Sittichai and Meu Meng prepare the vegetables to sell with their daughter Kanokluck, 16.
Ban Nong Tao community in Chiang Rai is situated in a valley surrounded by mountains.
Meu Meng looks up from the soft black soil, her face filled with happiness.
Cabbage, Chinese cabbage, radish, carrot and lettuce seeds are scattered throughout the soil.She scoops up some soil with her bare hands and lays it on the vegetable seeds. Her husband, Sittichai turns on the sprinkler and it releases a spray of fresh water on the vegetable garden. Meu Meng gets up and stands beside him.
They are both smiling widely under the fading sunset as they look at the vegetable garden – the family’s new hope.
Meu Meng, 40, is a mother of four children. She never imagined that the deteriorating soil, due to growing corn for many years, would have a new life.Today the family gathers luscious carrots from this former infertile land.
Growing corn was very tiring work and they incurred more debt every year but they had no other choice. Finally Sittichai and Meu Meng were forced to abandon their overgrown land. They were hired to clear grass for 100-200 (USD =3-6) Baht a day, not enough to cover the family’s expenses.Their daily meals consisted of boiled bamboo shoots and vegetables gathered around the village.
Today the Sae Foong family have become organic farmers, not only restoring health to the soil, but also providing a sustainable livelihood.
“World Vision sponsors my daughter and two sons easing our financial burden. They have involved us in trainings as how to raise hens, natural farming practices and took us on an observation trip.After the training they gave us a variety of vegetable seeds and cocoa trees to get us started” explains Sittichai.
“I have turned to growing organic vegetables which generates a daily income. Our cucumbers and string beans are sold in the village. In one morning we earn 150-200 Baht (USD $5-6). We sell 200 kilograms of vegetables once a week wholesale which amounts to 20,000 Baht (USD $666) a month,” says Sittichai.
Besides the large variety of vegetables, such as Chinese cabbage, Chinese mustard green, string bean, radish, carrot and lettuce, the family also now raises pigs, chickens and has a fish pond.“We always have enough food from our vegetable garden,” Sittichai declared proudly. “Our children are healthy and strong,” Meu Meng reflects with a smile.
Sittichai has been teaching the new planting methods to his friends and created the Ban Nong Tao organic vegetable group. Through patience, perseverance and cooperation, the group are able expand and overcome obstacles together. Sittichai and his neighbors have sent their carrots, cabbages, radish and lettuce to be sold in grocery stores in Bangkok.
Their income is now stabile and the families are no longer in debt. Sittichai’s children can now complete a university education.
Meu Meng looks up from the lettuce plot and smiles widely as baby seedlings start to grow fast and free of diseases and pests. She packs up the equipment and sits behind her husband on their motorcycle, heading home to enjoy an evening meal with their children.