The Seed Ambassadors Project

Bringing Biodiversity Back

Category: Our Travels (page 1 of 6)

Thailand 2009

This month we took a short trip to Thailand, where we combined family time with my dad (who lives there), with some Seed Ambassadorizing in a small village called Nong Ta Klong in Buriram Province, in the northeast.

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– We recommend changing it to 5 seconds per photo.

On a previous trip to Thailand we had made friends with Loong Yoot, a brilliant and inspirational man whose motto is to “teach by not teach.” Loong Yoot received a scholarship to study Permaculture in Australia many years ago, and has spent the past eight years riding his bicycle around his home country teaching people by example about sustainable living. In a country where most structures are made of resource consumptive wood or cement, he teaches people to build adobe structures for community learning centers and other uses. In a culture where consumerism and materialism are rapidly stripping both rich and poor of their sense of self, he shows that another, simpler way of life is possible and in many ways preferable. Loong Yoot’s workshops bridge the class divide by bringing the rural poor together with elite city folk searching for a new way of life, and enable travelers to develop meaningful connections with people and places in that elusive “off the beaten path.”

The last time we were in Thailand (early 2004), we spent five weeks working and learning with Yoot in a village close to the Cambodian border. This time, due to a limited time frame, we spent only three days.

Po Tongbai, the former village head man of Ban Nong Ta Klong, had already started a bit of a “Center for Sustainable” in this increasingly dry region when he dug three large ponds on his land a few years ago. Some questioned his sanity, but his family and friends now enjoy fresh fish year-round, and his family has a lush, irrigated garden in the dry season. But the invitation to build an adobe structure, to invite people from near and very far away to learn about living a less resource-consumptive life, was initiated by his daughter Noi. Over the course of three weeks, dozens of people will come to Po Tongbai’s land to have fun, make connections, and learn by doing.

In the short time we were there we made many bricks and built two walls of the structure; learned how to make rice noodles in the traditional way; did a teensy bit of gardening; ate lots of delicious food; and gave a seed saving workshop. We brought some international seeds with us to share with the villagers, and in return some of the women in the village walked us around and gave us seed for many beautiful food and flower plants, some of which might even mature seed for us here in Oregon. We are thrilled to grow their authentic Thai holy basil, an edible species of cleome (spider flower), and Loong Yoot’s edible ball-shaped loofa from the northern mountain regions, among others.

Thank You Organic Allotment Friends

I wanted to thank Howard Sooley for the nice words he wrote on the Organic Allotment blog recently. Another thank you to Alan Jenkins and the other OG Allotment folks for keeping up the good work and making us want to be in Europe every time we read your posts.

We miss their enthusiasm and kindness. Their very active blog is one of my favorites for regular reading online.

Please read their recent Seed Saving post, it makes me warm inside. Which is convenient as it is snowing now in Oregon and it isn’t going to get above freezing for 3 days.

Here are some fall and winter photos. (I recommend opening the slide show full screen and setting the speed to 5 seconds.)

Stay warm and happy winter time from the Seed Ambassadors Project.

Seed Ambassadors Transylvania

This year, the Seed Ambassadors Project was invited to the Transylvania (Northwest) region of Romania by the Ratiu Family Foundation as part of the Ratiu Center for Democracy’s Agricultural program, Turda Fest. Turda Fest’s mission is to honor “the history of the greater Turda region and promote options for a sustainable future…. [and to] provide educational opportunities in agriculture for ecologically sound and financially viable development.” Turda Fest’s main component has been an agricultural festival in the fall, but is expanding to include educational and organizational activities throughout the year.

Our Turda Fest program, from February 1-9 was organized by Turda Fest’s brilliant Program Coordinator Marta Pozsonyi and Peace Corps Volunteer extraordinaire Kate Lucas. The program included village workshops with farmers and meetings with other people involved in agriculture in the area, such as the local Agriculture Minister and ag-oriented NGOs. We also ate some incredible slow food meals, visited the local seed grow-out center, toured the local salt mines and went on a hike, and held a press event.

Winter Fields of Transylvania  Transylvanian corn feild  Horse and Cart
winter fields, corn stacks, horse and cart

At the village workshops, we spoke about organic farming in Oregon, diverse marketing tactics, and the importance of maintaining on-farm biodiversity through seed saving of traditional varieties. We shared what we knew about what people and organizations in other countries in Europe are doing to cope with the loss of heirloom and traditional varieties, with their various interpretations of seed saving organizations. We engaged the farmers in discussions about the problems they face and what they see as possible solutions.

Andrew Still giving presentation  Mihai Viteasul  turda market
Presentations at the Democracy Center, and Mihai Viteasul, the Turda market

First thing in Turda, we were interviewed for a local paper as well as a local TV station. The newspaper journalist spoke with us for two or three minutes and took a few photos. When we suggested the photos might turn out better if we were outside, we all moved outside and she took one photo. On our way outside she asked me if I actually thought we would accomplish anything while we were there. I told her it was possible. Andrew piped in and said, “Of course!” I then asked her if she thought we would accomplish anything. She told me, “Definitely not. It is not possible. What the people need here is money, not information.” Her newspaper article read like an editorial that expressed this point of view, and the photo she published with it was the one that was taken outside, in which my eyes were closed and Andrew wore a mid-sentence grimace. We had been prepared to face this attitude, but thankfully it wasn’t as prominent as it might have been.

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Romania intel

As Andrew and Sarah prepare for their Romania trip, Kate Lucas, our point-person on the ground there supplies us with some further intel on what they’re getting into. In agro-political terms, the current situation looks absolutely fascinating:

I’ll try to give you a general picture of what’s going on in Romanian agriculture, but don’t take my words as gospel, it’s notoriously hard to get clear information here even when you’re asking the “experts”. Hopefully by the end of Sarah and Andrew’s trip we’ll all have a clearer picture of the emerging patterns.

Currently the agriculture situation is one of tremendous potential; to become organic, local, and cutting edge or to succumb to the pressures of factory farming and genetic engineering. It seems as though Romania is currently on the edge of a precipice but once things get a little shove, it’ll be fast and furious movement in one direction or the other. Romania is a country in transition and the focus of a lot of investment speculation. We already have a pig CFO set up by Smithfield in Timisoara (which has been closed once already due to a swine flu out break) and other large corporations like Star potatoes are starting to get a foothold. Continue reading

To Romania in 2008!

We’re honored to have been invited to visit Romania in January of 2008. Kate Lucas, a remarkably savvy Peace Corps volunteer with the Ratiu Center for Democracy in Turda is largely responsible for handholding the visit. We are still working out the details and schedule for this fast-approaching series of workshops – a key focus of which will involve village outreach and hands-on seed stewardship education. Here’s some context from Kate about what Sarah and Andrew are headed towards.

The Ratiu Center for Democracy in Turda (where I am) started with Democracy studies, but beyond academics its programs encourage “participatory democracy”. Basically getting community members to participate in making their own communities a better place in whatever areas of need they see as important. Continue reading


“One of the central hubs of German biodynamic plant breeding community”. We were told this by many people through our travels and we decided that we had to visit Dottenfelder-hof (translated version). After a nice hike in the morning from the train station we arrived invigorated to meet with our host Martin Kern, a very personable character with many years of plant breeding experience. Martin showed us all around the Hof, with brief stops at many of the farm’s constituent areas. . In German biodynamic tradition the site is the collection of many integrated and collaborative facets. Some examples of these endeavors are the plant breeding programs, dairy cow and chicken production, cheese and bread making, anthroposophical educational programs, and a biodynamic storefront. Many of the people who worked there lived there too and with all that was going on, it was a bustling scene (about 100 people living and working there).  I could compare it to intentional communities in the US but that would be misleading. The place seemed more like a well organized, fairly self-sustaining village. Lots of people making a living centered around an agricultural and educational foundation.

Carrot breeding carrot selection carrot storage
Rodelika carrot tasting, selection and overwinter storage

Some of their achievements in the area of plant breeding:

Carrots – Dietrich Bauer has spent over 20 years breeding vegetables. What he is most famous for is his carrot variety ‘Rodelika’, available in the US through Turtle Tree Seeds. This carrot is famous for its flavor, especially when juiced.  “Rodelika” juice is available in the juice section of many stores that carry biodynamic products, right next to the standard “carrot” juice.  More marketing with variety names is something that could help expose people to the diversity of crops and help preserve those crops actively within society, like an old story or play. While at Dottenfelder-hof we helped select Rodelika lines for flavor and yield. Getting both flavor and yield simultaneously is one of the more difficult aspects of plant breeding. By the way, the carrot juice is excellent.

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