Tuesday, April 26, 2011


Earlier this year our friends, Jeff and Sarah Rutherford with Fair Earth Farm (http://www.fairearthfarm.com/) helped organize a small group of young certified organic farmers with the Mae Tha Cooperative (http://www.thailand-travelonline.com/thailand-destinations/northern-thailand-information/sustainable-agriculture-happiness-of-living/620/) in establishing the first community supported agriculture initiative in northern Thailand (and one of few in the whole country). Currently 26 families, most of whom are affiliated with the Chiang Mai International School (http://www.cmis.ac.th/), are subscribing to the CSA.

Every Wednesday morning, the young Mae Tha farmers bring large foam boxes full of fresh, seasonal organic vegetables; all for 200 baht (less than $7.00 US). This is a bargain for quality produce. And, in fact, the amount of veggies provided is more than our family can consume alone in one week. Much of the bounty is shared with neighbors.

One interesting dimension of belonging to a Thai CSA initiative is that some of the vegetables, such as cha-om (ชะอม or Acacia pennata), are very Thai. Therefore, the means of preparing these veggies in a Western fashion is not always apparent or possible. Ellen's kitchen skills are impressive and she has discovered new ways to prepare local types of eggplant, vegetable amaranth, daikon radish and sweet potato. Additionally, the Rutherfords have formed an on-line forum so that the CSA members can discuss the identity of less known produce and compare recipes. However, Ellen doesn't consider herself a master Thai food chef. Fortunately, Bua Loi, our helper of 16 years, is a great cook who knows exactly what to do with such produce.

Some of the ECHO's development projects in the region are concerned with ways to help farmers better market vegetables. For those located near urban areas where there are likely to be persons willing to pay a bit more for safe produce, CSAs might offer an alternative marketing approach.

Swapping Seeds in Svay Rieng

The third and final community seed fair related to the study of regional home gardening and seed saving that was made possible by a Hort CRSP (USAID supported) Exploratory Grant took place in Svay Rieng in southwest Cambodia on March 30, 2011. 55 participants from 11 communities brought a total of 350 packets of homegrown seed to share.

Of the three seed saving events held between January and March, I believe that the Cambodia event was the most successful. Vinny and the team did a great job of refining the process, cutting down significantly on the time required to register the participants and record the types of seeds brought to share. Following a brief message from a local agricultural official and a session that I led related to improved seed production and saving techniques, snacks were served. Afterward, the participants were divided into village groupings to allow each person to introduce seeds that they brought. Afterward, seeds of particularly interesting varieties from each village were described to the large group. This led to a very enthusiastic swap. Post-swap surveys indicated that on average, each participant both gave and received five packets of seed.

Like the previous seed swap in Mae Yao (Chiang Rai), greater interest and participation may have been due to the broader geographic area of the communities represented. But unlike Mae Yao, there was must less ethnic diversity as all of the participants at the Svay Rieng event were Khmer.

Following a wonderful meal, the seed swap ended informally with an impromptu dance (which I managed to evade but film).