Field Workshop in Taitung and comments on natural farming

We sometimes wondered if it would be possible to travel around, running handcraft workshops in other locations. I was skeptical because there are so many tools and materials used in our projects. Forgetting one particular sized screw or nail might ruin a whole workshop.

We had also wondered if it might be possible to assemble some of our projects into kit sets. The main concern being that if too much preparation is done beforehand, the child won’t learn as much, and one might as well buy a ready-made one from the local toy store.

Finally we had an opportunity to try these things out on a small scale….

Shirley had been doing some research into farming methods that don’t involve chemicals of any kind and had come across an interesting blog. It was set up by an electronics engineer, Barkely Lin, who had quit his high-tech job in the city and moved his family to a quiet, unpolluted country town near Taitung in Taiwan’s south-east, where he has been working hard to promote the cause of natural farming. His blog is http://blog.yam.com/nature_farmer. And by the way, it is not quite the same as organic farming which uses organic fertilizers. Natural farming uses no fertilizers at all.

Barkely invites interested people to spend a few days on the farm where they can get some hands-on experience actually working there. It’s a great way to find out if that kind of life is for you, and having a couple of days off, we decided to go down there and take a look. But not feeling quite as energetic as we used to, he agreed that we could spend less time on the farm, and also run a handcraft workshop for a few suitable kids. This was perfect for us, so we started to assemble a few kit sets for the 4WD wooden electric car project.

Arriving around midday with a couple of bags of tools and materials, we found the air around Taitung very clean; nothing like Taipei. And the scenery is fabulous. The above photo is from a mountainside overlooking the town of Lu-Yeh. It’s one of the popular para-gliding spots. The grassy area below is where they (are supposed to) land.

After a bit of sightseeing and meeting some of the other locals doing natural farming, we got the kids started on their car projects. They were already quite familiar with tools and much easier than city kids to supervise on this kind of activity.

(click on photos for larger view)

At 7:00 am the next morning, the farm must have been one of the most tranquil places in Taiwan

Shirley helped Barkely’s wife on a small pineapple patch. They also have other land with thousands of pineapples growing which they sell, and also turn into other products including a very nice sugarless jam.

I managed to do some of the digging….

The next night, the kids could hardly wait to get back onto their cars and complete them. They weren’t interested in dinner until the cars were finished.

The boys already knew how to cut wood, but they were very pleased to find out they could actually cut metal. The five inch nail used for the drive shaft has to be cut shorter. It’s pretty thick, and cutting it can test a kid’s patience.

The wheels were the last thing to go on.

Next they had even more fun trying out their cars and having races.

Some time later they realized they were hungry so we all had dinner. The food, by the way, was great. Naturally grown foods take longer to grow but have a much richer flavor. For many years I had wondered why fruit no longer tastes like it did when I was a kid. After tasting Barkely’s starfruit (the demand for which has far outstripped his ability to grow them), now I know: most farmers depend heavily on chemicals to produce the biggest and fastest crop for the best possible profit. Natural farming on the other hand is just that: natural. You wait for it to grow and you get pure nutrition.

I must say, I was deeply impressed by so many things we observed on this trip. Apart from the beauty of the environment, we had the pleasure of meeting several people who were doing natural farming. They were all hard-working, down-to-earth, friendly people who were motivated not by profit but by a higher purpose, to live a life more in harmony with nature and hopefully contribute to saving the land and the people from the poisonous effects of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and weed killers.

It seems there is not enough awareness of this situation in most of the country. Shirley comes from a farming area on the west coast and is well aware of how extensively chemicals are used in practically all kinds of farming. There are very few worms in the soil, possibly none in some areas. Farming families typically have their own special plots for their own vegetables, while the chemical-laden ones are sent to the cities at the best possible profit. Farmers can even be heard to joke that “Those Taipei people are hard to kill.”

In summary, although we got some very worthwhile experience running a handcraft workshop away from home, we also came away with a new viewpoint on life and the environment in Taiwan. This is definitely an area that should be included in a child’s education so that one day these mistakes might be corrected and the environment might recover. It sure would be nice to buy food anywhere without worrying about what’s in it.

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