from rural to urban areas. Urban areas are experiencing massive poverty, extreme diet changes, and so many are losing any connection to the land and their histories. These sad facts can’t be denied. However, while I have experienced many atrocities and been depressed by how much drastic change is occurring around the world – I find myself constantly drawn to the hope. Yes, farmers are leaving the land every day. Yes, people are losing all connections to their past diets, self reliance, and rich culture. However, there is also an incredible amount of biodiversity left and an even more incredible amount of passionate people working to protect and promote what’s left. Through crop diversity so many are promoting a just, self reliant and joyous way of living.
A range of people from Hindu Saints to rich lawyers and land owners have seen the harms in our current industrial agriculture. They have blown me away with their stories and their projects. I cannot say if the movement will be enough. I cannot say if we will solve peak oil or stop world hunger and malnutrition. But, I do know that these people have provided me enough hope to keep fighting and to accept that we do not need to try to fix it all!!
One foreigner at the presentation I gave last week on my year questioned me as to how all this could stop Monsanto. I don’t have a clear answer, except that seed saving puts power and ownership back in the people’s hands. By cutting our ties to corporations, producing food locally, and becoming more self reliant we can resist patenting and all the evils of Monsanto. Seeds are power and by saving and spreading them we are putting power back in people’s hands! In my mind there is no question about it – we will be victorious in the end and even if we’re not we might as well live in joy and community for as long as we can.
This is a movement of hope because we are not fighting against something. We are fighting for something – for freedom, for self control and ownership of our lives. We are fighting for simple living, culture, tasty food, good nutrition, sharing with others, and so much more.
I know I cannot convey exactly how I feel to you, but I just want to say that I have found hope and have become sooo excited in the fact that I want to be a farmer and a seed saver. I see nothing more noble and joyous than following this dream of mine. Plus I can stay connected to this worldwide movement of farmers, seed savers, agronomists, lawyers, and many heroes of mine!!

No comments: