We’ve just spent 5 days on a smallholding in a peaceful and tiny village 2 hours from Chiang Mai. The Mindful Farm is a place where you can learn organic farming and vegetarian cooking as well as practise yoga and mindful meditation. This mix of activities attracts an international mix of volunteers to the farm, and creates a really lovely, unusual experience.
Our hosts are Phii nan and Noriko, Thai / Japanese couple who started the farm 3 years ago. They decided to try and live a simple life, with a vegan diet and growing as much of their food as they can. With no previous experience a lot has been learned along the way – how to store their harvests organically and without a fridge or freezer, adobe building, making soya milk, even using whiskey and chilli as a pesticide! (I’ll share more on some of the things we learned later)….
We drove from Chiang Mai, the trip took about 2 hours and wound up over and behind Suthep mountain and into Sa moeng forest. The scenery is pretty stunning, as is usual when driving through the mountains in this area, even in rainy season! There are instructions on how to reach them as well as a map on their website. It’s best to get in contact in advance as they are often full during the cool season.
The schedule for each day starts with getting up at 6am. I know what you’re thinking, but this is easier than it sounds – as after dawn it’s pretty light, and we go to bed tired, at about 8.30. Once up, we do a bit of tidying around the farm before preparing breakfast. Then we sit and eat together, and Pi nan sets the tasks for the morning. Lunch break is at 12 (the universal time for lunch in Thailand) which Noriko prepares whilst being shadowed by their nearly-4-year-old daughter, Nobaru, and two very skinny cats.
After lunch you can opt to help out in the gardens or kitchen, or relax, or do yoga. At 4pm it’s time for a shower and we prepare dinner together. The volunteers share dinner at 5.30, and then there is just enough time to wash up before the light fades. There is minimal electricity on site, so everyone has to bring a torch to navigate at night. Each evening at 7.30pm, Pi nan meditates in the main sala, anyone who wants to join in is welcome, and he gives a short talk afterwards.
The work is physical but not exhausting. We weeded beds, planted seedlings and built a a new raised vegetable bed during our stay. Our accommodation, and indeed all the buildings on the farm, are the work of past volunteers. Our little concrete hut (which you can see in the photo below, the furthest hut to the left) had a mosquito net and bed mats, and there were communal shower and toilet huts.
The level of comfort is purposefully basic, with more focus on what’s inside than out. Pi nan has a recipe which he wants to share with the world, so I’m sure he would be pleased I’m sharing it with you! Organic farming, vegan diet, yoga and meditation. He is passionate and believes if these four things were adopted by more people, the world would be a better place. No one could disagree with him, you only have to be around the farm for a day to see the genuine contentment they have with their simple life. And Pi nan’s recipe is slowly being spread all over the world, by the volunteers who take it home with them when they go.
By our fifth morning we wanted to stay longer, more people had arrived and we were just about getting into the rhythm of things. However we had to get back home. We had wanted to visit the farm to experience another way of living, and learn about organic farming. Whilst I don’t think I’m a farmer, I am keen to come back and stay longer – something about this simple approach really appeals to me. We said goodbye and walked back across the rice fields, over the bamboo bridge and to the car. We don’t go empty handed though. We’re the first visitors they have had who aren’t travelling, so Pi nan gave us some plants to take home and start our own mini-farm. I’m oddly looking forward to digging holes when I get home – I’ll let you know how I get on!