Saturday, January 31, 2009

Farm 2

Hey all. I am updating again! But it's probably going to be short. I'm pretty tired, even though it's not even 8 pm yet. In the village we go to bed and wake up with the sun, and two days in Pai aren't enough to change that. I'm lovely and clean and I slept wonderfully in my bed. I'm going to go have another shower soon- my second shower in two days! I can't even believe it. We just hung around today and looked at a bit of the town, and relaxed. It was very nice.
Anyway, the farm in the village:
They do slash and burn agriculture, which was a bit of a surprise. I guess I always thought of it as something done in the Amazon, that destroyed trees. Here, the cut all the trees in one of their eight fields to about a meter high, then burn the whole field. For a year they plant there, growing rice and other things they need. The crops are nourished by the ash, but weeds are largely kept in check by the burn. At the end of the season they harvest, and move onto the next field. Essentially, each field has one year of usage followed by eight years fallow. We've been reading a lot about sustainable agriculture, and we learned that for it to be sustainable, a field needs at least five years fallow for every year of use. By the time the field is harvested the tree stumps already have fresh shoots growing out the bottom, so during the eight years there is a lot of regrowth. This prevents erosion, and the eight years allow the soil to regenerate enough that they never need fertilizer. We talked to one of the women in the village, and she told us how even though they now buy some things from town (including, occasionally, meat) they never buy vegetables- they learned in their middle school classes that the vegetables from town have chemicals in them, which the ones grown in the village do not.
For my media project Becca, Katie C., and I are making a video about our host mothers. We've interviewed them all with translators, and are putting together a film about their lives and roles in the village and at the farm. It will only feature them speaking, with subtitles throughout. I'm really excited about it. The things we've been learning from them are amazing.
Last Saturday we went on a hike for hours, up to a really tall mountain behind the village. It was a nice hike, but very hot and steep. When we got up to the top it was really windy. As we were approaching the final peak, we saw a bunch of soldiers on the very top. They were all in fatigues with enormous guns (M16's, per the guys in the group), gathered around a tent. They watched us toil towards them, and as soon as we reached the top they pulled us into their group, beaming, telling us 'You take picture with my friend!' So we had a huge photo shoot, all of them and all of us. Three soldiers held a bunch of cameras and took pictures for ages. Some of the guards lay down and posed in front of the group, one even making a peace sign on top of his huge gun. It was awesome. Turns out they were the queen's personal guard, out on a training day. She's coming to Mahongsong next month so they've been scouting out the area. They live in the palace and see the King and Queen every day. I've never met such friendly soldiers. Seriously though, God help Thailand if it ever goes to war. I can't imagine them actually using those guns to shoot people.
It's the dry season right now, and they are not farming much, just burning the new fields. The whole country is so dry. The air steals all your moisture. My skin is like a snake. On the positive side, laundry dries really quickly. The smoke from all the burning fields makes a constant haze over the mountains.
I recommend you all read Omnivore's Dilemma, which is really good and will blow your mind. I'm going to have to change how I eat when I get home, dammit. I love meat! No worries, I'm not going to be a vegetarian, because I just don't think that ends up being healthiest or most sustainable. However, less meat seems to be the way to go, and grass fed, sustainably raised stuff for sure. I can't rewrite all of Omnivore's Dilemma and the articles we've been reading on this blog, but if you don't know how supermarket meat is being raised you should really check it out. It's awful. Not just in terms of cruelty, also in terms of health of consumer. American meat plants also export meat to Europe, but they have to export special meat killed and treated more slowly than the meat they sell us. Our supermarket meat is too unhealthy to pass European standards. Meat itself is healthy though, and when the animals are treated well they are a really good part of a farm, and can actually contribute to growing healthier produce too. So it's definitely better to buy that meat than not buy meat at all- vote with your dollars, as one of the articles we read said. The meat industry won't notice if you stop buying from them, but they will notice if they loose percentage shares of the industry (that's a paraphrased quote from Robin). Anyway, read the book. It's really interesting. That's totally longer than I thought it would be. Yay me! I'll be incommunicado again for a week or so, then I should have pretty regular access til the end of the trip, I think.
So adios!

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