เครือข่ายเกษตรกรรมทางเลือกภาคอีสาน

In Support of Alternative Consumerism

In Uncategorized on 14/07/2010 at 10:45 am

A Field in Mahasarakam

Fun yang mai dok,” is the phrase that is commonly heard these days in Northeast Thailand.  The phrase means: it still hasn’t rained.  In these dry conditions farmers are unable to spread rice seed and must either wait patiently for rain to nourish the parched fields that they have already sowed or seek additional employment, which may including helping their neighbors plant rice.  Yet, traipsing along village roads or driving across highways lined with similar auto dealerships and megabusinesses, bridges with bright yellow images of his majesty King Rama IV, and small food stands, one is struck by the vast fields of bright green blades shooting up from the ground.  Rice is still growing across Isaan, but the connection average Thai has to the rice is uncertain.  Not too long ago most Thais, plowed, tilled, and seeded a plot of land, experiencing the ups and downs of weather cycles.  Using local technology to predict the rainfall and other conditions, such as observing the skin color of a gecko or taking stalk of the fruit their trees were yielding, rice farmers (chao naa) had an intimate connection with their crops and land.  However, as increasing numbers of citizens migrate to the cities opting for new means of employment, the divide between the average citizen and rice is growing as well as the divide between urban and rural areas.  It is for these reasons that the AAN is trying to organize an organic consumers group; recently we were able to host an event where frequent consumers of the Green Market in Yasothon city made a visit to the fields of Kudchum.

Making Obeservations of Rice Samples

In the United States, groups of consumers interested in agriculture are organizing to bridge the separation the population has with their food.  These groups work together to strengthen farms and surrounding communities and increase knowledge of local agriculture.  They engage in a wide variety of activities, from the valuable act of sharing an organic meal (a crucial part of village life in Isaan), to hosting food festivals (I had the opportunity to attend a garlic festival in Hastings, Minnesota this past summer), to purchasing shares of a farm’s produce in a Community Supported Agriculture operation (CSA).  It is this relationship of trust and awareness between farmer and consumer that is at the heart of the organic movement in the United States and across the world.   When bringing awareness to shopping preferences, purchasing food is transformed into a act of heartfelt support rather than a mere exchange of currency.   It was not too long ago that small shop owners knew all of their customers by first name and they cared about providing their customers quality products which met their needs (it should be noted that these products were purchased free of plastic, yet another layer of separation).  The driving force behind organic groups is to reestablish this face-to-face exchange between farmer and society.

Taking a Moment to Speak with Paw Noi

American consumers copied the model of Japan’s Teiki system, a term meaning “food with a face.” This model of producing and purchasing local food was developed by mothers who had great doubt about the rapidly deteriorating authenticity of their meals.  The system involves creating a close relationship between farmer and consumer, whereby prices are negotiated directly at the farm based on the true value of production.  In Thailand the AAN is trying to follow the example of American consumers who have successfully organized themselves.  This past semester, I was part of a CIEE student group that interviewed consumers of the Green Market to better understand who they are and to simply chat about their food preferences.  The long-term intention of these meetings is to begin to get consumers thinking more critically about the food they purchase and the potential effects of supporting an alternative system of food production.   As this project continues through the summer- the rainy season in Thailand- I am continually considering how we can get consumers passionate to the point where they take the personal initiative to support local farms.   It is an attempt to reverse the devolution of responsibility from the point of producing one’s own food to complete dependence on a microwave.

Getting a group of consumers to come tour the fields was quite an exciting experience.  Our audience focused intently as we offered them information about the latest developments in Thai agriculture and brought into question their role in this evolving food system.  The group eagerly took to the day’s activities- breaking out into pockets of discussion and avidly asking farmers questions about their profession.   In between discussion, our consumers munched on cherries and other farm-fresh goodies (theybared reminiscence to a group of kids, at ease, on a field trip).  The integrated farms we visited were more like amusement parks for nature enthusiasts- with intricately designed layouts of banana trees, herbal remedies, and experiments being conducted on hundreds varieties of rice.  I am left wondering where consumers take their enthusiasm upon return to the city.  Will they be able to maintain a connection with the fields, despite trends of pushing them to take other interests?  Rebuilding a food system requires the full participation of those who dictate the market.  Perhaps in rethinking what it means to eat rice, people will take a closer look at the passing fields.

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