Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Random Photos of past week

Check out my friends blog to see photos from the cob oven we built at a womens shelter for pregnant woemen and women in crisis. My pitzer friend worked there and asked us to come. It was amazing!

Her blogs have great info on the stuff I just did at Pun Pun

Go to the site below to watch a video that was made on Pun Pun Seed Center -where I just spent the past month or two.
http://tngnt.net/thailand-episode-1-part-2/ Read More......

Blog Updates

Hello Everyone.
I just finally typed up my entry about Terra Madre and Italy experiences. The post is a few entries below, just scroll down. I also typed up some random rants about my time In Thailand that are the two entries below.
I am currently uploading and organizing pictures on flickr. Click the link to the right to see my photos. I haver loosely organized by category so it should be easier.

Visit www.punpunthailand.com to read about the community where I just did an internship in green building and seed saving (or part of the internship).
Visit http://www.jokonan.org/articles.php?id=13 to learn about the group I was just with for a week. It may have been the highlight of my trip. They are an amazing seed saving and social action group with youth groups, farmer trainings on breeding and seed selection, courses with aids patients on self sufficiency, farmer field schools, farmer networks, micro-credit, community forests, fish sanctuaries, rice diversity, festivals, and much more. there are pictures on flickr.
Also, I added many link on the side of this blog page to random seed articles or websites and articles of groups I have been with on this journey. The size and scope of the seed saving movement in unbelievable. Search the web or talk to farmers around the world and you will constantly be referred to another group, movement, or article.
Thats all for now, Im finishing my three month report and will post soon.
Long live Local Seeds! Long live our agricultural diversity! Preserve our ability to survive on this earth and live in vibrant self relaint communites and cultures!!
All my love,
Adam Read More......

Hopeful Journal Entry from Thailand a few weeks ago

Here is a positive reflection on ym current relationship with seeds and this international movement!

Last night we had a dance party and it felt so good to move. I felt nostalgic for friends I used to dance with, but once again realized how happy dancing makes me feel. There is no feeling as powerful as the freedom which comes when I let the music enter my soul and gyrate my limbs to the beat. Some mimicked me, others complimented me, and the Thai guys pushed whisky on me. Last night reminded me how important it is to keep celebration as a part of any movement or project I start.
There is an infinite amount of negative information in this world and to be honest I have had enough of it. Over the past 4-5 years I have read, studied, and heard an exorbitant amount of depressing information on our food system, the state of the environment, the oppression of many through globalization, systematic, racism, sexism, etc. I am glad to have learned about the negative effects of our social and environmental systems. However, I have had enough! My education has motivated me and led me down a path which I feel is my ultimate dream and destiny. Now that I feel confident of my path in life and my true dream of how I want to live. I am ready to fully dwell in positivity!!

As I lie here in the hammock my mind fills with smiling images of ancient fruit ladies in Italy, rice growers in Thailand, grain growers in Italy, subsistence farmers in India, and thousands of farmers dancing together at Terra Madre. In some ways I feel like this is all a magical dream. I feel ecstatic as I accept that by farming and saving seeds I can not only be happy and have the opportunity to fondle many beans. But, I can also select crops to grow well on my land, preserve our history, spread good tastes, become self reliant, bring back ceremonies and recipes, and most importantly feed people good tasting food and spread the beauty of diversity. In diversity there in strength and survival. Climate Change is coming, but these crop varieties can adapt to the conditions, help us to adapt, and reconnect us to the land!

I know that climate change looms imminently. I know we face a dire future with loss of crop diversity: over 75% of the world’s agricultural biodiversity has been lost since 1900, atleast 90% of all fruit and vegetable varieties in the US are lost. I know that our agriculture system is inherently unsustainable (food production counts for over a fifth of all America’s energy). At this point we are basically consuming oil by using more fossil fuel to produce our food than energy we receive from the food (in the US the typical meal has travelled over 1500 miles from source to table). Nitrogen fertilizer use has gone up four times in the past 40 years and 37% of the world’s cropland has been eroded since WW2. Topsoil is being destroyed 17 times faster than it can be regenerated. Our waterways are polluted (animal waste from factory farms has polluted over 25,000 miles of waterways in the US alone). Forests are being destroyed for more cattle at an alarming rate. Disease like cancer and diabetes are spreading at epic proportions (1 out of 3 children born in NYC last year will develop diabetes in their life). In America, we are the first generation that will not have a longer lifespan than the our parents.

I have stayed in villages in which over 30% of the inhabitants had cancer from heavy pesticide use (most of these chemicals are banned in America and farmers use no protection). I have met farmers poisoned from pesticides – unable to walk anymore, struggling to raise their children who can’t verbally communicate. Women have cried to me and told me of their husband’s suicide as a result of farm debt. Farmers from Canada, Italy, and India have all told me of their battles with Monsanto or other large pesticide/ seed companies. I have felt the burning of pesticides on my body in a GM cotton field and I know the horrid stories are true. Many of them are not exaggerated. Our agriculture is not only poisoning the land, it is killing us. We dump our banned agricultural chemicals on third world countries and the worldwide power dynamics are furthered as farmers become sick, poor, and fully reliant on large agribusiness. The world’s ancient seeds are being lost at an alarming rate and with this rich diversity go our vibrant heritages and cultures. The seeds are our link to the past and our answer to future crisis.

In the past I was motivated to take action in the field of seed saving because of depressing statistics. My brain is still filled with them. I know that only 5 companies now control over half of all seed sales in the world (60 years ago not one company controlled more than 1%). I was shocked by statistics that over 75% of our world crop diversity was lost in one century. If we continue on this path, a small handful of companies will take control of the world’s food system and patent must of our crop diversity. “He who controls the seed controls the world.”

With these ancient crops goes an amazing array of cultures, diets, ceremonies, and sustainable farming systems that have proven themselves over hundreds of years.

I could write for days about the destructive qualities of our food system. Each negative thing I read, hear, or experience about the chemicals in our food, the sickness in our people, and the destruction of our land sickens me to no end. However, as I started to say before – I have had enough of it! Nearly every farmer and seed saver I have met on this journey does not do what they do because of depression of anger. Mostly all do it because they want to create a brighter future. Farmers save and spread seeds to put control back in the local community, save money, be self-reliant, preserve their culture, farm with no inputs, for the great taste, for ceremonies and festivals, and so much more.

One farmer last week told me, “Seeds are our power. They are our heritage. They are our property and our right.” Farmers tell me that if they lose the seeds they lose their livelihood and their power or control over their lives. Everyone I have met with does not just protest or give up when faced with these daunting conditions. They get out there and grow food, train others, spread seeds, work with children, teach self-reliance, start community gardens, and much more. To many farmers, seeds represent their ancient learning and knowledge. They save seeds to stay connected with their heritage and to continue learning. Others save seeds because they simply love purple rice. The reasons are extremely diverse, but to most they save seeds because they don’t see their kids will be able to survive in the future without these crops. They want to have a healthy family, clean water, be healthy, and survive economically. All these things are impossible without seeds that can grow with little inputs, adapt to weather, pests, and diseases, and are generally much higher in nutrition.

At the start I was drawn to seed saving by an overwhelming sense of duty to do something to stop control of our food and destruction of diversity (both biologically and culturally). Nonetheless, I was simultaneously motivated by the beauty of our crop diversity which still exists, the power held in a seed, and the true contentment I feel when farming. Since I was first exposed to agriculture I have felt a joy unparalleled by anything else. To put a cool seed into moist soil makes me feel happy to be alive and joyous to be a part of the world’s bountiful cycles. I also just love holding and caressing seeds. One of the best moments so far on this trip was just holding bean seeds and laughing for about ten minutes with the head seed saver at Navdanya in India.

Since the first seed swap I attended I have felt the power of seed diversity in my blood. Approximately three years ago I walked into the seed swap at the ecological farming conference feeling drunk of the pressed grapes of organic dreams. I was immediately blown away by the bounty which lay in front of me. Dozens of farmers covered tabled in red amaranth, black beans, native tobaccos, ancient wheat’s, Ethiopian barleys, tomatoes of every shape and color imaginable. I filled my pockets with these seeds and filled my heart with the stories of beans carried across the trail of tears by Cherokee Indians, tomatoes from ancient Siberian gardens, cucumbers from Indian mountains, and much more. I took these seeds and placed them in gardens at my university in California, and in community gardens in NYC. Soon every soil I touched became filed with colorful, eccentric veggies, wonderful tasting tomatoes, majestic barleys, and beautiful beans. Working with ethnic gardeners in NYC further inspired me to connect with the cultural diversity and diets associated with seeds. Gardeners had jungle corn from Cameroon, amaranth from Jamaica, chilies from Thailand, and much more.

Before I ramble too long, I should try to get to my point. I started this trip with a mix of positive and negative feelings toward the seed movement. I felt overwhelmed by our environmental and social crisis, but stayed slightly hopeful I may find some answer. This journey has turned out to amaze me at every turn and filled me with an immense amount of hope! I feel the power of seeds and diversity as I walk. It tingles my skin when I try to sleep and rattles my bones upon waking. Through this journey the ground below me has been shaken so hard that a large part of me has ruptured and through this void hope has poured in. I am no longer motivated by depressing statistics. Yes we are running out of oil. Yes a food system is controlled by a few greedy white men while millions starve, become sick, or are kicked off their land. However I have seen that the ones who are worse off are the ones with the most hope and the most passion to create a new positive solution.
What really touches me are the hundreds of stories of hope I have experienced.

Over the past two weeks I gave two presentations on my year to communities of foreigners and Thais here. As I prepared for the first talk I studied facts about seed control, loss of biodiversity, pollution, etc. However, all this faded as I looked through my pictures. Joyous tears filed my eyes as I remembered sons who had lost their father the cancer and given up a job as a chemical engineer to become natural farmers and help start community seed banks. My skin felt the joy again of a 90 year old woman’s laughter as she led me into her cool seed bank and showed me seeds of millets, pumpkins, cucumbers, red beans and green amaranth. She told me they were from her grandmothers, grandmothers, grandmother (in an interview last week I asked one farmer where the seeds came from and they looked confused and said “maybe god”). She filed my pockets with ancient millet seeds and cooked me a meal of jangora pudding (a sweet dish made from barnyard millet –made only for very special occasions).

As I looked through my photos the memories became so vivid that I could taste the Indian meals made from only their farm, each family trying to outdo the next. Countless farmers in both Italy and India told me their variety was better than the neighbors (but it was a friendly pride and they still shared seeds). Farmers told me how they traded seeds or how their family had grown this bean longer than they could remember. Some swore by the taste and convinced me that we need to save crops even if this was the only reason (who wants to each a tomato that tastes like paper or rice without any aroma??). Others showed me how seeds of 12 crops could be grown together in 1 field and produce al the dietary needs of a family. I saw countless crops adapted to their local land growing with no water and a small amount of cow dung (farmers that tried hybrid seeds in these organic systems failed miserably. The hybrids rely on high inputs of water and chemicals to produce).

It seems everything has just revealed itself to me this year and pushed me down this path of beauty. Old varieties of crops not only taste good, but they are healthier and give us considerably more nutrition. I was given sacred barley used only for the baby’s first meal, presented meals ranging from handmade truffle pasta to homemade ghee on millet chapatti. I have worked on farms with over 26 varieties of turmeric. Here we grow over thirty varieties of tomato, three types of basil, 4 types of long bean, 25 types of lettuce, many local mustard greens, 5 types of eggplant, and much more. The list goes on and on.

The biodiversity still being preserved in this world never ceases to amaze me. In some areas of the Himalayas each family still had a seed bank which was intricately built by hand and designed to fit in the natural environment. Their entire year (including rituals, holidays, and recipes) were based around the diverse crops they grow. Most recently I got to learn about the four rice ceremonies in Thailand and take part in one! In the Himalayas all dietary needs were fulfilled by the crops grown in small terraced farms. The slopes in between were covered in grassed which fed the cows and buffaloes. These sacred animals provided milk for the home (cheese and ghee), fertilizer for the fields, and plowed the land. Labor was shared among farms depending on the need of each family in the village (the same is true here in rural Thailand).

Despite the immediate pride families had in their amaranth beauty, or how well their rice grew they were still willing to share their seeds with anyone interested. Swapping or exchanging seeds is an ancient practice in India, Italy, Thailand, and I suspect the world as whole. Sharing and exchange has been an important part of rural life for generations. In some ways this left farmers vulnerable to new hybrid crops. When extension agents, scientists or other farmers came into rural areas and preached about the value of hybrids farmers were excited to accept because they were used to sharing seeds with neighbors or those who passes through. In many cases farmers took a new variety of soybeans for instance. They inserted it into their system of planting twelve crops together and the entire system collapsed. Farmers had saved the seeds of beans, lentils, millets amaranths, and lentils to grow well together with little inputs or management. The new soybeans were bred to grow in monocultures and respond to agricultural chemicals. Countless studies have shown that old agricultural systems fall apart after only a few years when new seeds and chemicals are introduced. Farmers need participatory breeding that helps their local condition and not a foreign hybrid that can’t grow without massive amounts of chemicals.

This same story rings true around the world and I have witnessed it in such diverse regions as the Himalayas, dry plains in Punjab, the Tuscan hills of Italy, and now in tropical N. Thailand. However, in all these places and many more there is a movement of positivity and hope working to reverse the trend. Farmers from India, Italy, Thailand, Kenya, Uganda, Germany, France, Canada, and many more have blown me away with their power and passion. The farmers of the world are a force to be reckoned with and many are now working to save what’s left and create a good life for their family and their village. No matter how far removed we are from the land, we rely on these farmers!!

This movement to reverse a loss of culture and food diversity is filled with people from all walks of life. Every day I hear a new reason farmers or even lawyers cite for why they are trying to save seed. In Punjab, farmers, politicians, journalists, and professors are teaming up to declare a war on Multinational Companies pushing their seeds and associated chemicals. Farmers are called freedom fighters and seed saving is seen as a way to put power back into farmer’s hands. For the journalists it is a political statement. For the doctors this movement is crucial to the health of their region. For the farmers it is a way of survival and a positive protest to right the wrongs they face each day. Along my journey, many farmers are tired of organizing and speaking out against the atrocities that plague their lives (cancer, pollution, suicides, increased osteoporosis, diabetes, debt, etc).

Community Seed banks allow people to organize something positive in their community. Farmers are given titles or roles as seed collectors, bean growers, seed bank cleaners, etc. The seed also help to wean them off chemicals. The organic growth also becomes a source of immense pride and discussion. The success of organic crops grown from good varieties proves many naysayers wrong. In areas like Punjab or here in Thailand where most crop diversity is lost- farmers have collected seeds from other regions and are creating diversity again by selecting crops good for their local conditions.

At the start of this year I expected farmers in all my interviews to talk about impending environmental doom or peak oil. However, many farmers were confused by my questions. TO them it didn’t make sense to ask why we save seeds. The only way to survive for many is to save seeds and grow seeds adapted to their lands. Even in Italy many organic farmers must find old grain varieties that can grow without water. To the western world self sufficiency is a difficult concept to grasp because we are so dependent on outside sources (companies) to provide all our needs. However, self sufficiency is reemerging or expanding widely in India and Thailand. Villages in these areas are often new to our system of consumption and externalization. Many farmers I interviews tried growing high yield hybrids earlier. They accepted new seeds and chemicals like all their neighbors. However, many began to fail as farmers and saw the shortcomings of this system. They have chosen to revert back to past ways. Some got very sick from chemicals or saw widespread malnutrition as a result of the new monoculture system. Almost most common is the fact that farmers haven’t been able to afford inputs as prices double and tripled in the past five years. Others simply missed the tastes or felt they had let their ancestors down. Read More......

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Hello Everybody.
If you can, please click "Subscribe" at the bottom of this page. If you do this I believe you will find out when posts are added and dont have to keep checking and getting annoyed that I am bad at blogging.
Adam Read More......

Last Days in Thailand!

All is generally good with me. Wel actually its great! Aside from the past day in Bangkok life has continued to be filled with hope, a plethora of seeds, good challenges, and countless stories about seeds, peoples relation to their local crops, the change in agriculture, and the need for a rural system with community and local seeds at the core.
I am currently in Bangkook. This part of the city where all the guest houses are is like a crazy city of creepy old men with young thai women mixed with party girls and strange frat boys. Monks dressed in orange roam the streets and countless thai prostitutes yell “come here handsome man.” The first time I was flatered as I haven’t had much feminine contact in awhile. However, I soon realized this is their routine or it’s the only English they know. I am little shocked by all the sloppy drunk Americans wasting away their days drinking, getting tattoos, eating cheap food, and talking about the next rave party. I cant connect to them at all and haven’t spoke to anyone really since getting to Bangkok. Nonetheless, I am enjoying the solitude, warm shower, western food, coffee, and little comforts of city life.
Tomorrow night I fly to Ethiopia. I am very excited but also increasingly nervous. After hours of searching I found an Ethiopian guidebook yesterday. It gave me good info, but also scared me about how intense it will be. Im sure it will all be fine, just a challenging month.
The past week, since I left the Pun Pun farm and seed center where I was settled, has been amazing. I am so glad I went up to meet with Joko Seed center. I wish I could tell you all about their work. Seed Saving is the focus, but they use it as a focal point to start many school groups, train women with aids, provide healthcare and diet information, organize community forests, teach farmers plant breeding for their needs, how to make soaps, and so much more. For days I just kept finding out more and more programs they have. Once again I was amazed by how welcoming and kind people are to me when I simply say I am studying plant breeding. One of the staff met me at the bus station and organized every waking minute for me. I stayed in the village with their volunteers. It was great to be the only foreigner again and struggle with language, etc. I loved cooking with them, doing interviews, meeting farmers, exchanging stories with farmers, eating with old women who grow 37 different types of yams, and much more.
Pang was a great translator and they invited me to come along to a large festival they were having to celebrate rice diversity and the end of the season for their “farmer field school” It was a fun road trip there in the back of a pick up and a truly amazing festival. Anyway, theres so much more I could say. I loved seeing how passionate the farmers were about their rice and to see all the culture around rice diversity. One farmer who taught himself rice breeding and created a new strain good for their region is like a rockstar here. Everyone was talking about his variety and he strolled around handing out seeds and accepting change. He told me he did this because seeds are power. If that power is taked away the villagers will lose out to companies and no longer live the way they want. Through a translator he passionately explained why seed saving is important and all the benefits of old varieties (diease resistant, adapt to weather, always produce, stronger, good long straw for animals and houses, etc). However, I think part of the reason why he grows so many varieties and work constrantly breeding new local varieties in his field is because he loves being a rockstar. His variety helps people and gains him fame.
At the festival I learned so much about how Thais relate to rice. There are atleast three holidays a year here that are centered around rice. The whole village celebrates together and many songs are sung and specific patterns (related to the moon) are often followed. The ceremonies are beautiful and create a real community as one must wait for the last person to plant the rice or harvest the rice before the ceremonies begin. Special black rice or certain varieties are grown for these specific festivals. Aslo, specific rice varieties are grown for local rice whisky, baby food, wet conditionds, dry conditions, sticky rice, not sticky rice, and much more. The dancing was great at the festival. So many different groups performed as others tasted rice, cooked, or traded seeds.
Lastly, I even was asked to speak to the crowd of like 150 thai farmers(through my translator). The farmers loved it and I was given some gifts in exchange! It felt awesome to speak to them and relate to these farmers after they taught me so much., I spoke about seed saving, agriculture in America, and why Im here. After only a week, it was still a sad goodbye to the Joko crew and I spent much of the bus ride readings over notes I had scribbled about rice breeding, growing mushrooms with aids patients, making local pesticides and fertilizers with leaf mold form the forest, breeding rice, growing seeds for companies, yam diversity, and so much more. Joko and all the associated young men, old women, sticky rice, yam candies, and rice dancing has restored my hope and showed me again why I am on this unbelievable journey.

Now I am writing, drinking a beer and preparing to go to Ethiopia tomorow!!
I am currently posting photos to flickr and my blog. Also, subscribe to my blog if you want, so you will know when I post.

Lets keep in touch!!
All my love,
Adam Read More......

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!! Read More......