Our Thailand Permaculture Story

 

Funny where life takes us!

 

September-2013-036-300x225  Hello and welcome to Rak Tamachat Permaculture Thailand, my name is Beau Wickboldt and I come from Louisiana in the US, so please forgive my accent.

I live in the house by the lake with my wife Lin, her parents and our three sons Drie, Vier and Joey.  Drie and Vier are twins.

As one of the founders of Rak Tamachat, I hope to give you an overview of the background of The Rak Tamachat Permaculture Institute,  Rak Tamachat’s goals, and vision and what the Residents feel it means to be a member of Rak Tamachat.

First, Rak Tamachat is Thai for “Love Natural”, Rak being Love and Tamachat being Natural. We feel this is a very good basic description of our beliefs on what we feel constitutes the way we approach our Permaculture lifestyle and Thai Permaculture Farming.

It also allows the locals to understand what we believe and why we are as Foreigners are doing what they see as Thai farming in the old traditional ways. We know by our Actions using Permaculture and Natural building we can allow for them to see that there was another way and that going back to the way it was is the way forward.

It is our long-term goal to be a more integrated intentional community with the local Thais. To achieve this, we have to walk the walk to talk the talk. If we do not live by what we teach, how can we expect the local Thai Farmers to implement our practices? So, we have had many ups and downs and learned loads along the way.

We learn much from the local Thai Farmers and often end up being their students. I hope that we can share some of this local Thai Permaculture knowledge and experiences with you over the course of your stay with us. Our Local Thai Permaculture Educators share their love of the Thai Farming Culture and the age-old farming and land stewardship practices that made Thailand the great place it is.

Learning how to live from what the land gives you and finding the respect that you receive by living within your means in line with nature is what finding oneself is all about. It is really why they call Thailand the Land of Smiles.

Who would not smile when you can live in harmony with nature, gather your food from the environment for free, take a break to have time to find who you are by having time to think, being around the ones you love and being able to return that love by working communally with each other. It makes for a place where the pressures from the outside crazy world seem to not be able to reach us.

A garden of Eden where we were safe from evils, at Rak we like to think that it gives us a small glimpse at what the world was once like and also a platform to help teach Permaculture others that we can repair the world and give the radiant life back to Gaia.

 

Now that we know a little about why we do it, I would like to make sure you have read our Permaculture Community Lifestyle Page which explains how our

Beliefs Lead to Our Permaculture Community!

Check it out Here and then come back to learn more.

 

But before we start, I want to first and foremost stress that Rak Tamachat Permaculture Institute is a working Thai Permaculture Farm and the home of a core Intentional Permaculture Community of 12 persons. It is the group of like-minded persons that makes Rak such an amazing place.

We have been working hard to transition from a traditional, monoculture farming system consisting of upland corn and lowland rice. We strive to follow the Principals and Ethics of Permaculture Design and other Sustainable land management systems.

This helps us facilitate the change from a monoculture annual farming system, to a diversified integrated Permaculture farming system based around perennials and animals working together in a balanced and sustainable system.

One of the key goals of this kind of Permaculture farming is the reduction in the need for fossil fuels such as diesel for the farming operations. Annual plants use a lot more fuel and labor than perennials.

We feel that this transition along with the development of the Permaculture systems needed to support our Permaculture community and by reducing our need for outside goods reduces the amount of money that we need and helps to lower our vulnerability to outside pressures.

Please take a moment to explore our Permaculture Master Plan and our Farm, then come back and well see if we can give some answers to your questions.

 

By choosing to be Thai Permaculture Farmers we work every day, yes, on a farm there are very few holidays but, when you love and have a passion for what you’re doing it does not seem like work. We are working to develop a Permaculture, Natural Building, and Natural Living Education Center while at the same time transitioning from a monoculture farming practice to more sustainable Permaculture Farming System using restoration agriculture techniques for the perennial tree systems and holistic management techniques for our animal systems.

We hope to integrate these different systems to create a closed-loop system based around Permaculture Design Principles and Ethics. Now a little on my background; I am actually a very private person and it took a long hard protracted look at my life and values to see that I needed to make some changes in the lifestyle I was living.

Marrying the woman I loved who makes me the man I really am and her giving me three beautiful boys is really the only reason I need to get up and work hard every day. Waking up next to the ones you love and care for every day makes the Permaculture lifestyle easy to live. I know I’m loved through the daily interactions I have with them.

This is also the secret of Permaculture Communities and communal living. Living and working with the ones you love and you know love you. I worked in the oil and gas industry and was a project manager for various companies over the course of 15 years.

So, some may question how someone working in the oil industry got into Permaculture and Sustainable Agriculture in Thailand?

 

So here is the short version of a long story

 

I first came to Asia as a 23-year-old backpacker after I studied Construction Management at Louisiana State University. I flew into Singapore, bought a motorcycle and over the period of one year, drove it up to China and then to Songkhla in Southern Thailand.

I was on my way back home when I met an American who was working in the Thai oil fields for Chevron in Songkhla. After some discussion about my background in Construction Management, he assisted me in getting a job as Project Manager with a local Thai oil services company doing wellhead hook-ups offshore.

After four years of working for others, I opened my own offshore service company in Rayong, Thailand; International Fabrication Services. I got a contract fabricating offshore containers for export, at our peak when I sold the company we had 1,200 employees, I was 30 years old. I sold that company and bought the land that Rak Tamachat is located with my wife managed some minor farm upgrades while she was doing her MBA.

I accepted the position of Technical Services Manager for an oil company in Singapore where I worked for another five years. I found Permaculture or it found me, I then started to learn and while working in Singapore I began work on the Rak Tamachat Master Plan with a consulting company in the US.

We took one year to finalize the plans. Implementation started in January 2011. The Rak Tamachat Community started on January 2012 I retired to live and teach at Rak Tamach June 2013 on my 35 Birthday. I’m now known as the “Head Hippie in Charge“.

 

Here’s the Longer Version

 

I started wondering about what it would take to retire early when I was in University. The main driver was I have always been looking for my passion and what I wanted to do with my life that was about the work first and the economic success second. When I was a young man, I followed my father’s footsteps in life, as we are all told was the right thing to do by society.

I was no different and neither were my parents they did the right thing and told me if I follow the rules laid out by society I could be successful. I had seen that you can succeed this way. My father had done extremely well on this path and had retired comfortably. As a young man, this sounded easy so I did not question it much.

So, I went to the same university, studied the same major, went to work for the same company. I always thought something was not quite right and I did not feel fulfilled. I made a small garden in my front yard of the small house I was staying in while attending university. I really can’t say what made me want to do that, I can assure you my friends all thought I was nuts “growing vegetables when it was party time at school“.

When I look back I can see how it was filling a gap in my life. When I started work, I moved to a bigger house, as one does, growing our lifestyle as our status grows. Following the consumer-driven instincts brainwashed into us as we watch TV.  I started to think;  am I going to sit here for the next thirty years hoping I can get my annual 5%  raise and hope inflation does not erode it and then end up just like we are told; two kids (Lucky we can afford one now days) nice house (If your not burdened with massive student loans and can get the back to give you a load), etc, etc.

Basically, you agree to trade your life for what you are told is the correct path. I started to question this logic and look for and study if this was the only path. One of my favorite subjects was that of retiring early. I wanted to make sure I knew exactly what it took to do this. I still have a huge passion for investing in books and have a personal collection at the farm of over 1,000. Yeah, I’m a bookworm!

The more I read, the more I was convinced that there were really only a few drivers to retiring early. They were not what we were being told to aspire to by all the marketing, advertising, and keeping up with the Jones’. I was lucky enough to find a spreadsheet on ‘retireearly.com’. I came to understand the fundamentals behind the movement of the calculator and what were the most important inputs to reach an early retirement with the least amount of effort.

What I found was that there was really only one way to achieve the goal of an early retirement. It was by reducing consumption!!! I looked on the spreadsheet like it was a project and we were estimating and running it to produce a bid. After about six months, I had a deep understanding of what drove the model and had also added many other calculations that were based on my own beliefs.

This working model, which I felt replicated my understating of the factors which would allow someone to retire early was what gave me the courage to quit my job and go in search for the economic drivers I believed were the keys to the dream. A whole presentation could be done on that. I will only say that it was the catalyst that made me decide to resign from my job and go backpacking.

I, then, proceeded to prepare for a 2-year backpacking adventure. I figured that I could get by on an average of 12 USD a day. I sold my truck, packed up all my belongings and I was actually surprised how little I owned. It has all subsequently been given away. I flew to Singapore with a backpack and 10,000 USD in the year 2000.

So, I know you are all dying to know what was the magic in what I thought made the possibility of retiring early. Well, first, let’s say it has nothing to do with how much you make, it is based on how much you spend. The magic is when you look at exchange rates, which most people in America know little about as they don’t tend to travel outside the US often.

What is very interesting, is that what you earn in a strong currency goes much further in countries with a weaker currency, ie; the difference between the US Dollar, Euro, Great British Pound, Sing, Ringgit, Baht and so on. So, if one could save his money by living frugally, then convert to a weaker currency, he could make a windfall.

This was all speculative on my part based on the working of the retirement calculator which, by the way, did not do exchange rate conversions based on standards of living. For me to prove my theory, I would need to go to a country with a weaker currency to see if this would work. I had never been outside of the US, so really had no basis for my beliefs other than theory.

Once I got to Singapore, I could see how a strong currency it was in comparison to the other regional countries and how the US dollar was multiplied upon exchange. So, my next question was would my theory hold true?

What I was looking for was whether with the exchange rate, could a standard of living be upheld? I subsequently found that it could not, but to adjust for this, it would still produce a windfall. Not the 31:1 as per Thai Baht to US Dollar. I also learned that there was a limit to this, as some countries have better, wider exchange rates but were still not developed enough for security and safety.

So, throughout my motorcycle journey, I was proving my theories and finding which countries I thought would have the best balance of exchange rate and development. I as you can guess, I chose Thailand. I would like to equate this to what is recently been in the Singaporean news, the JB Retirement Plan, which is basically exactly what I have outlined has driven me over the last 14 years.

Make and invest in a strong currency, live frugally and maximize your savings and then cash out and move to a better exchange rate to multiply your cash. Once I was able to get employment in Thailand with a company which would pay me an international rate in USD and with living expenses in Baht I could really start to see the strength of this model in multiplying my earnings.

I mentally work on the exchange rate of 4:1 when balancing for the standard of living between the US and Thailand, which is to say that I believe that my US earnings are multiplied by a factor of 4 when I live and spend in Thailand. This has been the greatest driver in my ability to retire early. That coupled with my frugal lifestyle in comparison to my peers, ie: other westerners making high salaries. I desired to open my own company and see if the multiplier of the exchange rate and the power of being an entrepreneur would also help.

I was fortunate in two ways with IFS, one that I was able to grow a start-up and sell the company to our primary client which proved to be a very lucrative investment. Not enough to retire with the plans my wife and I had, but it definitely took the pressure off and allowed my creative energy to be focused on other things. I also meet my wife at IFS, she was hired by our CFO and was the financial controller. It took two years before she would go to lunch with me as I was a Farang (western).

But, she finally did and the rest is history. I like to joke that she first accounted for the company’s money and now only accounts for mine. The truth is that we have plowed, so to say, all our savings into the farm to make it what you see today.

This was not done to make the traditional gain that one would expect from investing, but to provide a place to raise our children, share our good fortunes with other like-minded people and hopefully show there are other ways of living one’s life than in the rat race. After we were married and I sold IFS, we bought the land where Rak Tamachat Permaculture Institute is now.

We did not know of Permaculture at that time but we both wanted to have a Thai Farm. When we took over Rak Tamachat from the previous landowner, there were no structures, roads, electric, ponds or trees.

To tell you the truth, there was only one large tree. All corn and rice fields. I started doing some projects related to what I believed at the time would be good things to have on a Homestead. I started researching what one needed, etc. I knew I wanted to have a nice farm to raise my future children but did not know exactly what that should look like. Being Engineering Minded I looked for system based approach to farm design and operations.

I came to find Permaculture and read the Permaculture Designers Manual and found the system I was looking for. It seemed to have all the answers. But I needed to get my wife on-board and it was not easy to explain to her why we would be implementing practices that would reduce the need for a tractor, she said it sounds like more work.

But we studied on together and could both see how by reducing the need for tractors and fossil fuels to run them and then need for chemicals inputs for Fertilizers, Herbicides, and Pesticides through Organic Agriculture practices we would reduce our overall workload and cost of running the business over time.

We then new that Permaculture was the only way forward for us. We had the education, experience, and money to put this into action in a large way. But as we moved forward making the farm into a Permaculture Farm we noticed something was missing. We were enjoying the many Permaculture Project but we felt that only us enjoying the farm was not really fair and in line with the Permaculture Ethics, we had come to adopt and live out in our daily lives.

We needed to find a way to share our lives with others and with more research again Permaculture had the answers. We needed to open our home and Permaculture farm to an Intentional Permaculture Community of like-minded persons who did not have the advantages we had or were old enough to get a place like ours but had a real desire to learn Permaculture and Natural Building. We would work to make a place to both teach Permaculture and allow for those students to further their learning.

We started the earthworks and planting to convert the farm to a Permaculture demonstration site and education center in Jan 2009. Rak Tamachat Permaculture Institute officially opened and hosted its first Permaculture Design Course on the first of Jan  2012. We successfully hosted seven courses in the first year and after the first six months, we met our goal of breaking even.

We are now going strong and hosting courses in both Permaculture and Natural Building, making Documentaries, allowing for Permanent Residents. providing co-teaching opportunities. Some people have even started to call us the first ever “Permasort” (a Permaculture Resort) since we operate on a fair share basis then I guess this is appropriate.

Why can’t we all live as though we were rich when we live a Permaculture communal lifestyle based on sharing? It seems to me the more I share the more life returns to me!

I guess the main question now, is how or why did I get into sustainability and Permaculture and decide to invest in a Permaculture Education Center? This then brings me to one of the other things that I found in my research, what would I do when I retired if it was based on of a frugal lifestyle. I am a very driven person and have been trained, some may say brainwashed, through the American educational system and society to always want or need something to do.

So I started to think about what that would be, I quickly decided that it couldn’t be a hobby that needed money. I needed something that I liked to do, gave me enjoyment, allowed me to express my creativity, produced a surplus and not based on external entertainment and consumption. It took me a long time to figure out what I thought would fulfill all those goals, suffice to say, it was Permaculture farming. Going back to what I got so much fulfillment and joy from when I was in school.

I believe this is rooted in the joy I had when I was growing up and our family would go to my grandparents to help in their garden. It was one acre and she grew a huge variety of vegetables, fruit trees, grapes and so on. A small garden is an Eden for a young boy. I also had a desire for my future children to grow up in a place where they could experience the outdoors and have those happy carefree childhood days.

After sharing these desires with my wife Lin (the woman behind the man, she is the true secret of our success) she expressed her dissatisfaction with the big city life we were living, we had everything, quite frankly sometimes it was obscene how we ate, drank and lived when others have so much less. So agreed that someday we would retire and move back to her hometown in CQ, Korat and buy a small Thai farm.

I would be able to pursue my dream of growing my own food and having my children grow up on the farm. What I quickly figured out when we bought the land and moved to Issan (North East Thailand) is that as a foreigner you quickly start to long for the company of others who speak your native language and to discuss topics of mutual interest.

I also could see that my wife was not fulfilled either by the way we were farming which was what would be described as a traditional board scale monoculture, using modern fertilizers and pesticides. My wife wanted more to do to stimulate her intellect, like me and was dissatisfied with the economic return for our labor inputs.

We were working hard and being rewarded with bread and water from the market while poisoning our land! We both agreed the middlemen were getting all the rewards and leaving a substance life for the Thai farmers. I started looking into the economics of the farm from my business management background and I saw that seventy-five percent of our income was going to seeds, fertilizer and pesticides and fuel!

We needed to figure out how to lower or eliminate this high cost. I later found that these chemical inputs and rising fuel prices were creating the same vicious circle that had to happen to small farmers in the west, where they fall behind and then lose the farm and corporations keep expanding their farms as they buy up the smallholders as the economics of scale are then in the corporations favor.

So I started to think about what I could do to solve these issues, all those investing books, engineering, and business experience had to have some good use, so I racked my brain and went to my best friend the Internet and started searching for an answer.

To tell the truth, once you personally farm on your own land with chemicals you really don’t want to eat your own product, but now everyone is farming in the same way. The markets farm gate prices are being set by commercial large-scale operations using all the modern technology and the small farmer is told by the government, the farmer’s bank, the chemical companies, and some NGO’s that they should use chemicals if they want the high yields that are needed to make money!

So at this time, I was not driven by the desire to be “Certified Organic” though now organic is a huge part of my beliefs. I was just looking for how the Thai farm could survive as I really did not see how with all the rising prices and inputs.

When looking for other profitable organic farms I noticed that they seemed to be very labor intensive, which to tell you the truth I did not want to do a lot of physical labor, I have a lazy streak like everyone else, also I have no desire to have the

Thai’s work and me be the big gentleman boss, I wanted a system I could work in alongside the Thai workers.

The question was what that would look like?

 

My basic list of things I wanted was as follows:

  • To have the ability to have friends that I could speak with on an intellectual level
  • To stop using so much fossil fuels in our operations
  • To stop using so many chemicals in our operations
  • To try and provide a working profitable model to allow other Thai farmers to come and learn what we were doing
  • To provide an environment for my kids that they would be able to learn to speak English as a native speaker in Thailand, this and my wanting friends was the start of the idea of building a community
  • Having the desire to share my and my wife’s good economic fortunes with others who were not so lucky

 

With these ideas in my mind, my wife and I decided it would be best if I went back to work and she completed her MBA. I took a job in Singapore, as I really could not stay at the farm in its traditional manner, this was very hard on both me and my wife as we could have retired there in the traditional sense as we had enough money to basically live that traditional lifestyle forever, but as modern young adults we were not able to live in that manner as we had become accustomed to having too many modern comforts.

So I took it upon myself to start looking for other farming systems we could do, being from America I at first started looking at American commercial enterprises, how to import equipment, etc. What I found is that I really did not want a monoculture farm or large-scale factory based animal system. I also did not to just copy the western model in Asia and out-compete the local farmers, it would basically put them out of business, I may get rich doing it but it would not fulfill me and I don’t want my kids to grow up to learn what their father did to grow our farm.

So commercial mono-culture was diffidently not the way, I then started looking into old American homesteading and saw the more diversified systems they used to survive. I thought going back to this was the way but there was really no info on how to do this in full, being an engineer I keep looking for the “Manual”. I also saw I needed to be able to farm on a broader scale to make the economics work.

My theory went something like this, if you only have a small business and want to support a family you have to work hard at that business in proportionally to a larger business where your time can be spread more evenly, that was my theory at least at the time. I could not find an existing farm business on the internet that would allow me to make a business plan around to follow, but by luck, I happened upon references to Permaculture.

The more I read the more I saw this was a key part of what I needed to change the farm and meet my goals. It was a designed based approach to Sustainable Agriculture which appealed to my engineering background and thought process, and it was rooted in Ethics and Principles and the way to guide the decision-making process.

I thought this is amazing, it was originally based on Broad-scale, preached the use of observation of natural ecosystems and the respect for and replication of some very old traditional farming methods before the use of fossil fuel inputs. I was hooked!!! So I began the implementation of some of the ideas taught in Permaculture Design on our property.

I would basically design something on the principles and my wife would then manage the implementation. Once we started to make the changes to the farm we need help especially as I was working in Singapore and my wife was still doing her MBA work. So we convinced my wife’s parents that they should quit their job at the factory they were working and come to live and work on our Permaculture Farm.

They told us that you could not make any money on a farm and they liked working in the factory, I was shocked, how could they not want to come work on the farm “My Dream” I then had to try and see it from their perspective and that they had farmed their whole life and in order to put their daughter through university needed more money so stopped farming for working in Bangkok and they had no desire to go back to working hard on a farm!

So my wife and I explained that we were going to be doing things differently and would be making big changes with lots of investment to make sure it was not hard work and they would be able to make the same wage as in Bangkok for their efforts and we would guarantee their income until the systems implemented paid off.

Also, we did some begging and they reluctantly agreed to come. Without them, I am sure the farm would not have worked with me away. Lin’s Dad has been great at overseeing the contractors and making sure our investment is well looked after. The first year was tough as we had no power at the property or running water but we got electricity and a well along with rainwater collection and put in a large Thai garden.

But they could see that a lot of work was going into our plans to redevelop or through regenerative agriculture with Permaculture Principles and ethics using holistic management techniques, whoa that is a mouth full. Every day with the implementations, life was getting easier for them and they could see it was going to be easy someday when the trees and ponds, etc started yielding.

One of the key teachings in Permaculture is the use of Perennials over annuals as a labor-saving food system. So I made the decision to open the farm to allow for the teaching of Permaculture Design to others as it has given so much to the family we are lucky to live in an amazing environment that just keeps getting nicer with the implementation of the Permaculture Design Master Plan.

We wanted to share this lifestyle with as many as we could and do our part to help spread the word about Permaculture. We do this by hosting courses, providing a medium for Instructors, and our Practitioner Program as part of our Education Courses.

This allows people to come to Rak Tamachat and live onsite and learn and work with the Permaculture Demonstration we use in our teachings.

We believe that there is a need for classroom theory-based instruction but we equally believe that for sustainable agriculture you need to be able to get your hands in the dirt to learn and master the techniques.

 

If you read this far, I would love to hear from you, if you would like to share your story with me or just have a perma-chat you can always contact me directly below. always here to help a Permaculturist!




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