Starting the Farm: 2007 and 2008

Once the land had been purchased, the Baan Thai Project needed a proper way to really get its feet off the ground. That way came in the form of Geoff Lawton (of the Permaculture Research Institute) and a 72-hour certified Permaculture Course hosted on the grounds of Baan Thai.  The course consisted of seven of the core members, 10 of their friends, and 8 Thai students there on scholarship.   The three week course was no less than phenomenal and culminated in a design and groundbreaking of the master plan for the property, including the construction of a huge dam at the top of the land and four swales.

To be able to host a course with so many people, a lot of infrastructure was put up.  In the year leading up to the courses, two earthen houses were constructed, a large kitchen and dining/classroom space, a humanure composting toilet, showers, and two additional bamboo Thai-style bungaloes.

The course was packed full of information as well as a lot of fun and it helped to start a momentum for year one that has yet to be fully extinguished.  The course laid out a framework, and design for what the Panya Project hopes to achieve over the next many years.  It has plans for fish ponds, huge organic gardens, two clusters of houses (one up the hill and the other on the flat), a large dorm space, a garage/work shed, and more.

Since the time of the permaculture course, the community of people at the Panya Project has fluctuated between 3 and 20 people, with the average day having around 10 people on the land.  The core members of the community have been encouraging of visitors, as the addition of a new person often brings an invigoration of energy, as well as a helpful hand to the many projects afoot.

The gardens continue to expand and refine themselves. Seeds are saved for lettuce, tomatoes, leauceana, papaya, pumpkin and more.  There are usually at least seven seed trays exploding with growth in the nursery and new beds being dug.  On many a trip to town the motorbike comes back with cuttings, seeds or whole plants to add to the collection.

One evening while most of the community was attending a function at the neighboring community (Pun Pun Educational Center), someone came running over the hill crying, “Fire! Fire!  There is a fire at Panya. Bring all hoes, buckets and everyone come help!”  Within five minutes, everyone from the three adjoining communities (Panya, Pun Pun, and You Sabai), were on the property attempting to contain a fire that had completely enveloped the bathrooms. Check out the photos.  It lay only about 10 meters from the main structures, and had it jumped to the thatch roof of that building, it could have been devastating.  Luckily, with the villagers of Moo Bahn Mae Jo arriving, the fire was brought under control.  The project lost a lot of possible humanure for the fruit tree plantings and would have to build another toilet, but other than that, nothing lost.  For weeks after, the community would think that the fire was totally out and all of a sudden a small pyre of smoke would rise again from the pile. Some day it will be out for good.

Shortly after that, Panya hosted a three day earthen building workshop focusing on the basics of building with sun-dried adobe bricks.  During the course, the students and community members made quite a bit of headway on the huge workshop/ studio space that is in the process of going up.

The main focus of the community during the hot season (March – May) was to finish that building, build a new humanure toilet system, with a few new safety measures and prepare to plant out the edible food forest that will cover a large portion of the property.

The nursery continued to add plants weekly for the next few months, until it was brimming with over 3000 plants ready to be planted during the Permaculture Design Courses held here in May and June.  The internships and courses themselves focused on planting out this biodiverse food forest, and while it will not be complete for years, they have succeeded in planting over 30 varieties of fruit, hundreds of legume trees, many medicinals and a broad range of flowers and shrubs.

The community pledged to plant 1,000 trees to the “Plant for the Planet: Billion Trees Campaign” put on by the United Nations Environment Programme.  By the end of that summer the community had planted over 2000 trees on the land.  Now it is just time that will grow those trees and create a completely different micro-climate on the land.

The summer permaculture courses went wonderfully.  We were fortunate to bring in two very talented young permaculture teachers.  Cam Wilson studied under Geoff Lawton at the Permaculture Research Institute and has gone on to some amazing projects in Samoa and elsewhere and Ethan Roland (www.appleseedpermaculture.com) has gone on to teach a number of courses, as well as organize a number of permaculture related events.  For both of them, it was their first solo teaching experience and they proved their abilities in the two week course.  The students completed designs and implemented much of what they had learned on the land.  A number of the students have gone directly on to working on design projects for their own piece of land or that of a friend.

Here is a slideshow made by Ethan Roland.  Thanks Ethan:

A number of the community members were gone for some of the rainy season months and when they came back, they found that the grass and wild vines had grown to over ten feet tall!  Call in the work crews!

With the grass knocked down and mulched onto the yuong seedlings, the community members could see that most had survived and if they could make it through the first dry season of their lives they would be home free.

November brought Christopher Shanks (of Project Bonafide, in Nicaragua), for the teaching of our fourth PDC course in one year.  About eight students converged for a very stimulating course.  Chris shared his mastery of the latin language as he rattled off hundreds of botanical names for plants we should try on our land.  He also left us with a most amazing refence list that gives his reading recommendations for many permaculture related topics.  Check it out here.

The course ended in great success. Many of the the participants got together to watch the Kratongs and Lanterns being set off for the Loi Kratong festival in Thailand.  As the year rounds out, the community is working hard to prepare for the schedule for the upcoming year.

In February, Panya is hosting 10-12 interns for a natural building internship which will see the community complete the large workshop/garage and add a new two bedroom house to the eastern cluster of houses.

Also in February, Panya hill be hosting 30 high school students from the International School of Bangkok.  This group will be coming to learn about sustainable systems, as well as get their hands in the mud for some natural building.  The community is excited about this program, as education to youth is one of the aims of the project.  If the course goes well, the trip from ISB will be an annual event.

We’ve got to get back to the gardens. There is a lot more to say and a lot more to describe, but you’ll have to come and see it for yourself!

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