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ruth_tshin | Ruth Tshin

Food culture of resource-poor communities in northern Thailand

I’m exhibiting a few photographs from food research trips conducted in northern Thailand while I was working with ECHO Asia Regional Impact Center.  They will be displayed at the Canadian Association for Food Studies Exploration Gallery at Brock University, try St. Catharines, see Ontario from May 24-27, viagra as part of the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences (a nation-wide meeting of academia and practitioners).

Preparing a stew made with vegetables harvested year-round in the surrounding forests.  Stewing, grilling and boiling or steaming are common methods for preparing vegetables throughout mountain communities in Southeast Asia, reflecting simple culinary techniques developed in the absence of expensive inputs like cooking oil, soy or fish sauces more readily available in lowland communities.   A simple stew highlights the astonishing flavours of whatever vegetables are seasonally available and incorporated: sweetness from fishtail palm heart; sour from tamarind leaves or local tomatoes; bitter from rattan shoots or snowflake tree flowers.  Seasoning staples include chili peppers, salt, wild herbs, and fermented soy beans to add a savoury dimension.

Preparing a stew made with vegetables harvested year-round in the surrounding forests. Stewing, grilling and boiling or steaming are common methods for preparing vegetables throughout mountain communities in Southeast Asia, reflecting simple culinary techniques developed in the absence of expensive inputs like cooking oil, soy or fish sauces more readily available in lowland communities. A simple stew highlights the astonishing flavours of whatever vegetables are seasonally available and incorporated: sweetness from fishtail palm heart; sour from tamarind leaves or local tomatoes; bitter from rattan shoots or snowflake tree flowers. Seasoning staples include chili peppers, salt, wild herbs, and fermented soy beans to add a savoury dimension.

I lived and worked for 5 years in community with people from ethnic minority communities in Chiang Mai province while setting up a centre producing open-pollinated seeds of culturally-significant plants for farmers seeking to be more self-reliant in their practices.  These photographs represent the daily meals and hours of food preparation with colleagues thrust me into an astonishing food culture beyond typical Thai food.  This rich food culture is a way for my colleagues to celebrate their cultural identity, using diverse, seasonal ingredients sourced from nearby forests and using methods reflecting dependence on the surrounding environment.

You can see  what I exhibited: photos and write-up.

Photos: Sasak market on Lombok Island

I visited Lombok Island in August and had a chance to swing by a Sasak market along the eastern coast.  Coming from Thailand and it’s pork-centricity (a new word?), health system this was a fantastic sneak-peek into an ethnic, Muslim culture and especially during Ramadan.  The market was a small space, but crammed with spices and dried goods, including beautiful fish the colour of molten silver.  It wasn’t as camera-friendly as other Southeast Asian markets (I asked permission for all the photos and was hastily refused by some), reminding me of the ask-first atmosphere on Zanzibar Island, off the coast of Tanzania.  Nonetheless, I bought some lovely white peppercorns to use back home in Chiang Mai.

Thanks to the co-owner of Tiara Homestay (located in Labuhan Pandan) for translating!

Sasak market in Labuhan Pandan
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Sasak market in Labuhan Pandan10-Aug-2012 07:37, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 4.0, 6.1mm, 0.017 sec, ISO 320
Tapioca chips (raw) - when fried they expand quite large
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Tapioca chips (raw) - when fried they expand quite large10-Aug-2012 07:37, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 4.0, 6.1mm, 0.025 sec, ISO 320
Sprouted mung beans
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Sprouted mung beans10-Aug-2012 07:38, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 2.8, 6.1mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 320
Spices!  The small squares are dried betel juice that people will chew.
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Spices! The small squares are dried betel juice that people will chew.10-Aug-2012 07:44, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 2.8, 6.1mm, 0.04 sec, ISO 160
Fire shields for cooking (the U shaped things)
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Fire shields for cooking (the U shaped things)10-Aug-2012 07:47, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 2.8, 6.1mm, 0.04 sec, ISO 160
Sasak woman selling spices
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Sasak woman selling spices10-Aug-2012 07:47, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 2.8, 6.1mm, 0.017 sec, ISO 160
Freshly caught fish
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Freshly caught fish10-Aug-2012 07:52, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 2.8, 6.1mm, 0.017 sec, ISO 160
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10-Aug-2012 07:57, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 2.8, 6.1mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 160

Photos: The pleasure of eating in Yangon

Though I was working almost the entire week I was in Yangon back in April, online I took a few trips to Chinatown and Little India to drink in the incredible atmosphere of the markets and food vendors cramming the streets.  Early in the morning to late at night, what is ed the city throbs with a multicultural pulse and the atmosphere has an energy faintly felt in Thailand with its shiny malls and trendy cafes (Bangkok’s Chinatown comes close but barely).

These are only a selection of meals and snacks I ate in my painfully short visit.  But the diversity!  Ah, I cannot wait to explore more in the future.

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Lunch at a demonstration farm in Mwabi district, outside of the city
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Lunch at a demonstration farm in Mwabi district, outside of the city30-Apr-2012 22:49, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 2.8, 6.1mm, 0.02 sec, ISO 400
Scenes from the morning market in Chinatown
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Scenes from the morning market in Chinatown05-May-2012 20:19, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 3.5, 6.1mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 400
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05-May-2012 20:10, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 3.5, 6.1mm, 0.003 sec, ISO 400
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05-May-2012 20:18, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 3.5, 12.074mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 400
Dosa as a morning sweet
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Dosa as a morning sweet05-May-2012 19:53, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 5.0, 6.1mm, 0.008 sec, ISO 400
Fresh dosa and curries at the morning market in Chinatown
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Fresh dosa and curries at the morning market in Chinatown05-May-2012 19:41, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 5.0, 6.1mm, 0.008 sec, ISO 400
Doughnuts and prawn fritters
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Doughnuts and prawn fritters05-May-2012 19:56, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 5.6, 6.1mm, 0.025 sec, ISO 400
Spiced idli
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Spiced idli05-May-2012 19:58, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 5.6, 6.1mm, 0.005 sec, ISO 400
Dried fish...
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Dried fish...05-May-2012 20:06, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 3.5, 6.1mm, 0.02 sec, ISO 400
...fresh fish
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...fresh fish05-May-2012 20:14, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 3.5, 6.1mm, 0.002 sec, ISO 400
Fermented vegetables - used as flavour foundations to soups and curries
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Fermented vegetables - used as flavour foundations to soups and curries05-May-2012 19:55, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 4.0, 6.1mm, 0.067 sec, ISO 400
Children selling fermented legumes
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Children selling fermented legumes05-May-2012 19:19, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 5.0, 7.407mm, 0.017 sec, ISO 400
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05-May-2012 19:16, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 5.0, 6.1mm, 0.017 sec, ISO 400
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05-May-2012 20:00, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 5.6, 13.761mm, 0.013 sec, ISO 400
A riot of colour at a spice and pickle vendor's stand
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A riot of colour at a spice and pickle vendor's stand05-May-2012 20:16, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 3.5, 6.1mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 400
The streets lining Chinatown and Little India are full of small food stalls, serving food from early AM to late PM
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The streets lining Chinatown and Little India are full of small food stalls, serving food from early AM to late PM05-May-2012 19:10, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 5.0, 6.1mm, 0.017 sec, ISO 400
Afternoon betel leaf snack, anyone?
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Afternoon betel leaf snack, anyone?05-May-2012 01:26, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 6.3, 6.1mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 400
Yunnanese food stall in the evening
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Yunnanese food stall in the evening03-May-2012 07:12, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 2.8, 6.1mm, 0.017 sec, ISO 3200

Photos: The pleasure of eating in Indonesia

Eating in Southeast Asia is incredibly sensual – being enveloped in a cacophany of sights, discount rx sounds and smells.  It’s three-dimensional eating: motos buzzing, order buses roaring, children screaming, dishes clattering, garlic sizzling, spices wafting, soups steaming, waiters gesturing…

I’ve travelled to Indonesia since I was 11 months old, thanks to 98% of my family still living in Jakarta and Bandung and am fortunate to have enjoyed the plethora of foods available from street stalls to catered family gatherings.  Here are some meals I remembered to photograph (oh so many plates were devoured without being snapped) during my August trip for a family reunion.

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Indonesian bakery goods, including lemper, risoles, and croquettes
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Indonesian bakery goods, including lemper, risoles, and croquettes01-Aug-2012 13:24, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 2.8, 6.1mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 320
Iced tea, Indo-style
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Iced tea, Indo-style01-Aug-2012 13:27, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 2.8, 6.1mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 400
Lemper - coconut rice with chicken
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Lemper - coconut rice with chicken01-Aug-2012 13:31, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 2.8, 6.1mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 640
Central javanese food: fried chicken, beef skin and coconut egg
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Central javanese food: fried chicken, beef skin and coconut egg02-Aug-2012 13:43, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 2.8, 6.1mm, 0.05 sec, ISO 800
Gado-gado or "mix-mix" salad, Central javanese style
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Gado-gado or "mix-mix" salad, Central javanese style02-Aug-2012 13:45, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 2.8, 6.1mm, 0.04 sec, ISO 800
Pickled tofu (it's under all the sprouts)
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Pickled tofu (it's under all the sprouts)02-Aug-2012 13:46, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 2.8, 6.1mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 800
Grilling sticky rice cakes in Lembang, a hilly resort area outside of Bandung...
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Grilling sticky rice cakes in Lembang, a hilly resort area outside of Bandung...04-Aug-2012 14:28, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 2.8, 6.1mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 125
...serve with a fermented sauce called oncom (oops, forgot to take photo!).  Learn more about oncom from food expert Alan Davidson: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/encyclopedia/definition/oncom/1711/
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...serve with a fermented sauce called oncom (oops, forgot to take photo!). Learn more about oncom from food expert Alan Davidson: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/encyclopedia/definition/oncom/1711/04-Aug-2012 14:29, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 4.0, 10.775mm, 0.01 sec, ISO 80
Oncom before it's prepared with chilies and spices.  The cakes are made from what is left after oil is pressed from peanuts or from tofu by-products.
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Oncom before it's prepared with chilies and spices. The cakes are made from what is left after oil is pressed from peanuts or from tofu by-products.04-Aug-2012 14:31, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 2.8, 6.1mm, 0.004 sec, ISO 160
Mold can be beautiful
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Mold can be beautiful04-Aug-2012 14:31, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 2.8, 6.1mm, 0.004 sec, ISO 160
Advertising various hot drinks for sale!  One of my favourite childhood memories in Indo is drinking fresh cow's milk, boiled with a bit of sugar.
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Advertising various hot drinks for sale! One of my favourite childhood memories in Indo is drinking fresh cow's milk, boiled with a bit of sugar.04-Aug-2012 14:29, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 4.0, 6.1mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 125
Frying tempeh
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Frying tempeh04-Aug-2012 14:32, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 3.2, 8.898mm, 0.017 sec, ISO 160
Raw tempeh
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Raw tempeh04-Aug-2012 14:33, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 3.2, 8.898mm, 0.017 sec, ISO 160
Crunchy protein!
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Crunchy protein!04-Aug-2012 14:47, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 2.8, 6.1mm, 0.004 sec, ISO 160
Selling all sorts of various fried tempeh
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Selling all sorts of various fried tempeh04-Aug-2012 14:35, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 2.8, 6.1mm, 0.04 sec, ISO 160
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04-Aug-2012 14:42, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 2.8, 6.1mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 160
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04-Aug-2012 14:43, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 2.8, 6.1mm, 0.05 sec, ISO 160
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04-Aug-2012 14:44, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 2.8, 6.1mm, 0.017 sec, ISO 160

Photos: The pleasure of eating in Cambodia

http://ruth.tshin.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/cropped-IMG_5140.jpg
I spent two weeks in Cambodia in February, sale
the first week working behind the scenes of an agriculture training workshop held outside of Phnom Penh and the second week travelling to Battambang and Siem Reap for a bit of work and much pleasure!

I went into full-on tourist mode, eczema
snapping pics of the food I ate.  Enjoy!

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Nom banchok (rice noodles with banana stem, morning glory and other herbs) with yellow fish curry on National Road 6, Siem Reap
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Nom banchok (rice noodles with banana stem, morning glory and other herbs) with yellow fish curry on National Road 6, Siem Reap01-Mar-2012 06:23, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 2.8, 6.1mm, 0.1 sec, ISO 160
Palm sugar "cakes", along the way to Bantreay Sray temple in Angkor Wat park complex
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Palm sugar "cakes", along the way to Bantreay Sray temple in Angkor Wat park complex01-Mar-2012 22:54, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 2.8, 6.1mm, 0.001 sec, ISO 160
Nom banchok with red curry pork at Central market in Phnom Penh
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Nom banchok with red curry pork at Central market in Phnom Penh03-Mar-2012 19:44, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 2.8, 6.1mm, 0.125 sec, ISO 160
Cambodian condiments at the market
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Cambodian condiments at the market03-Mar-2012 19:52, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 2.8, 6.1mm, 0.125 sec, ISO 160
Inside the "food court" of Central Market, Phnom Penh
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Inside the "food court" of Central Market, Phnom Penh03-Mar-2012 19:56, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 2.8, 6.1mm, 0.125 sec, ISO 160
Desserts for sale by 7:30am!
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Desserts for sale by 7:30am!03-Mar-2012 19:58, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 2.8, 6.1mm, 0.1 sec, ISO 160
Central Market, PP
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Central Market, PP03-Mar-2012 20:08, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 8.0, 8.898mm, 0.002 sec, ISO 160
Lotus stems - used in sour soups
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Lotus stems - used in sour soups21-Feb-2012 17:46, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 2.8, 6.1mm, 0.017 sec, ISO 640
Duck eggs and nom bang pate in Kampong Speu marke
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Duck eggs and nom bang pate in Kampong Speu marke21-Feb-2012 18:16, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 2.8, 6.1mm, 0.04 sec, ISO 800
Nom bang pate: grilled baguette, pate, sausage, green tomatoes, onions and chili sauce.  Served with green mango or papaya salad, very similar to somtum.
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Nom bang pate: grilled baguette, pate, sausage, green tomatoes, onions and chili sauce. Served with green mango or papaya salad, very similar to somtum.22-Feb-2012 17:55, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 2.8, 6.1mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 160
Breakfast - Beef curry (very sweet, with holy basil and star anise) that's usually eaten with baguette.  Khmer coffee as well.
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Breakfast - Beef curry (very sweet, with holy basil and star anise) that's usually eaten with baguette. Khmer coffee as well.23-Feb-2012 07:29, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 2.8, 6.1mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 320
The green dish is a sour soup made with lemongrass, tumeric, galangal and local vine (Thai = pak chiang dah)
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The green dish is a sour soup made with lemongrass, tumeric, galangal and local vine (Thai = pak chiang dah)23-Feb-2012 12:55, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 2.8, 6.1mm, 0.017 sec, ISO 250
Various pickles and fermented fish (prahok) in Battambang market
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Various pickles and fermented fish (prahok) in Battambang market26-Feb-2012 23:09, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 3.2, 8.108mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 160
River clams seasoned with tamarind, chili and salt.  Sold on the street everywhere I went.
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River clams seasoned with tamarind, chili and salt. Sold on the street everywhere I went.26-Feb-2012 23:47, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 4.0, 6.1mm, 0.003 sec, ISO 160
Holly looking on as food vendor cooks up a "soup snack" in Battambang
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Holly looking on as food vendor cooks up a "soup snack" in Battambang26-Feb-2012 23:57, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 4.0, 6.1mm, 0.01 sec, ISO 250
This is similar to Karen kao buh: vegetables cooked in a thin rice porridge
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This is similar to Karen kao buh: vegetables cooked in a thin rice porridge26-Feb-2012 23:59, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 2.8, 6.1mm, 0.017 sec, ISO 125
Tongue on display in Siem Reap
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Tongue on display in Siem Reap28-Feb-2012 05:08, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 4.5, 6.1mm, 0.017 sec, ISO 200
Duck embryo at local market
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Duck embryo at local market22-Feb-2012 17:51, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 2.8, 6.1mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 100

A visit to Chiang Mai’s only CSA

In April, troche I took a few friends to visit Chiang Mai’s first community-supported agriculture (CSA) cooperative in the Mae Tha valley, herbal south of the city.  In response to ill health from using chemicals on the farm, neuropathist a few families in this farming community turned to natural food production methods.  Their kids, who were forging careers in the city, decided to quit their jobs and band together to start a CSA, distributing organic food boxes to customers in Chiang Mai.  Mae Tha is a unique community that believes in sustainable practices, from raising chickens to seed saving, and shares their knowledge through homestays, workshops and community events.  Worth a visit.

Read more about their story here, in Robyn and Dave’s article on ZesterDaily.  Read more about Mae Tha on Fair Earth Farm’s site.

Bui runs the year-old seed production operation - she's also former classmates with our co-worker Lue 🙂

Lettuce, eggplant and tomato seeds being cleaned and sorted

Aun is the CSA's spokesperson (unfortunately only his back is shown here!); in front of the organic vegetable plots he manages at his family's farm

Mae Tha Sustainable Cooperative

Organic baby carrots ready to be shipped to Chiang Mai

 

Myanmar: Day 3 – The last day of training

Originally posted on ECHO Asia’s blog.

We concluded the last day of our seed saving training in Yangon on Friday.  Covering topics of how to store seeds, more about the importance of germination, check and information management, we continued discussions with MBC staff and farmers about linkages between seed saving and sustainable thinking.  Kimberly shared findings from her year-long study of managing pests in stored seeds and I put on my plant biology hat to talk about seeds as living potential and various ways to test seed quality through germination and planting out in soil.  Attendees continued to share their methods for saving and testing seeds with the group.

There is a hunger for practical, income-generating techniques here in Myanmar and we’re privileged to be working with MBC as they continue to promote sustainable approaches with their farmers.

One of our attendees stores onion seeds by letting a candle extinguish inside a closed container to create a light vacuum.

Demonstrating a sack garden, into which herbs and small vegetables can be planted

Myanmar: Day 2

Originally posted on ECHO Asia’s blog.

Today we had more lively discussions as workshop attendees talked about economic barriers to sustainable practices in their communities. Kim taught the difference between annual and perennial plants, phimosis the effects of day-length on growth and details of pollination.  In the afternoon, pestilence I led a discussion about cleaning and drying seeds before our whole group pitched in to clean seeds from local tomatoes, nurse pumpkin, ivy gourd and wax gourd.   So far, we’ve collected up to 15 varieties of seed to plant out at the seedbank, including  corn, bean, and pumpkin from Kayah State, and red sesbania from the Irrawaddy Delta area.

Taking notes during one of our many lively discussions

MBC staff spoke of lack of access to systematic information on sustainable farming practices, which hindered their ability to provide good resources to their communities whose livelihoods are dependent on farming.

Our role is to help farmers recognize how their extensive, local knowledge works within a sustainable farming framework. Seed saving is a basic topic but we talked about it as a tool towards more sustainable practices and household income generation.

Drying seeds on a screen after cleaning

Myanmar: Day 1 – Seed saving training

Originally posted in three parts on ECHO Asia’s blog.

Celebrating 200 years in 2013, allergist Myanmar Baptist Convention (MBC) has over 2 million members from 18 different language groups throughout the country.  The Christian Social Service and Development Department (CSSDD) functions like a development organization for its members, many of whom are farmers struggling to maintain their livelihoods amidst high chemical and hybrid seed costs.  As Burma continues to open up to the global market and respond to pressure from China, MBC’s farmers need innovative methods to supplement their income.

In their efforts to continue developing their staff and members’ understanding of sustainable farming practices, MBC graciously invited ECHO Asia to teach seed saving techniques at their headquarters in Yangon this week.  Today, we (Ruth Tshin and Kimberly Duncan) started off a 3 day training session listening to the challenges experienced in their communities.  16 men and 2 women from 5 areas of Myanmar, representing Pwo Karen, Sgaw Karen, Asho Chin, Southern Shan and Mon conventions, were in attendance.  We shared our successes producing open-pollinated seeds using natural methods, as well as lessons learned from our failures from the past 3 years.  Between bouts of power outages, we had lively conversation about local vegetables and seed prices, and ended the first day by distributing seeds from our seedbank.

Burmese farmers are increasingly turning to chemical inputs and hybrid seed for higher-yielding food production in order to meet market demands

MBC staff person from Karen State shares his experiences to the group

Talking plants and seeds, using flash cards of local plants

 

 

Cambodia: Agriculture workshop for local NGOs

I travelled to Cambodia at the end of February to help run a Tropical Agriculture workshop for local Khmer NGO staff.  Over 35 people came together to learn about sustainable farming techniques, sale exchange open-pollinated seeds and to network with each another.  We were hosted by an organic cooperative called the Peri-Urban Agriculture Center in Kampong Speu, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, and at the Jumpah Center, a children’s home that uses sustainable methods to run its operations (think biogas-powered lights!).

It’s always a privilege to work with local NGO staff who are the un-recognized and tireless agents of change around the world.

Check out more posts about the Cambodia workshop on ECHO Asia’s blog.

Rick (ECHO Asia's director) talking about jack beans as a green manure with a workshop delegate

Many local NGO staff lack adequate access to technical agriculture documents, so we publish a variety of topics in Khmer, Burmese and Thai.

Thida (left - our Khmer partner) translates as Boonsong (right) talks about the cowpea seeds he brought to swap. Boonsong, based in Chiang Mai, is an expert on natural farming methods for pigs

The seed exchange - we brought in a variety of vegetables and nitrogen-fixing green manures

Cencha, general manager of Jumpah Center, with his seeds

Samrit (in pink shirt) tallying organic produce brought in by local farmers to PUAC for distribution to hotels and restaurants in Phnom Penh

Women farmers sort through the fresh produce they bring in three times a week

Beautiful greens are sold at hotels and to the few organic outlets in Phnom Penh - allowing farmers to earn above average wages using far less chemicals than conventional methods