Gone Organic!

Trip Start Aug 04, 2009
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Vietnam  ,
Wednesday, December 9, 2009

When I first arrived here in Hanoi I discovered a farm that grows all organic vegetables (free from artificial chemicals and genetic modification). I emailed the woman in charge and found out that Thanh Xuan Organics is a community-based initiative where poor farmers from the rural outskirts of Hanoi, are growing organic vegetables in a bid to improve their quality of life and tackle environmental problems resulting from conventional farming practices. The farmers sell their organic produce directly to the consumer without the use of a 'middle man' and at a very reasonable cost. I asked the teachers here, who was interested and 8 teachers signed on and are getting from 1-3 kgs weekly. Every Tuesday, I get 3 kgs of mixed veggies for 180,000dng ($9), depending on what’s in season. It’s been a challenge some weeks since I’ve been introduced to vegetables I’d never seen or had before. But being vegetarian it widened my horizons in cooking and preparation. I’ve received everything from well known vegetables like lettuce, radishes, carrots and tomatoes to lesser known Winter melon (which I’ve discovered that about the only thing that can be made from it is soup), Chrysanthemum greens and Vietnamese spinach.

Since I am in contact regularly with the woman that runs the program I was invited to experience a new program they are trying – a field trip to the farm to learn how farming works. Actually I was invited to bring our students. I emailed all the classes here and two responded almost immediately – 1 second grade and 1 fifth grade. It was a perfect combination since the older kids could help the younger ones. Since I have 5-6 classes every day I didn’t think I would be able to go. Fortunately the teachers in charge had the foresight to schedule it on a Wednesday when I have just 4 classes, two of which are their class. Narrowing it down to two classes with the same teacher for both simplified it greatly. Brian the 4th grade teacher said it was cool, especially when I said I’d bring back veggies for him. So off we went…

The farm had everything well planned. Upon arrival they allowed the kids to check out, chase and in some cases torment the chickens, ducks and dogs in the yard. That was followed by snack, one of which is one of  the most common snacks here, corn on the cob. Then we had something I’d never had but found unbelievably tasty – hot corn "tea".

This will sound weird but unless you try it you can’t knock it. Corn ‘tea”, is basically taking the water that the corn is boiled in and putting it into a glass, to drink. Depending on the sweetness of the corn will dictate how sweet the drink is. No one had had it before but everyone liked it, especially the kids. *Try it next summer, you will find it kinda strange at first but after a few sips its pretty good. It was good enough for me to go back for seconds (and thirds).

When snack was finished we broke up into our pre-assigned groups to see the gardens and do some work. The kids grabbed watering cans, buckets, scoops, small shovels and small bags. We went out pretty much all together with at least one farmer leading us. We walked along a tall natural growing fence of bamboo and some kind of tall grass that grew very densely. Once we turned the corner into the garden the farmers began to talk to the kids about how everything was grown and where to walk. They told them how and what to water and what to pick. They got water from the well and watered plants first and then the farmer showed the kids which plants were in season and let the kids loose. I was surprised how good the kids were. They stayed on the paths, watered without water fights and loved picking the vegetables. As their bags got heavier the little second grade girls in my group were asking if I’d carry their bags, to which I replied “no”. There was no whining or bag dropping, they just went about their business of picking and proceeded to pick the smaller vegetables – quick learners those three. I even saw them trading off some bigger veggies for smaller ones. My group was so fun -  I had three second grade girls (Shineha, Thu An and Lam Ha) and two 5th grade girls. The fifth grade girls were very quiet but the second grade girls were very active, but not obnoxiously so. At first they wouldn’t let go of my hand and for awhile I thought the four us, forming a human chain, would struggle to get through the narrow beds together. Fortunately after I told them it was ok to venture out without me they warily did just that. It wasn’t long before they were three little girls working independently but within eye sight of each other, and me.

After the bags were as full as they could get and before busting thru the bottom, we walked back to the farmhouse. The three little second grade girls immediately latched back on to me for the walk back. One of them told me there was dog poo near the farmhouse entrance and she’d let me know so I wouldn’t step into it.

The kids put all their bags in a designated place together and sat down for lunch. As we all sat together on the grass rug and waited for lunch to be passed out it was interesting watching the Vietnamese teachers and assistants dividing up job duties. The oldest one assumed the role in the center of serving up the food while the younger ones passed the portioned plates out and got drinks. I tried to help but was given a look like I was crazy. So I stood in the back by the teapot with the male farmers and drank really strong green tea.

The kids ate slowly and talked quietly amongst themselves. I joined the group, had some lunch and then attempted to keep the 2 ADD kids from wandering off the grounds.

Once lunch was finished the farmers had pots for the kids to paint and plants for them to plant.  While the kids were painting, the farmers divided up all the bags evenly, and just before leaving handed everyone a bag with all the picked vegetables including the teachers. 

The three 2nd grade girls in my group demanded I sit next to them in the van and we weren't 10 minutes on the road and all 3 were fast asleep.
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flyingpelinis on

hooray for veggies!

Gaye on

What a neat field trip for you and the kids!

kwai_chang on

Wow, you get 3kgs of fresh, organic veggies delivered to you every week?! Nice. Too bad they don't have a service like that for organic desserts! ("Every Tuesday I get 3kgs of desserts ranging from organic Twinkies and Moon Pies to organic free range cheesecake, depending on what's in season.") And it seems a shame to waste all that corn on making tea when, combined with just a couple of other ingredients, it would make a fine corn liquor. Just think of all you could teach the kids about chemistry and fermentation, not to mention important topics in American cultural history like Prohibition, Al Capone, the 21st amendment......Bo and Luke Duke. A little corn liquor might also help with the two ADD kids!

flbray2 on

Good times for you!

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