“My father was my Google,” Sandot, founder of Tacomepai farm

Sandot head shotWhile I was at Mindful Farm in northern Thailand, one volunteer recommended that we stay at the Taomepai farm since we were going to be in Pai in the Mae Hong Son province, about 143 km away form Chiang Mai. Our friend was staying there for awhile learning about organic farming methods a from Sandot, the farm’s owner who has spent much of his life building this farm, reforestation and creating a thriving and self-sufficient ecosystem.

People all over the world travel to Tacomepai to learn from Sandot about permaculture, which is basically a philosophy of working with rather than against nature to build natural ecosystems to sustain the environment and its inhabitants by producing food, fuel, shelter and more. Tacomepai’s guests learn how to plant vegetables in the forest, build huts, weave baskets and make their own eating utensils.

What’s funny is that he’s been practicing permaculture for most of his life and when a group in Thailand found out what he was doing and wanted to learn from him, he asked them, “What is permaculture?” And they said, “It is what you’re doing.”

Sandot’s family came from China and his grandfather moved to Pai after he could not afford to pay the land taxes in Chiang Mai. Sandot eventually took over managing the farm and used fertilizers before. The farm also had much less diversity in the system. He said that he felt, “bad and dirty” when he used chemicals. So he transformed the farm and only used organic methods to reforest and grow plants that supplies enough for his village and his many guests that come and stay at the farm year round. His village currently has over 30 families.

Minimizing waste

Bamboo cups.

Unlike many parts of Thailand where most people use packaging and produce a lot of waste with takeout food, natural materials are used to produce what people need and items like bottles are reused to minimuze waste at Tacomepai.

Everywhere around his farm you can find cups, homes and plates made of bamboo. Bringing in plastic is a big no no on the farm. There is no recycling system in place so whatever cannot be used on the farm gets burned. When guests buy food, they bring their own container and buy as much raw food to use up rather than packaged things like noodles.

Conversation with Sandot

It’s unfortunate I only had a two days at Tacomepai. On my last night there, I thankfully got a chance to learn more about Sandot’s story while we had our last dinner.

Growing up, I lived a very simple life. We had no car and no mottos. We just an ox care haha. I learned how to plant and how to survive.

My first schooling was seven years in primary school at a temple, taught by a monk and teachers. Then I did three years at secondary school. Afterward I went to college to study electrical engineering then I was in the army for another two years and I was 21 years old at the time. All of the boys had to go to the army. After work, I worked in Dubai.

Before, I felt like I could make money to travel. People were not much friendly and I realized that money didn’t make people happy.

Thailand was copying the Western style with and building more factories. I thought this is not the right way. What I learned when I was a boy was the right way. I learned how to grow food, how to survive and it is more permanent than destroying land.

Before we had no Google. My father was my Google. Google doesn’t teach you how to use a machete. My father was a blacksmith and knew how to do everything.

When I returned, I started the farm from empty land. Before I tried to sell my food to the Chiang Mai market, but they didn’t’ give me good prices. I like to learn things on my own so I drove to Bangkok to learn more about the market. If I didn’t sell, the food would go bad. I spent so much time trying to sell my food just to get little money to buy other food.

I realized I had to go back to the basics. If I liked rice, I will grow rice. I like chili so I will grow chili. I don’t care about the market and not waiting for the money. But now the market comes to me and they say, ‘Oh your mango is so healthy.’

I let things grow and happen naturally. I let the insects eat and insects cut wood for you. If you use chemicals all the time to get rid of insects, you’ll go crazy. Let them do the work for you.

I don’t need to listen to economic times. No matter what’s happening, I have food. We focus so much on growing money and GDP but I want to know how to grow happiness. When money is involved, people are not as happy.

The farm runs itself now and doesn’t need workers. I learned everything from my life.

[Foreign volunteers] started coming by accident. Tourists went the wrong way and ended up at my farm and asked what we were doing. We started building the houses so they had a place to stay. We keep the culture of the hill tribe of each house and every house has its own traditions.

When Thai TV people interview me, they call me crazy because I am not following the Western way and modern society. More kids are going to the city and less of them are working on the farm. Older people will get tired and will have to sell the land.

If I could change one thing, I want to change education in the world. We put our children in a cage. We teach them not the real things like how to plant rice, water, how to survive. Technical knowledge and how to use things is important.

I’m always using my imagination. I was able to start a forest in the Saudi Arabia using air conditioning. When the condensation dropped to the ground, it got me thinking about how to begin planting. Then everyone started copying me and every building had air con.

While I was in Malaysia it was very sad they cut all the trees to make palm oil. This is not the right way, we need to go back to simple living and taking care of the land.

One day a British company bought and cut trees by [our] farm and the forest and water disappeared. So we must reforest. There was a Japanese company who moved work away from Thailand to Laos because the labour was cheaper and Thailand cried. I say, ‘Don’t cry, just plant.’

Sandot has said that the traditional way is being lost and some groups of local people are responsible for burning down forests, which supplies much bamboo that can be used to build many things. He often gets emotional when he speaks to people about how some communities don’t take care of the environment that can sustain them.

So whenever someone is willing to learn how to farm naturally whether they are from Thailand or another part of the world, he is very happy to teach them and always shares his positive smile, positive energy and happiness.

Sandot uses solar panels that were produced in Thailand.

Sandot’s adorable mom who spends much of her time weaving baskets. She teaches guests how to weave at Tacomepai.

Plastic is banned from the farm because it often can’t be reused and burning it is toxic.

This is how guests are informed when their meal is ready.

The delicious food that is cooked at Tacomepai is either grown on the farm or bought from local markets nearby.

This is a natural water filtering system built by Sandot that uses rocks, gravel, sand, charcoal and ash. The filter is renewed every six months.

Bamboo plate.

Bottles that have been reused to grow plants to minimize waste.

A watering system where excess water is redirected to the blue container (bottom right) to be reused. The plants are held on slanted bamboo so the water trickles through all of them.

This is one of many bungalows that Sandot built to accommodate his guests. My friend and I also slept in the rooftop for two nights during our stay in Pai.

The classroom where people learn about permaculture.

Where I brushed my teeth by our room.

Volunteers’ schedule.

Where we have our nightly fire.

The wonderful outdoor kitchen.

Tea time.

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