Recently I have learned a very important lesson, trust google maps. No matter how illogical the path may seem on your tiny hand held mobile devices screen, trust it. DO NOT suddenly decide you are smarter than the entirety of the internet and zoom in on all the supposed side streets the map shows and try and find your own way to your destination. Especially if that destination is in the jungle outside of Bangkok and you and your travel companion are two very white and western looking tourists that have a large expensive camera with you. Adventure? I think yes. Two hours of extra walking through small thai villages and packs of wild dogs… also bound to happen.
Three days previous to this wild trek I had received an invitation to visit the site of an NGO with a focus on urban farming and farming education. While most of their projects and work took place in Bangkok city proper, this site was slightly out of the way of the hustle and bustle of the sprawling “city of angels” (Yes Los Angeles and Bangkok share this title) and was where most of their major eco-centered lectures and courses took place. The Bangkok City Farm Project, founded in 2000 by Nakorn Limpacuptathavon, was Thailand’s first NGO program that promoted and practiced urban farming in Bangkok and its neighboring provinces. In the beginning the project was run solely by
Mr. Limpacuptathavon, also known as the Veggie Prince, who conducted open workshops in his personal urban farm located across the street from his home in the center of Bangkok. These workshops covered everything from basic farming skills to urban farming development and covered the principles and philosophies of urban farming and organic food. These workshops were and continue to be open to all ages of the general public. As a huge advocator of growing fruit and veggies at a household level, Mr. Limpacuptathavon hoped to inspire his community and fellow human beings to return to the earth and start producing their own food on a small sustainable level. This dream and his passion of educating his community about basic urban farming and gardening quickly transformed him into Bangkok’s poster child for urban farming, a field left largely undeveloped or researched until Mr. Limpacuptathavon brought it to the city’s attention. His open workshops started off as small groups of local friends and interested neighbors but through the use of social media and word of mouth more people around the city became interested in his work and projects until his monthly classes increased from 12 people in attendance to over 50. The more popular him and his workshops became, the more sustainable companies and firms took interest and wanted to fund his venture. While the workshops were centered around lectures and hands on activities such as how to make “lazy compost” and “speedy fertilizer”, Mr. Limpacuptathavon main goal was to influence and motivate his local and global community to become more sustainably aware and take responsibility for their own food sources and green footprint. “What I aim to do in my workshops is to inspire people. I think that information and know-how these days are readily available on google, whilst experience can be derived from asking experienced people. However inspiration remains hard to find.” Mr. Limpacuptathavon explains. One of his major focuses, and the reason for the establishment of the Bangkok City Farm headquarters, which I was invited to explore and photograph, was to do exactly this. Specifically, however, it was created as a site for which school and youth groups could visit to learn about farming, sustainable living, and how to implement urban and or vertical farming in one’s home. Like many of us, Mr. Limpacuptathavon sees today’s youth as the leaders of our tomorrow and he believes targeting and teaching young people is the best way to continue his work and insure a more sustainable future for our planets later generations.
A tour of The Bangkok City Farm headquarters quickly revealed just how many projects and activities they had going on on a day to day basis. As well as having countless examples of urban farming and sustainable living readily available on site, the HQ also provides sites for outdoor learning and open lectures. Two buildings have been constructed on either side of the property using completely eco-friendly and sustainable building methods. Each building contains classrooms, office spaces, and lecture facilities as well as demonstration centers and community kitchens. The farm, located between the two buildings at the center of the premises provides fruits, veggies, herbs, and medicinal plants for the whole site as well as five neighboring families. Free range chickens can be seen happily roaming around clucking away at moist soil filled with juicy critters while fat lazy cats bask in the corners of the sun baked yard. A small pond can be seen across from the veggie beds which acts as an example of a wetland habitat and a home for wild ducks and water fauna. A natural irrigation system cuts its way around each bed and grow site. The water, supplied from the sites roof top rain-harvesting system as well as an underground spring, streams through channels that have been cut into the soil and waters each bed and each plant’s roots directly. This is a perfect example of traditional Thai irrigation, a style used in many Palm groves and rice paddies around the country. Solar panels and solar boilers decorate the rooftops of each building, making the site completely self sufficient and off the grid. There is even a fully functioning aquaponics system located at the back of the property showcasing the possibilities of compact, closed systems that could be used for growing fresh veggies in tight confined spaces like ones living room, with little to no personal maintenance needed. However, the site’s main goal and focus can be seen in their vertical farming examples.
Vertical farming, one of the central ideas behind urban farming, is the practice of producing food in vertically stacked layers or vertically inclined surfaces that are integrated into other structures such as skyscrapers, used warehouses, or shipping containers. This style of sustainable farming uses vertically stacked grow trays coupled with a hydroponic system (a system where the plants roots sit directly in a bowl of water that contains crucial nutrients needed to support plant growth) or a aeroponic system (a system where the the plants roots are sprayed with a mist that contains H2O and crucial nutrients needed to support plant growth). In the case of the Bangkok City Farm Project they have opted to use a hydroponic system due to its need for less maintenance and dailey supervision.
Mr. Limpacuptathavon hopes to use the vertical farming examples on site to demonstrate the compactability and simplicity of the systems and use the examples to convince and inspire visitors to implement and construct such a subsystem in their own home so that they too can begin to grow their own fresh fruits and veggies.
While many of Mr. Limpacuptathavon classes, lectures, and workshops are centered around the idea of small scale urban farming, he also hopes to educate people on the importance of organic farming and eating and cultivate the idea of health in one’s body and mind beginning with what we use to fuel it. Workshops and lectures are also given on nutrition and organic farming practices and are open to people of all ages and backgrounds. Mr. Limpacuptathavon explains that, “The fundamental idea behind organic farming is to work with nature. But chemical-based farmings approach is to control nature.” This idea of collaborating and co-existing with our natural world is crucial to the idea of sustainable living as well, and it is one idea that Mr. Limpacuptathavon deomstrates in all of his workshops and public work.
While The Bangkok City Farm Projects main base of operations is quite impressive, there are other sites located around the city of Bangkok that they have managed, constructed, and funded that are equally as impressive. As well as Mr. Limpacuptathavon personal urban farm, which is still active and open for visitation to this day, there are other public urban farming areas with community veggie beds and flower gardens within a number of local neighborhoods that have been established by The Bangkok City Farm Projects with the help of surrounding communities. These sites are operated and utilized by the surrounding neighbors and anybody who is interested in spending some time with their hands in the dirt. These community run gardens and farms feed up to 15-20 families at a time. Anyone and everyone is welcome to help and anyone can reap the delicious, fresh rewards.
As well as community farms the NGO has also established a number of rooftop gardens on the larger buildings around the city to demonstrate the many examples of urban greening and farming that could be available to the big concrete jungle of a city that is Bangkok. But they haven’t stopped there. Mr. Limpacuptathavon and The Bangkok City Farm Project also occasionally organize events to showcase how humans as a whole could be living and eating more sustainably, and how simple it is to grow urban produce and live sustainably. One such event that took place in early september of last year (2018) was the Bangkok City Farm Festival. The festival, hosted by The Bangkok City Farm Project, showcased a number of sustainable and urban farming efforts taking place around Thailand and the rest of the world. Farmers and vendors alike were invited to set up stands and talk to the public about the work and goals for creating a more green and sustainable future. The public and anyone of the 700 people in attendance were invited to plant trees and plants, provided by The Bangkok City Farm Project (NGO), all around the city to make Bangkok more green. Events like these have demonstrated citizens of Bangkok’s interest in becoming an urban farming city, and more than 50,000 people since then have shown support of The Bangkok City Farms work either through networking, farming, or social media.
Mr. Limpacuptathavon continues to teach and inspire people to this day and offers monthly free workshops at his personal urban farm as well as weekly classes, workshops, and lectures at The Bangkok City Farm Projects headquarters. He hopes that over the course of the next few years even more of Bangkok’s population will become sustainably inclined and begin to implement more urban farming techniques in their own homes. Who knows, maybe Bangkok will become the spearheading urban farming city of our world.