One Network

In Organic Consumer Group, Our Network on 10/08/2010 at 7:37 pm

And so my time with the Alternative Agricultural Network is coming to a close.  The timing of my departure is high-spirited as rain has finally begun to fall on the fields of the northeast, though in limited quantities.  Working this summer has been mind-boggling to say the least, and I would like to share a small glimpse of my experience.

I began my journey in the village of Ban Non Yang living with Paw (Pops) Bunsong, lead organizer of the AAN, and Mae (Mom) Nang.  In Ban Non Yang, time moved slow; there was no rush to go anywhere and the day was broken up based on the tasks that had to be finished rather than by minutes and seconds.  Fellow villagers could often be seen taking afternoon naps in huts next to their rice paddies or simply shooting the breeze with neighbors.  Yet, there was always something to do, usually as a community; the second day after my arrival I was in the middle of a group of twenty, barefoot in a pile of rice husks making compost.  Never had I experienced such a sense of bonding within a community before; it is really quite astounding to suddenly have this sense of closeness.

It's 5am Saturday morning, and we are going live from the Green Market!

Moving to the city to work with urban consumers, my lifestyle underwent alteration. My neighbors were no longer fellow farmers but the owners of an internet gaming shop and a car and speaker repair shop.  There was a rice field (naa) adjacent to my property, but it was owned by a large bank, and the effluent of waste water from my home fed into it- who will be consuming this rice, I wondered?  Not just the bankers I am sure…  City folk are not as distanced from rice or communal culture as we might expect.  Most people I talked to: the man selling fried bananas at the bus station, the bicycle repair shop owner, the papaya salad chef- all had cultivated rice at some point in their life and spoke volumes about the current state of food in Thailand.  These urban citizens shared a concern about the safety of their food and about supporting local farmers, at times with as much fervor as Green Market supporters.

Living in the village and supporting organic, communal farming is a challenge, given the recent influx of pesticides and herbicides, packaged food products, and the appeal of non-agriculture related professions in the city.  A resident of the city faces additional layers of complexity in the effort to support communal agriculture, for urban culture encourages a lifestyle of rapid pace.  Consuming pre-prepared products from God/Buddha knows where is the norm so long as these products remain easily accessible.  There is a dearth of community culture that would normally result in slower, more meaningful eating.  While urban culture continues to exert its influence, the farmers, organizers, and farmer-organizers of the AAN continue to slowly and steadily go about their work, developing hearty communities both in rural and urban areas.

NGO, P’Wid attains information on local varieties of plant life in Ban Gudhin. She is a team member of Sustainable Agriculture Thailand and has been collaborating with the AAN for the past two months on a local foods initiative.

Members of the AAN initiate activities that truly create a culture of support and exchange.  This summer I had the opportunity to attend a wide variety of events, including clinics on growing food, surveys of local varieties of plant and vegetable life, farm tours, and celebrations where black, red, and white sticky rice was consumed in plentiful quantities!  At clinics, farmers would offer advice on how to select and develop seeds, while attendees, ranging from doctors to government officials, would respond eagerly with questions.  Surveys conducted on local plant life by farmers, college students, and NGOs, encouraged villagers to preserve their natural wealth; they were probed and prodded with questions about the uses of their plants, their plants’ origins, and classifications.  It was really something to go from the city where I saw drinks of several colors in plastic bags, to seeing an entire forest, with fruit-offspring of every shape, texture, and shade imaginable laid out in front of me; my senses were suddenly woken from their somber dormancy.  The essence of these events was a spirit of gathering together to provide mutual support and offer knowledge, a model of genuine free trade.

Enthusiastic attendees of the rice workshop carefully examine seeds for flaws.

In the city of Yasothon, such a system of exchange has yet to be established.  However, the seeds have been laid: every Saturday at 5am consumers and farmers meet at the Green Market.  Furthermore, consumers get together on their own to chat about food and health while sharing meals.  When consumers first came to visit Ban Non Yang and Ban Gudhin a couple weeks back, they became the first generation of urbanites to be incorporated into this greater network where supporters of Thai organic agriculture come together and exchange thoughts, ideas, and solutions.  P’ Sumalee, an eleven-year public service woman of Yasothon and frequenter of the Green Market expressed enthusiasm about becoming part of this support network, saying, “Our farmers think well, speak well, and do well.  The ideal would be for a group of consumers to work alongside them, visiting different villages and spreading this sense of wellness along with information about organic farming.”  Ultimately, if these exchanges continue, we will have created a community home to both urban and rural citizens that is  able to stave off the pressures of mainstream fast food culture with greater ease.

It is not only dreams of the future, but the values that go into each moment of work which drive these efforts.  When I asked Paw Bunsong whether more people will be interested in organic agriculture in the future, he replied firmly, “I don’t think so.”  His response reflected a sense of blunt sarcasm that made me smirk, but it also made clear the sense of direction and purpose that Bunsong takes to his work.  Bunsong does not  consider himself a leader but one who is in a position to continually learn from neighbors; his goal is not necessarily to convert large masses of people to the organic lifestyle, though it couldn’t hurt, but to develop his practice of growing food in a way makes sense, to the roots, undeniably.

Paw Bunsong (left) and P'Ubon have been working together for the last 15 years bonding communities and fighting major corporations.

And it is from the practice of growing food sustainably that healthy communities inherently come to life.  In such a fast-paced society with endless sources of information, it is difficult to foresee the implications of our actions.  But, what if we simply sewed our seeds for the pure joy of it?…  We may receive a rich harvest in return.  While I was studying as a CIEE student, I had the chance to speak with P Thulang, a young farmer-activist, and member of the Santi-Asoke Buddhist reform community, who told me, “I am not going to worry about results or expectations.  I am going to  follow my heart and continue to do what feels right.”

I would like to extend my gratitude to the farmers, families, and even consumers who taught me this summer.  Chok Dee and Cob Kun Mak!  (Thank you very much and best of luck!)

Beans! Magic Beans!


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