Planting Seeds for Change

One of the main reasons that the Charis Teaching Farm exists is to enrich the knowledge of the farming community of Maesot and the surrounding region.  One day, many years from now, my greatest hope is that the culture of farming will have changed so dramatically that farmers will no longer burn their crops, trees will be a staple of every farms produce and factory-made chemicals will be considered a ridiculous relic of the past.  Until that day, I am more than happy to see one person change the way they farm.

For the past five months, I’ve been working with our current lead farmer.  He was brought into the farm a little over month before our previous farm manager left us.  Since that time, I’ve leaned heavily on his previous farm experience and cultural knowledge in making many decisions around the farm.  He has shown himself to be a very hard worker, quick learner, and innovative thinker.


The banana trunk bed pictured to the right.

He has brought with him some amazing ideas.  For instance, when I asked him to plant some crops in our small-scale agroforestry plot, he built up a small raised bed and used banana trunks as the frames for the bed.  I can’t remember seeing anything like this before.  In planning for the hot season, he cut down all the dried palm fronds that he could find and bound them to the bamboo lattice that our luffa is growing up.  The fronds fronds cost us no money and work perfectly as a shade for the young squash.  When the luffa is done, the fronds will be placed in a compost pile which will be used in years to come to fertilize our crops.

Palm frond shade a la Thai Karen farmers.

With all his amazing ideas, though, I wasn’t sure if he had truly grasped the main idea of agroforestry.  It’s a very simple idea, but language barriers make simple ideas very difficult to communicate.  The idea is this: pruning trees promotes tree growth and the cuttings return nutrients to the ground, retain water and protect from weeds.  That’s it.  Very simple.  Yet, I didn’t know if he understood it until earlier this week.

Transplanting eggplant sprouts into our Agroforestry plot.

We’d recently hired a new worker who is an experienced farmer.  I had been transplanting eggplant sprouts to the agroforestry plot and the two of them joined me to help.  The new guy immediately started to clear away all the leaves and branches on the ground.  I hesitated for a moment, unsure how to tell him in a culturally appropriate way that he shouldn’t do this.  Thankfully, I didn’t have to do anything.  My lead farmer spoke up quickly.  Even though I didn’t understand what all that was said, it was clear that he was communicating the importance of the leaves and branches staying on the ground.  The new hire put the mulch back in the plot and we moved on.

It was a simple interchange really.  There were no fireworks or arguing.  For me, however, I felt like jumping up and down in celebration.  The time I’ve spent the past couple months trying to teach him how our new farm model will work had paid off.  The Teaching Farm isn’t just an idea anymore; it’s a practice.  We are passing on applicable knowledge to farmers with their own set of experience and traditions.  Ultimately, this isn’t just another western person’s attempt to “save the world.”  The Charis Teaching Farm sets the stage for advances in eco-friendly agricultural practices; it’s the local farmers that will put it into practice and pass it on and on and on…

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Nutrient Dense Farm says:

    I noticed the same thing in Northwest China– they like tilling and leaving the soil exposed and “cleaned off”


  2. oldmcfarmer says:

    That’s what looks nice. It’s aesthetically pleasing and cuts down on weeds. From some of the literature I’ve read though, “weeds” can and do have beneficial effects for the life of the farm. One of my friends in the US introduced this idea to me: the topsoil is like the skin of the earth. Our skin protects us from disease, dehydration, etc. If we keep taking all the debris (the leaves, stems and other organic matter) off of the soil, then we’re leaving defenseless. The ecology of the soil is diverse and we need to learn how to support it if we want to harness all the benefits it has for us.


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