Saturday, March 7, 2009

A Different Kind of Farm

One of my ECHO Asia duties is to seek out local venues for possible training and exchange. Truth be told, getting out of the office to visit potential resource sites in and around Chiang Mai isn't a bad way to spend the day.

Last week I visited the farm of Patrick and Jaem Perringaux, a French/Thai couple who attend our church. A natural experimenter, Patrick has been evaluating various varieties of exotic Mediterranean crops, including fig, olive and raspberry, to see how they might fare in the sub-tropical climate of northern Thailand.

Dozens of species of wild fig grow in Thailand's forests; some of which are valued by locals for their edible fruits and leaves. However, unlike "Brown Turkey," a popular variety found in gardens of the southern US, Thailand's wild figs aren't known for their dessert fruits.

So over the years Patrick has imported lots of garden fig varieties for evaluation. And most have fallen victim to the extreme humidity and soaking rainfall that occurs during the six-month rainy season. Still, Patrick reports that at least two exotic varieties have proven to be hardy and productive in the local environment, the fruits of which can be sold for a premium price in the finer restaurants of Chiang Mai and Bangkok. And he expects to add at least a few more varieties to his roster of tried and true figs.

And there's vanilla. A type of orchid native to Mexico, according to Patrick, vanilla pods grown in Madagascar sell for a few hundred dollars a kilo (2.2 pounds). Although his two-year old plants are still a year away from production the vines appear to be very healthy. Patrick reasons that if vanilla actually proves productive at his Mae Ping valley farm then the crop will be even more promising in the cooler hills. In fact, Patrick thinks that vanilla would be an ideal agroforestry crop for forest communities as it can be grown under the tree canopy.

The Perringauxs have also been importing and evaluating exotic rabbits, chickens and ducks. These breeds, when raised well, grow much larger than the hardier but smaller local breeds. And again, fancy restaurants are reportedly happy to reward Patrick for his meat products.

Admittedly, I'm generally partial to local biodiversity. But I'm extremely impressed with Patrick and Jaem's integrated farming approach which avoids waste at all costs. For example, Patrick has built an array of attractive stone terraces which run along the contours of his sloping farm. These terraces and ditches funnel practically all of the rain that falls on the farm to a pond where the ducks are raised.

And all the animal manure and plant biomass produced on the farm are composted to produce natural fertilizer that nurtures the soil on which fruits and vegetables are grown. The greenest stand of sweet corn you've even seen is testimony to Patrick's compost. Even the moisture that drains from the compost pile is collected and utilized as liquid fertilizer.

There's one other notable benefit related to Patrick's approach. He sells as locally as possible. Compared to similar foods sold in a relative handful of restaurants in Bangkok and Chiang Mai that cater to the well-heeled, Patrick's products (e.g., figs, raspberries, rabbit, poultry) come with a much smaller carbon footprint than those imported from distant lands. In other words, his products travel a much smaller distance. And this results in not only cheaper shipping costs but significantly less emitted carbon.

Though their farm is small it's one of the most diversified operations I've ever seen. One could easily hang around with Patrick and Jaem for days just to get a handle on their work.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch...

I'll be danged if he didn't do it again. Bucky jumped the wall Saturday night.

Earlier that day he seemed to be getting a cold. I feared pneumonia. Stressed goats, especially those which have been recently moved, get sick easily and can go down fast.

Consulting my favorite internet sites, I decided that we'd better prepare for the worst. I rounded up an antibiotic, an anti-inflammatory, vitamin B12 as well as some parasite medicine. Then we sequestered Bucky in the "sick pen" next to the wall and took his temperature. 106 seemed too high (a healthy goat's temperature runs between 102-103). So William and I held Bucky while Ellen dewormed him and administered his injections. Leaving him with some fresh water, forage and feed we urged Bucky to get some rest.

Come Sunday morning, Bucky was no where to be found. I peeked over the wall and there he was, wandering about the vacant lot.

Let me take this opportunity to offer a correction to last week's blog. I stated that Bucky had jumped a six-foot wall. However, Ellen pointed out that if I could peek over the wall while standing on my tiptoes then "the wall wouldn't be six-feet high, would it?" Good point. Make that a five-foot wall. And if there's anything that a stressed out goat loves move than a six-foot wall then that would be a five-foot wall.

Anyhow, Sansuk, our Hmong neighbor had also discovered that Bucky had escaped. Together we strategized how we might capture him. Unfortunately, Bucky didn't agree with our plans. And having made a miraculous recovery, Bucky was able to dodge and run with vim and vigor. Headed out of the vacant lot towards the four-lane highway, I figured the goat was about to meet his demise. And I'd be responsible.

However, just before reaching the road he made a wise left turn. He ran 100 yards, evading surprised neighbors and angry dogs and made another wise left turn. Trailing by 50 yards, Sansuk followed Bucky when he made a final wise left turn into the lane that borders our goat yard. Sansuk quickly opened the gate and Bucky ambled back into the coral.

Anyhow, so much for the "sick pen." Ellen and I decided that Bucky was well enough to rejoin the herd. Unfortunately, he's due a follow up shot on Thursday. Pray for us.

No comments:

Post a Comment