Should anyone have scoffed at our efforts to achieve sustainability by raising goats and, most recently, chickens in our backyard then it's time to eat crow. Or egg. Actually a very small egg. Behold...our first egg. Apparently laid by the bantam hen. Starvation narrowly averted.
Interesting People - Impressive Projects
One of the main reasons we proposed establishing the ECHO Asia Regional Office in Chiang Mai was fairly convenient access to regional agricultural activities that might be of potential interest and value to others in ECHO's global network. Over time we expect to make contacts throughout Southeast Asia as well as adjacent parts of South and East Asia. But for starters, northern Thailand has its own share of interesting people and impressive projects. These are just a few of whom I've met over the past couple of weeks.
Jo Jandai - Jo and his wife, Peggy Reents, co-founded the Pun Pun community(http://www.punpunthailand.org/) in the Mae Taeng district just north of Chiang Mai in 2003. In a short time, Pun Pun has gained quite a reputation for innovating sustainable living approaches, including the promotion of earthen (e.g., adobe) homes and sustainable agriculture. On Feb. 13 Jo hosted a few of us who are interested in Pun Pun's seed saving activities. As ECHO Asia is in the process of setting up a regional seed bank, various open-pollinated vegetables being bred at Pun Pun are of particular interest to us. By the way, Jo and Peggy are slated as speakers for the upcoming ECHO Asia Agricultural Conference to be held in Chiang Mai (Sept. 21-25, 2009)
Josh Kearns - While at Pun Pun, we met Josh Kearns, a young American who represents Aqueous Solutions (http://www.aqsolutions.org/), a non-profit based in Huntington, West Virgina. The mission of Aqueous Solutions is to "enable households and communities to ensure the safety of their drinking water in a self-reliant and sustainable manner." Such work includes rainwater harvesting, solar disinfection of water and water filtration systems. Pun Pun serves as a base for Aqueous Solutions in Thailand. While at Pun Pun, we saw Josh's recent effort to build a low-cost solar shower system for the community. Using black tubing, a glass cabinet to heat the water-filled tubes and a gravity-fed water system, the solar shower at Pun Pun costs less than $100 US. The water heats up nicely, particularly on sunny days.
Clement and Amee Doyer - The Doyers established their farm in the Chiang Dao district of Chiang Mai several years ago. Clement, a French-Canadian, and Amee, a Lisu-Thai, spend part of each year in Quebec tending their business, Labo Solidago Inc. Otherwise, they're engaged in a natural farming venture in northern Thailand that incorporates pig production, a tangerine orchard and paddy rice production. Our group of 12 traveled to the Doyer's farm on Feb. 19 to see the production of cooking oil expressed from Niger seed. Relatives of Amee brought Niger seed into Thailand from neighboring Burma a few years ago. Although basically unknown in Thailand, in parts of Burma, Niger seed is produced for not only cooking oil but also for export as wild bird seed (known otherwise as Nyjer seed or "thistle" finch seed). Anyhow, the Doyers, along with numerous Lisu and Kachin neighbors, are pressing the locally grown Niger seed into cooking oil. According the Clement, within a few years, the numbers of local farmers growing their own Niger seed for cooking oil has grown from one family (the Doyers) to approximately 600 families this year. And many more are expected to begin production in coming years. Clement also presses oil for the local growers. Apart from a small fee, Clement retains the seed cake (reportedly containing 32% protein) for use as pig feed. And his hogs certainly looked happy, fit and sleek. Anyhow, ECHO Asia will definitely be following up on the potential of Niger seed as a cooking oil source and animal feed.