Village Meeting About Organic Farming
My good friend and fellow Rotarian, Carol Acosta, asked me to help with a meeting so that the people in a local Hmong village called Rak Phan Din could explore the possibilities of organic gardening. Sure. Why not? We had no clear idea about their real agenda, but we sorted that out during the first meeting when 35 villagers showed up at their community center.
Fortunately, we had Jeng with us. Jeng is a third-year university student from Rak Phan Din (very rare for this village) and had previously lived with Carol for several years. With her fine English skills she made for an excellent partner as we led this meeting the first evening and during the following day.
As we explored the question: “Why is Organic Farming Important?” several key themes came forward. Chief among then were important health concerns. These villagers are using a variety of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers to maintain the productivity of their land – and doing so with little, if any, protective gear. No respirators. Not even rubber gloves in many cases. Later, when we asked the group how many of them (or their family members) were experiencing health problems, virtually all the hands went up. These people are seriously damaging their health and longevity all for the purposes of making a meager living. As one of them later said “We have no choice. We must use chemicals”. (This really puts a different face on “organic” where in the U. S. the main focus seems to be on the health and wellbeing of the consumer, not the grower.)
Other benefits were identified such as saving money on chemicals and possibly getting a higher price for their produce, but it was the health concerns for the growers and their families that took center stage. And, of course, some concerns were raised as well. Those included getting the necessary education and training to do organic well, finding markets for their products, identifying which crops would be applicable, and other such issues.
The following morning we reassembled the group in the conference room at their local health care facility. After reviewing the notes from the previous evening we moved ahead, working in small groups of five or six people, to delve more deeply into what would be required for the village to move ahead with a conversion to organic farming. They identified several critically important areas:
- Protecting and rebuilding their soil
- Getting more education and training about organic growing
- Learning more about what plants to grow
- Finding markets for their organic products
- Coping with their water shortages
- Identifying and connecting with supportive groups
Fortunately, the Village Leader knew of another village fairly close by (called Don Yang) where the villagers had worked together to go completely organic. So, in preparation for our afternoon visit to that village, once again working in small groups of five or six people, we brainstormed to determine what we wanted to see and the questions we wanted to ask during the visit. Our group of about 18 to 20 men and women was well prepared when we arrived at Don Yang village.
The leaders of this Thai village warmly welcomed us. We were given an extensive tour of what looked to be the village organic education center, followed by a visit to six or eight local village homes. What we saw was an amazingly impressive, comprehensive program – village wide – to grow organically, and to do so very successfully.
Following the tour we gathered in the Don Yang meeting center so that the Rak Phan Din villagers could ask their questions. They asked good questions because they were well prepared. They got an abundance of good information. Lots of notes were taken.
Following that session, we reassembled the village group for one final discussion before we adjourned for the day. As we went around the circle so that everyone had the opportunity to speak – and be heard – they readily agreed that they wanted to pursue organic growing in their village. As a first step they agreed that some families, on a purely voluntary basis, would begin converting their personal gardens to organic.
And, to keep the organic initiative alive and the villages informed and active, they decided to form a Village Organic Committee for that purpose. We soon had a volunteer to head that committee along with a commitment from Jeng to be an important resource for the group. The committee leader and Jeng will recruit other villagers to join the committee at an upcoming village meeting. And, Carol, living reasonably close to the village will visit there from time to time and get the local Rotarians involved when the need for that support arises.
All in all this was a very productive day and a half spent with these hard working, committed people. I fully expect to see meaningful progress towards organic growing during a future visit to their village.