The Panya Project

Grass, some cut, some not

Somewhere north of Chaing Mai, lost in the complex networks of roads, back roads, canals and rice paddies there is a place called the Panya Project. The Panya Project started about 3 years ago, it is about 10 acres of 5 year old mango plantation. Over the past three years, this mono-culture plantation has been transformed into a small community in which people come here to spend some time, plant some veggies, harvest some fruit and have a good time.

After the grass has been cut

The main part of the mango plantation is about to undergo a major transformation though. That is where Tanya and I fit in. We are long term volunteers, here to help plant thousand of trees in amongst the mango trees. We are turning this difficult to maintain one fruit crop into a multicrop forest of food. Instead of one season in which you can harvest fruit, fruit will be available all year. Two swales and a dam (or a reservoir, the Aussies like to call them dams), are on site to help keep this place green in the dry times of the year (however it is not currently working perfectly yet).

The sunseting from our mud brick hut

Moving into our place at Panya

Baby trees (aka seedlings), waiting to be planted out in the food forest

The rainy season is a time for plants to grow. In the past 1.5 months grass and vine have taken over the site. The job over the past week has been preparing the site so that we can plant some trees. This has involved cutting grass with a brush cutter, pulling vines off of trees, weeding the veggie gardens, maintaining the nursery and much more. It is amazing the transformation that has taken place, now the plantation looks like a well maintained orchard, but at several man days of work already put in (and it would have to be done every three weeks), finding a new system to use this land would be best. The food forest should be able to maintain itself much better then the mono-culture that is there now.

Posted from Ban Pao, Chiang Mai, Thailand
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Biodynamic Times

Over the last weekend, Tanya and I went to a small village on the boarder of Kerala in the Western Ghats (near Coorg). There is a small village there that is starting to produce a biodynamic farm producing aromatic crops for essential oils. The activities ranged from getting to the village to making compost. Here is the story of how the trip went.

Early morning roads (notice the Aum on the left side of the windshield)

I thought the alarm clock was set for 3:43am, however I mixed up the am and the pm. There was knocking at our door at 4:15. It was Kristen, a nice person who loves to help people, woke us up. Our ride was supposed to come at 4:30, which isn’t a lot time to get ready, especially when there is only one bathroom in the house. Our ride was late however, so we were rushed, and then we waited, for over an hour. We are picked up by a Tata Sumo, a diesel powered SUV, although there is enough to seat 8, you often 15 or more jammed into these things. There are no seat belts, and on the windshield OM is painted blocking the view of the passenger. Continue reading

Posted from Madikeri, Karnataka, India
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Making a Map

In forestry, I couldn’t imagine working without a map. For the past five years, Sadhana forest has had no detailed map, it has all been pretty much all in Aviram’s head. Which is amazing, and it really shows you don’t need a map if you know the land really well. That however didn’t stop me from making a map. Using free aeral photos, and open source software, I was able to create a map for Sadhana forest that they can post on web, print off on very large scale, or to give to some one who is interested in the project.  Click Here for more informatrion

On top of that, I was also showed a few of the long term volunteers how to do a very simple PSP (permanent sample plot). Although the plots were not randomly or systematically chosen (not enough time for that), they were set up in the areas that were planted in the past couple of years. The plots were done with a 5.65m plot cord (made from some rope that I had), a steal steak and a measuring tape. There were over 150 different species planted in the past, and there is no realistic way to identify them all, so we did a very rough species ID (Planted, Natural or Acacia). We also took some more photo points (N, E, S, W, Up and Down). The idea is to visit these site once every 1-5 years and gather some data on planted survival rates, growth rates, success of different planting techniques and to update the photo points. In 20 years, there should be a very complete and interesting collection of data that will paint a neat picture of this ecosystem. Too add to this, a handful of these volunteers will also be headed to Senegal to start up a similar project from the ground up, being able to start sampling at year zero would also be great, and part of the reason why I trained 6 volunteers how to do this. It is pretty neat when you can show a group of people who are interested in this sort of thing. My stay at Sadhana Forest has been very enjoyable, and I would recommend it to everyone (a chance to see that you can live on $3 a day and have a great time being part of a community).

Posted from Pattanur, Tamil Nadu, India
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Surveying the forest

After one shift of work at the forest I heard of someone who needed some help getting GPS points of the forest. My head perked right up and I met up with a guy named Yoav. Yoav is an American who got a scholarship from the US gov’t to make a book on landmark trees in India. He has done a lot of research in the forest before and had some really good ideas of he wanted to contribute to Sadhana. After a few minutes of talking (in which he asked me a bunch of questions) we got off to do some surveying of the forest.


The surveys were simple, probably not statistically significant, however they do paint a picture of what is out there in the forest (which happens to be a whole lot of introduced nitrogen fixing pioneer species from Australia). We had a small crew and some crude tools, and we measured the trees that landed in our systematically placed 100m2 plot. It was cool, both Yoav and I could breeze through this process. After work was over we went walking in the forest geeking it up, talking about different species and land formation. I learnt a lot about ecology from Yoav.

A Forested Area

We also took some GPS points, took some pictures and got some data for making a rough map for the area. Which was also cool. I was using a borrowed computer though, which complicated things, but I got it nearly completed. With only using 2005 aerial images from Google earth, I was able to construct a pretty good map, all that is missing is some information from Aviram (and he is a very busy man).

Next week I am going to show one of the long term volunteers how to set up a PSP and do some simple sampling (like tree planting plots, with a plot chord). I am also going to pound some steel into the ground and take pictures of those places, and make a SWP (Standard Work Procedure) so that anyone can come back and take pictures of the this forest as it grows (every 5 years). Aviram is pretty excited about this and it is neat that I am able to contribute to the project like this.

In the canyon


A young Acacia


Watering Hole

It looked cool

Also looked cool

Watering hole

We have really enjoyed our stay here, it has been a lot of fun. We are planning to stay a little bit longer and then it is off to Mysore.

Posted from Pattanur, Tamil Nadu, India
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Sadhana Forest

I realize that the sound of going to forest in which you work for you room and the food you get is vegan doesn’t sound like the most popular tourist destination. That is because it is not a tourist destination. The minimum stay here is two weeks, and everyone works for 4-5 hours in the morning. Without really knowing what we were getting ourselves into, Tanya sent an e-mail to say that we were coming.

There are more people here then ever, over 100. Which may not seem like a big number, in the monsoon, there is only about 20 people here though, and this place is starting to swell with the tourist season. The community is going through some growing pains, infastructure is being build encredibly fast accmodate the extra people.

Tshere is a couple that started this forest, their names are Yorit and Aviram Rozin, fueled by a dream, the community was build around non-violence, whole foods, and clear minds (no drinking or drugs while your stay here). There is also a forest (the main focus of the project). The whole area is about 30 ha which is tiny, but it contains a rare ecosystem that is nearly deforested.

Life at the forest is simple, you sleep in simple huts, eat simple food and you do simple tastes. Not that technology is forbidden, quite the opposite, there is wifi Internet access for everyone (if you brought a laptop), the workstations are dotted with iPods and speakers, which play familiar music. There is a projector in the main hall in which movies are played twice a week.

Like I said before, the food is vegan, which has been a lot better then expected. I often finish lunch thinking I could eat more, but I don’t and I’m not super hungry when dinner is served. There is no refined food allowed, no oils or sugar. The food is actually pretty good.

We plan to stay another week or so, and then it is off to Mysore to do some yoga. The posts for the next two months are going to slow down. As we start to spend more time in the same place, we just won’t have that many things to write about. This is a heads up, I will send out another e-mail when we start cycling again. Our ticket to leave India is near the end of April, so some time in May we will be back on the road cycling.

The landscape, this used to have no plants on it, but in the last five years, water conservation has brought the introduced Acacia seed bank alive

Moon Cocoon (or Ecodome), was an experiment to see how packed dirt can make a structure.

A different way to plant, y ou just can’t plant trees like you can back in the forests in Canada

Posted from Pattanur, Tamil Nadu, India
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