Rak Tamachat: Reaching out with humans and nature

On Sunday May 7th, permaculture practitioners the world over could be seen marking the 8th International Permaculture Day (1), a celebration which began in Australia but which this year had hundreds of events in 35 different countries listed on the official ‘International Permaculture Day’ website (1), with probably as many small-scale celebrations happening worldwide as people showed their appreciation for permaculture in their lives in their own special way. Of course, if we want to use permaculture to help us in our lives we probably want it to be for more than one day a year. Nevertheless, International Permaculture Day can be seen as an important way of bringing the permaculture community together, whether it’s by physically joining in an event or activity, or just to see the online presence of like-minded people who can support your project remotely.

Community seems to be a key part of practicing permaculture in a successful way and so I was lucky enough this International Permaculture Day to be visiting the Rak Tamachat permaculture project (2) in Nakhon Rachasima, Central Thailand, a mere hour or so from my own current home. During my weekend stay, I learned a little about the project and its aims, as well as the way that it fits into the local and international community.
What is Rak Tamachat?

Way back in 2013 Ted Swagerty reported on his visit to Rak Tamachat on this site (3). He mentions the greywater systems and animal husbandry, which still seem to be in effect. The farm is run by Beau and Lyn Wickboldt, who inherited the land. When they first moved onto it, says Beau, the site was little more than ploughed, bare earth. Now they have two large ponds, a growing forest garden, vegetable gardens, turkeys, fish and a goat house on the way.

Pond view. Photo by David Ashwanden

This change is even more stark as a visitor to see as the land all around the site is still the same as Rak Tamachat (which translates more or less as ‘Nature Love’) must have been a decade or so ago; stark, bare fields of monoculture crops, which when we visited immediately following one of the first big rainstorms of the year, were showing clear signs of soil erosion. By contrast, Rak Tamachat is a lush, green oasis, with water being directed into the land gently through swales and being harvested from the roofs of the buildings. But what is it like maintaining permaculture practices when everyone around you seemingly thinks in a different way?

Rainwater harvesting with amphora-style water butts. Photo by David Ashwanden

Building community

Though we only stayed a couple of days at the farm the answer seems to be based on a few different things. Firstly, Lyn and Beau live on the farm with their three small children and extended family, so they have the support of their own immediate community. Secondly, although much of the agricultural trends in Thailand right now tend towards intensive monoculture farming or short-term soil improvement techniques such as slash-and-burn agriculture (4, 5) or inputting of chemical fertilisers (6), there is also somewhat of a culture of regenerative agriculture. For example, the Permaculture Institute Asia (7) is based here and there has been a Thailand Permaculture Convergence (8) here every March since 2013 (9).

Even when people are not calling what they do ‘permaculture’ they still may be following regenerative farming practices as popularised by the late and much-loved King Bhumibol or Rama the 9th (see for example 10, 11). So even if at the moment it looks as though Rak Tamachat is a little isolated in terms of farming practices, it seems as though the cultural climate means that local people may be more ready than they first appear to accept this new (or renewed, if you will) way of farming.

Reaching out

Finally, there is the support of the international community. Rak Tamachat has a rolling calendar of courses in English – Beau is originally from Louisiana in the USA – meaning there is a pretty constant flow of international permaculture enthusiasts passing through. There are a number of buildings already on site as a result of such courses, including some earthbag dome structures and a cob compost toilet complex.

Earthbag construction in progress. Photo by David Ashwanden

Sometimes the materials used in the ‘natural’ building include cement, such as the adobe bricks which Beau makes with his own brick press.
The cement used in the natural buildings at Rak Tamachat is apparently proportionally far less than the amount used in modern conventional building techniques, so even if you do not necessarily agree with using cement, the buildings on-site are can still serve as an inspiration. Also if you really do not want to use cement you could probably use a similar design or technique but with a different material which may be more ecologically beneficial (see for example my ideas in this article, 12). Indeed, while we were there we had a go at building a clay solar dehydrator using a mixture of clay and tapioca starch, so this is one alternative possibility.

Natural building with tapioca and clay. Photo by David Ashwanden

The influx of visitors is probably a great help in maintaining the energy and spirit of Rak Tamachat. Impressive though it is that the project has been going as a permaculture education centre in rural Thailand for five years now, the support of the international permaculture community seems essential in helping with the passion and determination to keep Rak Tamachat going. Equally, the project itself is a great nexus point for those interested in permaculture who are not currently settled in one place. Providing a space for such people to meet, connect and generate ideas is probably as helpful as having volunteers to physically create stuff on your land, as without the space perhaps the ideas and connections would not happen.

The fire pit – an important place for community gatherings. Photo by David Ashwanden

Beau and Lyn seem to recognise this which was very refreshing to see; if we are truly to be a part of a permanent culture it seems we can all remember that provision of services is nearly always a two-way thing and hospitality can benefit the host as much as the guest (13).

Permaculture celebration

Perhaps this can be an inspiration to all of us, wherever we are: that as well as making connections with our immediate, physical community, we can be reaching out to people who are interested in our ideas from further afield as well. Permaculture is still a relatively new idea and finding like-minded people to share it with can be very stimulating as well as helping to accelerate the succession of new ideas and the evolution of the community. Wherever you were this International Permaculture Day, I hope you made some interesting connections; but even if not, there are always all the other days.

References

International Permaculture Day, 2017. ‘International Permaculture Day’. http://permacultureday.org/

Rak Tamachat, 2017. ‘About Us’. https://www.raktamachat.org/permaculture-thailand/us/our-beliefs-lead-to-our-community/

Swagerty, T, 2013. ‘A Visit to Rak Tamachat Farm (Thailand)’. Permaculture News, 25/4/13. https://permaculturenews.org/2013/04/25/a-visit-to-rak-tamachat-farm-thailand/

Palm et al, 2005. ‘Slash-and-Burn Agriculture: The Search for Alternatives’. Columbia University Press: New York, USA. Available as a PDF here: http://www.asb.cgiar.org/PDFwebdocs/Slash-and-Burn%20Agriculture-The-Search-for-Alternatives.pdf

Yongcharoenchai, C, 2015. ‘Amid the northern haze, a burning desire for wealth’. Bangkok Post, 29/3/15. http://www.bangkokpost.com/print/511036/

Greenpeace, 2008. ‘Agrochemicals Unmasked: Fertilizer and Pesticide Use in Thailand and its Consequences on the Environment’. Available as a PDF here: http://www.greenpeace.org/seasia/th/Global/seasia/report/2008/2/agrochemicals-in-thailand-eng.pdf

Permaculture Institute Asia, 2017. ‘Permaculture Institute Asia’. http://permacultureinstituteasia.com/

Thailand Permaculture Convergence, 2017. ‘Welcome’. https://www.thailandpermacultureconvergence.org/

Thailand Permaculture Convergence, 2017. ‘History’. https://www.thailandpermacultureconvergence.org/history/

The Chaipattana Foundation, 2017. ‘Philosophy of Sufficiency Economy and the New Theory’. http://www.chaipat.or.th/chaipat_english/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=4103&Itemid=293

The Chaipattana Foundation, 2017. ‘Forest Rehabilitation Theory’. http://www.chaipat.or.th/chaipat_english/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=4140&Itemid=291

Ashwanden, C, 2017. ‘Water Farming part 2: Practical Ways to Harvest Your Sky-Fruits’. Permaculture News, 18/4/17. https://permaculturenews.org/2017/04/18/water-farming-part-2-practical-ways-harvest-sky-fruits/

Ashwanden, C, 2016. ‘Land Delvings’. Abundance Garden, 26/11/16. https://abundancedancegarden.wordpress.com/2016/11/26/land-delvings/

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