07 March 2011


During the trip to Yasothon Province, I continuously encountered the idea of self-sustainability. Before the trip I understood sustainability in theory, but I realize now that I had no idea of what being sustainable actually meant in practice.

In the US, sustainability isn’t an idea that I had encountered often. While I may have discussed the idea in classes, it was never something I talked about in practical application. It was never something that even crossed my mind outside of a classroom setting. When I came to Thailand and my other group members would ask about where I live, they were often surprised and fascinated to discover that I live on a farm. As I talked about my family’s lifestyle with my peers, and then as I studied and participated in Thai villagers’ farming practices, the more I realized that the lifestyle I had always seen as just being normal for my family had deeper meaning than I expected.

My family has lived on a farm in rural Ohio for over 10 years. When we moved to the farm, we planted a garden right away because not only are fresh fruits and vegetables delicious, but also because seeds are much cheaper to buy than fresh produce. If we have extra produce from the garden, we sell it at the local farmers market that my mom helped organize three years ago. We’ve also raised chickens for the eggs for about six years now because we realized that it would be cheaper than buying eggs. Four years ago we started raising a cow or two every years that we have butchered for the beef, again because it saves money at the grocery store. We never used any sort of fertilizer, chemical or otherwise, on our garden before we started raising cows, but now we use the cow manure as a fertilizer. The way of life that my family currently has was the result of a slow process of realization that gardening and raising cows and chickens would save us money in the long run. The idea of being sustainable never really crossed my or my family’s minds until I came to Thailand.

When we CIEE students arrived in Yasothon, the farmers in the village of Ban Dong Dip gave us a tour of their farms. As they showed their fields and explained their farming practices, I noticed many similarities to the practice that my family uses. The villagers plant many different fruits and vegetables, similar to what my family does in our garden. They sell their extra produce at the local green market, like my family sells our extra at the farmers market. They raise cows, among other animals like pigs and buffalo, and use the manure for fertilizer. I saw similar practices in other villages during the trip. While there are other similarities and differences, one important difference I noticed was the mindset of farmers we encountered compared to my family’s mindset. As I said before, one of the main reasons my family farms is because it saves money. While almost all of the villagers I encountered said that farming saves money, they have so many other reasons for using the farming practices they use. They don’t use chemical fertilizers anymore because they encountered health problems when they did use them. They grow herbs to use as traditional medicine. Most importantly, all of their farming practices and reasons behind farming revolved around the idea of being sustainable. By growing fruits and vegetables, they don’t have to buy them from the market. By growing herbal medicine, they don’t have to go to the hospital as often. By not using chemical fertilizers, they don’t have to rely on the company they would have to buy those from. They farm in order to be sustainable.

My time so far in Thailand has made me realize so many things, especially about farming, that I didn’t realize before. Through conversations with my peers, I’ve realized that gardening and farmers markets are more foreign to many people in the US than I thought. I’ve also realized that farming is also seen as exciting and trendy because it is so foreign to people sometimes. From my time with the villagers in Yasothon, I realized that farming has so many other benefits that my family doesn’t always consider. I also started thinking of how my family can use some of the villagers’ techniques, like composting, for my family’s farm. I hope that when I return home, I can help my family think of farming as a way for us to be sustainable, and not just a way for us to save money. With that mindset about farming, I think we will be able to become sustainable in other aspects of our lives too.

Meghann Venus
Case Western Reserve University

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