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The Answer lies iIn the Soil

In a world that appears determined to destroy its ecosystems by the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers it is refreshing to note the steady growth in the number of farmers in Chiang Mai province turning to organic farming.

At 05:30 on a Saturday morning when most people are still asleep, The Farmers’ Market & Organic Warehouse or Kamthieng Market on the north end of Assadatorn Road is already a hive of industry. Farmers are laying out their produce on a collection of stalls in preparation for the onslaught of customers who arrive in droves each Wednesday and Saturday morning to purchase organically grown vegetables and fruit fresh from the fields and orchards of the now more than 370 organic farms in the province.

The first customers arrive with the dawn in cars, motorcycles, vans, bicycles and on foot. The word is out; organic food is healthier, and the news is spreading.

Until now, I have been content to buy my fruit and vegetables at my local market, but that routine was abandoned after I discovered what most conventional farmers were spraying on their crops. Toxic chemicals in the many pesticides used to spray crops can be ingested by consumers even after the fruit or vegetables have been washed. Many such pesticides enter the plant via the root and contamination is then internal. I imagine like me you have admired those perfect pyramids of shiny green apples, golden oranges or rich, red strawberries on the stalls of your local market or shops. Have you ever wondered how they look so fresh and appetizing throughout the heat of an entire day?

The chances are that the seller has sprayed his wares with a mixture of water and Formalin; the latter is a chemical used in morgues to preserve corpses! Formalin is used to spray grapes, oranges and even fish to make the products more attractive, but doctors say the consumption of Formalin-treated products can lead to a variety of diseases, including cancer. Another method of keeping your apples looking green and fresh is the use of ethylene oxide, another harmful chemical used to make fruit appear ripe.

Is it any wonder that organic farming is growing in popularity?

The Farmers’ Market & Organic Warehouse is the brainchild of a non-governmental organization—The Institute for Sustainable Agricultural Communities, (ISAC), and backed by its international partner, Oxfam. The idea is for local farmers’ groups to sell their organic produce directly to the consumer and to answer customers’ questions on the organic process employed in producing top quality, safe and nutritious food. All products on sale are 100% free of pesticides and fertilizers, and no farmer can sell his wares until he is officially certified by the Northern Organic Standards Organization.

The organic produce on sale include: organic rice, organic sauces and oils, organic coffee and herbal teas, Herbal mouthwash, shampoo and liquid soap, and of course organic fruit and vegetables in season. There are also delicious organic hot snacks available.

The site is managed by ISAC’s very own diminutive dynamo, a management graduate from Maejo University who goes by the nickname, “Kwan”, but whose business card reads Miss Seangthip Khemarat-Manager-Organic Warehouse.

Kwan is one of the ISAC team who not only run the market and warehouse, but visit schools and clubs to educate consumers in the many benefits of organic farming. When she’s not doing this, she can be found conducting consumer tours of organic farms where potential customers can find out at first hand how organic produce is grown.

Kwan seamlessly switches from Thai to English and back to Thai again as she outlines to me the running of the market while answering questions from local consumers and stallholders.

“Consumers need to learn that demanding produce out of season puts pressure on farmers to use toxic pesticides and fertilizers in a bid to produce that fruit or vegetable artificially,” she explains.

“Organic farmers grow only the fruit and vegetables in their particular season in a natural way that excludes the use of harmful chemicals,” she tells me.

“But isn’t organic produce much more expensive than conventional farming products?” I ask.

“Only in supermarkets,” replies Kwan. “Organic produce here at the market and warehouse varies by a few baht either way, depending on the item. But nothing on sale here is anywhere near as expensive as that sold in shops and large stores in the city,” she concludes.

Farmers’ and consumers’ groups meet every eight weeks to agree on set prices for the list of products coming up for sale in the market, thereby reaching prices that allow a farmer and his family to live while keeping costs down to suit the consumer. Organic farming is very much a community venture; there is no us and them scenario that exists all too often in the shopping areas of the city.

The aims are to offer only products that are: safe for your health, produced in an environmentally responsible way, and offered at a fair price. This is achieved by promoting fresh, seasonal and local products, small enterprises and the local economy, producer-consumer collaboration, and responsible environmental practices.

It would take a book to explain production techniques and the ample benefits to the community of organic farming. Suffice it to say that it involves growing produce naturally and never out of season.

Perhaps the government should examine the possibility of initial subsidies to the health and education sectors in order that hospital patients and school pupils can benefit from safe and nutritious meals comprising organic produce.

Until then, I shall be a regular customer at the Farmers’ Market & Organic Warehouse at the JJ Hobby Market on the north end of Assadatorn Road, Chiang Mai.

The warehouse is open every day except Sunday: the Farmers’ Market is open on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 0600 until noon. Customers are advised to shop as early as possible to enjoy the full range of fresh, organic produce on sale.

For directions call 053-233-694


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