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Thai farm visit teaches traditional agriculture

Abigail Foo picks corn at Vanich Farm, Phuket, Thailand.
Abigail Foo picks corn at Vanich Farm, Phuket, Thailand. Letea Cavander

I WAS far enough behind a water buffalo named Nakwang to be out of the line of fire, but still able to control her, as we trudged through shin-high mud. I was getting a lesson in tilling rice paddies for planting, the pre-mechanised way. Handle in hand, I kept my weight on the plough as Nakwang and I slowly carved our path through the grey sludge.

Vanich Farm is the dream-come-true for founder Apirag Vanich. Open less than a year, the urban garden is set on a 6ha plot near central Phuket and teaches Thais and tourists about traditional methods of growing and farming - pre-machinery, and pre-insecticides and pesticides.

The garden, on the site of an old tin mine, took about a year to establish. The farm hosts Thai school groups and visitors and aims to make learning about farming fun.

When Mr Vanich was a child, he said catching fish and herding buffalo was par for the course and part of his growing-up experience. He aims to offer Thai kids the same opportunity to get in touch with nature in a similar way.

"Kids are just playing video games ... we should be dragging them into farms," Mr Vanich said.

 

"We are a country of rice planting and (Thai children) have never seen a rice paddy field or touched rice. We are now concentrating more on the rice planting and trying to bring in traditional ways of planting so kids and tourists can learn about how Thai farmers in the past worked."

 

A woman harvests rice at Vanich Farm, Phuket, Thailand.
A woman harvests rice at Vanich Farm, Phuket, Thailand. Letea Cavander

This is where three-year-old Nakwang comes in. But visitors to the farm learn not only of traditional paddock preparation.

We learnt the whole cycle of growing, harvesting and milling rice. Taking a scythe and cutting rice while standing on already cut clumps to avoid sinking into the mud was strangely satisfying, but it also showed the backbreaking nature of the work.

Machines are mostly used to do the same job today but I gained a new level of appreciation for how much work (and water) was needed to grow and harvest it.

Mr Vanich's background is in agricultural economics. He said he could understand the importance and explosion in popularity of concepts of land sustainability.

 

Rice wrapped in leaves and stuffed in bamboo.
Rice wrapped in leaves and stuffed in bamboo. Letea Cavander

"We should teach kids about sustainability, how to recycle the land ... you have to. You can't just abuse nature and think it will be okay," Mr Vanich said.

Other demonstrations included creating wood vinegar (a natural pest repellent), a walk through the expansive herb garden and a cooking demonstration using the fresh-picked herbs and other vegetables. We sat down to a lunch that would give many five-star Thai restaurants a run for their money, and it really rammed home the "fresh is best" mantra.

 

Rice wrapped in leaves and stuffed in bamboo.
Rice wrapped in leaves and stuffed in bamboo. Letea Cavander

The visit, which included interactions with the water buffalo, cooking Thai food and "being a farmer" took more than half a day. The three packages cost about $135 per person or about $45 each. The cost includes transfers from Phuket City, Kata, Karon, Patong and Siray.

The writer was a guest of Vanich Farm. For more visit the Vanich Farm Facebook page

Topics:  agriculture thailand travel



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