Jimmy, PRU Chef on PLANT.
From the beginning, we set out to plant what we could. It’s impossible to understand the value of a carrot or a beet if you don’t plant it and watch it grow. Did you know it takes four months for a seed to turn into a carrot? The soil, the air, the water, the insects, the birds, the farmer – all of these elements work together to bring a single carrot to your plate. In four months, anything can happen. Too much rain. Not enough rain. Insects eat through everything. Sometimes the variables work together beautifully. Sometimes it’s a collision course that ends in catastrophe – the whole crop dies. You cannot fully understand this unless you plant the seed and see it through.
It’s easy to go to the market or call up the farmer down the road and buy perfect fruits and vegetables. And, we definitely do that. But, it’s important to me to stay close to the soil, to the air, to the plant. Because, that is how I remember and understand what it takes to bring food from soil to plate. Farming, like cooking, is all about innovating, trying new things, failing and succeeding.
We are very lucky to have Pru Jampa, our farm up the road, where we have an opportunity to put some of our ideas into practice. To experiment, make mistakes, learn and grow. But, we quickly realized that we need help. This is what led us to Phuket Farmers’ Club.
Damien, Phuket Farmers Club Founder on RAISE.
I’ve always wanted to create a place where we can encourage communities to learn and practice sustainability, to support artisan producers. Ten years ago, I came across permaculture, and my vision began to take shape.
Permaculture is a way of raising plants that relies on practical solutions—it’s collaborative and efficient. Modern farming isolates problems, throwing a chemical or synthetic solution. Permaculture is the opposite. We farm naturally and in balance with nature. When things go wrong, it means something within the natural system is out of balance. So, we experiment, shift, adjust and try to find the right path that brings us back to balance.
Five years ago, I began a project called Phuket Farmers Club. Our mission was to connect local farmers with buyers and to help people start their own garden. I started a small farm on the eastern part of the island and spent the first couple of years raising spinach. Why? Because that’s the only thing I could grow that didn’t die immediately!
Raising a plant basically means you need to get from seed to maturity with as little damage as possible. Phuket is a paradise. It’s green and tropical. Great for holidays on the beach, but not so good for farming! This tiny island has more microclimates than you can imagine. The salty sea air, the misty hillsides, the monsoon winds, the coming and going of tides – they all affect the soil. Phuket has good topsoil, but when there is too much salt or rain, all bets are off. To raise anything, you start with the soil.
Over the years, farmers here have adapted. They are able to grow what they need quite well. Now, people’s tastes are changing and a global community means having access to different cuisines and ingredients. People like variety and change, and as farmers, we have to adapt and learn to grow our community wants to eat. If you can manage to grow it or buy it locally and not from halfway across the world, well that’s even better.
The collaboration between Phuket Farmers Club and PRU gives me space to put into practice what I preach. Together we plant, we raise but mostly we are trying to understand the soil, to understand the kind of soil we have, the kind of soil we need to raise the things we want.
You know, permaculture is a big word that was coined in the last century. But, in Phuket, I quickly learned that the indigenous farmers here have been applying “permaculture” all along. Local know-how is our springboard. Then we adapt, applying practical solutions to keep things in balance. It could be manipulating elephant dung, coconut husk and kitchen waste to get the right compost, or fermenting the compost to adjust to the alkalinity in the soil. If it sounds a bit like a mad scientist, it probably is!
Taweesak, Pru Jampa Farm Manager on UNDERSTAND
Farming is about growing things, that is true. But, if a farmer is not committed to understand what his doing or why he does it, then he will not grow anything.
Before PRU opened, the farm was a nursery for Trisara’s beautiful gardens. When PRU opened, we started to grow vegetables, herbs and flowers for the kitchen. At first, it was quite difficult. The soil on the farm is a bit sandy. I used modern ideas, like Zine sheets, to keep the soil moist and make the beds look nice; then I realized the Zine sheets ended up over-heating the soil. But, that just made the sandy soil even drier.
So, I began to turn to the local way of doing things, of managing the soil naturally. With Phuket Farmers’ Club, we have access to the knowledge of local farmers around the island. Together we are working on improving our compost and soil fertility. We experiment with old and new techniques, like fermentation and combining different natural fertilizers, to get the best soil. You could say, I stopped reacting to the farm. I started to work with it. You can’t control the sun or the rain, but you can work with your soil.
I come from rice farming family, so I understand a bit about rice paddies. Pru Jampa is completely different. I’m originally from Isaan, a province in northeastern Thailand. If you know anything about people from Isaan, you know we love a challenge. The idea of growing okra, mulberries, moringa, asparagus and winged beans in southern Thailand never occurred to me. Most people think it’s impossible. But, here we are, doing just that.