I ended year 2014 and stepped into 2015 at a farm a few hours northwest of Chiang Mai city in Thailand. From the name Mindful Farm, you can probably guess that it focuses on mindfulness and meditation. The farm was started by a former monk Pi Nan (literally meaning ex-monk) and his Japanese wife Noriko about 2 years ago. They have a baby girl Nobara who is very calm compared to most city kids that grew up with the ipad.
We rode on a motorbike from Chiangmai through mountains and crossed a bamboo bridge to reach Mindful Farm. The first thing we were told upon arrival at the farm was the daily schedule. They have a fixed daily routine starting with meditation or yoga at 630am. However it was quite cold at that time and people either sleep in or go for a run with Pi Nan around the village and mountains. I chose the latter. We would start running with just a tiny bit of sunlight in the morning mist. As we proceed along at a leisurely pace, the rising sun would wake us up together with the village and trees. Frankly speaking I’m usually slow to start my engine in the mornings but it was a wonderful way to wake up.
Breakfast starts at 730am and everyone eats silently. For the rest of the morning, we work on the farm and help with different tasks. After lunch, it is personal time. The volunteers usually read or meditate during this time. At 330pm, there is an optional yoga class conducted by any volunteer who is trained in yoga. We were fortunate and had two yoga teachers during our stay. I guess the nature of the farm tends to attract yogis.
After dinners, we gather at 730pm and meditate together in the dark in front of a candle for half an hour. I found it very challenging the first time I did it. My back and my ankles were aching from the half lotus position. My mind was running amok and kept trying to guess when the meditation would end. I was so relieved when the bell was finally struck. It got easier and surprisingly more enjoyable as the days went on and I got settled into the quiet environment and steady routine. We even extended our stay to try the silent New Year’s day. There was no talking, reading, and using electronic devices on that silent day!
We did some gardening in the mornings. Mindful Farm is located in a hilly area and the property stretches from a lower terrace up a slope to a higher ridge. The vegetable beds are located at the lower areas and the activity area and sleeping huts are on the ridge.
The farm is a few years old and you can see that they are trying to establish fruit trees between the sleeping huts to create a food forest. It was dry season when we were there and the ground was parched and hard. The fruit trees were suffering and we were all on daily watering duty for the young trees around our individual huts.
I assigned myself the task to mulch as many fruit trees as I can. I tried to get my hands on any kind of organic matter for mulching but they are not as readily available as compared to the humid tropics. In the end, we used all the remaining rice husk from the rice harvest that we could get our hands on.
We also did some good old digging with the hoe to create some vegetable beds. The rice season was over and the villagers usually convert their rice terraces to grow vegetables, peanuts, or soybean. The soil was dark, fertile and moist. It gets quite a bit of moisture just from the morning dew but tends to dry up in the afternoons when the sun shines on the soil. We sowed some okra (or ladyfingers) seeds which were imported and coated with green fungicide. A pity they don’t seed save here.
No prize for guessing which bed is the one we did in the photos below. We went around the surrounding rice terraces to gather rice straw for mulching. Pi Nan said that he would grow some sweet potato underneath the okra when they grow taller as grow cover. I hope they are doing fine now…
Here are some more photos of the garden and the stuff we did.
Well, no WWOOFing experience would be complete without making a compost pile hey? We did a lasagna compost pile, layering the greens (some ground cover plant) and the browns (dried up rice husk and straw). It was really speed composting in the sense that we had about ten volunteers doing this and it was completed in an hour or so.
An interesting thing I noticed is that the local practice is to stomp and jump on the compost pile to make it compact. I thought that aerobic composting requires oxygen, which is why compost piles are turned over or inside out for aeration. Compacting the compost pile only makes it harder for oxygen to reach the middle. I did not get an answer but I am guessing that it was really dry and compacting the compost pile helps to retain moisture inside. Even composting practices have to be localized!
The accommodations at Mindful Farm were simple and natural. The focus is on being mindful and excess comfort or luxury were distractions. Most of the sleeping huts are make from bamboo and scattered around the property with some space in between for privacy. We were happy to get a mud house because it should be warmer at night than a bamboo house. The mud stores heat during the hot day and releases it during the cold night.
Here are some photos of the other building structures.
While Mindful Farm usually follows the daily schedule strictly, there were some changes during our time there. Firstly, Pi Nan’s mum was sick and he had to take care of her. He sleeps over at her place and keeps the fire burning beside her throughout the night.
There was also a funeral in the village. A funeral is always a whole village affair and some of the volunteers went to help out as well. We attended the funeral and I have to say it was something out of my expectations. According to Pi Nan, Thai funerals are usually not too sorrowful. Buddhism teaches them that everything is impermanent. To hold on to something too tightly would only cause suffering. Deaths are usually more readily accepted. As Japanese writer Haruki Murakami wrote: “Death is not the opposite of life, but a part of it.”
Indeed, the funeral was much more light-hearted than other funerals that I have been to. There was cheerful music blasting from speakers on a van during the procession across the village to the cremating ground. The only tears I saw was on the face of a teenage girl. After a simple ceremony, the whole sequence of fireworks was ignited. It’s hard to describe in words but it was very elaborate with many colors and patterns, sequenced in a manner that ended with a fire underneath the coffin. To say that I was amazed would have been an understatement.
We celebrated the New Year by cooking up a vegan buffet for the villagers on the eve. Pi Nan has been advocating a vegetarian diet to the village for over ten years. He was not shy to admit that so far only one person has been converted. We had over twenty-five volunteers at the peak, coming from over twenty countries. Different people prepared different dishes from their hometowns. There was the additional challenge of being vegan and also not having garlic or onion in the dish because of the Buddhist diet. The volunteers came up with variations like vegan pizza, vegan banana cake, vegan paella, and so on. We cooked up a pot of Nasi Lemak rice, which is a Malay dish – rice steamed with coconut milk, pandan, and ginger. Yummy!
Next up on our farming trip in Chiangmai: building houses with mud at Maejo Baandin…