Interview with Charles Lawson by Chelsea Boissonneault
Tell us about the site visit to Thailand for the first Freedom Farm Academy.
I was there during the month of November - I left the U.S. on Halloween and came back on December 3. It was actually my first time out of the US, so it was quite an experience for me. The farm is in a rural area, but I stayed in a small town nearby called Phan. One weekend I went to downtown Chiang Rai to do some touristy things and that was fun.
What was your role in creating this Freedom Farm Academy site?
I wasn't involved in the original design, but I made design adjustments once I got there. The new buildings were in different locations than the design, and I added new elements after talking with Woody, such as an indoor/outdoor horticulture education area and a single-family sustainable living demonstration site. I was primarily a consultant, but also planned the installation and did conceptual designs for the land additions. Some of the elements were already in place or started before I arrived, such as the pond system, a vegetable garden, a nursery, and baby food forests.
What was on the property before, and what was the soil like?
The property was previously used for rice production, so a chemical monoculture. Dr. Woody, who is the kind of operations manager, a native Thai and environmental scientist, tested and amended the soil, so we had a good base to start from. He used cover crops like solar hemp, many types of nitrogen fixers, grasses and animal dung to rehabilitate the degraded soil.
What are the goals of this Freedom Farm Academy location?
The main purpose of this location is to educate local Thai people on how to grow food without chemicals. It will also produce food for the locals and act as an agri-tourism type resort. The nursery will be expanded over time to produce medicinal and food plants, and trees that produce the biofuel resin, Dipterocarpus alatus . Once the farm is more mature, the focus will also be on caring for local children and orphans injured by the vaccine.
What are the next steps for them?
There is still much to do. There are still structures to be built, including classrooms, a farm and guest houses. Swales will soon be dug, along with syntropic plantings, as well as silvopastures for animal grazing. Most of the food forests are also still planted.
What do you think are the biggest challenges and benefits of this location for a Freedom Farm Academy?
I would say that both of these questions have the same answer, which is the scale of the huge property, approaching 100 acres. This gives great advantages such as endless possibilities and varieties of food produced, but at the same time it brings a lot of variables that could arise, and the amount of maintenance required. But it is all worth it in the end. In addition, Dr. Woody is also a huge plus - he has dedicated his life to similar projects and this one will be a crown jewel of his career. He knows the land, the markets, and the local Thais well. I wonder if other Freedom Farm academies will have someone as unique as Dr. Woody.
Is there anything else you can share about this project?
One of the coolest things is that Dr. Woody found local staff to work on this project, including a family of three who had nowhere to live, so he built them a hut to live in and gave them meaningful work. From there came the idea of having a sustainable living demonstration for one family, where visitors can see exactly what it takes to live independently: growing your own food, using sustainable building materials, and how to harvest solar energy, rain, and make water drinkable.