29 Jul Digging Deep…Literally. Permaculture Farm Times in Battambang, Cambodia
The two-week mark of our Unearthed trip hit us like a shovel full of dirt to the face. Literally.
Having completed our project in the rural village of Banteay Chhmar and enjoying a recovery night in the sleepy city of Battambang (air conditioning AND pancakes!), we felt ready for our next foray into the countryside to the Katch Phkar Permaculture Farm. We had already battled bugs with our mosquito nets, mastered our squat toilet technique, and upped our spice tolerance—at this point, what couldn’t we handle?
But something about this journey flipped as we drove out to Katch Phkar. The dusty red clay road we bumped down wasn’t a novel adventure like it was in Banteay Chhmar; and the emerald paddies of rice didn’t look as pastoral and idyllic as they did when we first passed over the Cambodian border. As we approached the permaculture farm, it was as if we could feel ourselves getting closer to the roots and realities of many Khmer people. We weren’t just on vacation anymore—this was real life.
After being welcomed by Sam, Greg, and the Khmer employees of Katch Phkar Permaculture Farm, we were greeted by ten wooden pallets — our “beds” for the next four nights. Then we met the buckets and pumps that would be our showers. Yep, this is real life.
But it didn’t take long to adjust and dig deep into the farm experience. Our mornings and afternoons were spent literally getting down and dirty, learning about soil restoration and the incredible resource that is cow manure. From there, we competed to see who could make the best raised garden bed (congratulations to Sidney and Amanda!) and shared the joys of planting our first seedlings (a delicate operation made all the more fun by speaking in a Southern accent).
Just as we enriched the Cambodian soil by day, the Khmer people enriched our lives by night. After the sunset and our coconut bowls from dinner were clean, we would sit by a blazing campfire with the Khmer farmhands, exchanging traditional Khmer songs for ukulele duets by Sidney and Catherine. We even exchanged a bonafide cultural experience—eating marinated tarantula!
By helping the permaculture farm improve their operation, the consequences of Cambodia’s deforestation and rice-dependent economy were made all the more clear to us. The country’s once fertile soil has been severely depleted, forcing desperate farmers to use dangerous chemical fertilizers and pesticides in the hopes of improving their harvest.
After a final morning of planting a coconut, tamarind and jackfruit tree, we hopped on the back of two pick up trucks and drove back to Battambang City where we spent one more night. The following day we rolled into Siem Reap – home to the world famous Angkor temples and Cambodia’s undisputed tourist bubble. The group spent a full day on bikes exploring many of the ruins and restored temples scattered across the landscape. While no doubt an enriching and amazing experience, it was difficult to match the serenity and cultural immersion we were exposed to at Banteay Chhmar.
Stay tuned for more!
Catherine, Amanda, Sidney, Danah, Katia, Albert, Dan, Jess and Kate
The Unearthed Crew