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Finding a Way to Give Back: An afternoon volunteering at an organic farm in Vang Vien, Laos

Our trip had been long and, as usual, not devoid of adventure. We had made our way overland from central China, through Vietnam and finally arrived in the beautiful country of Laos. This quite little gem of a country contained incredibly beautiful scenery full of mountains, rivers, lakes, and glowing sunsets that lit up the infinitesimally large, clear sky. The people of the country were gentle and kind and often met our curious glances with welcoming eyes and an invite to come join them in whatever they were doing. This was quickly becoming one of my favorite countries I had visited so far. After recovering from our 24 hour bus ride packed with people, boxes, crab, and of course a few chickens, my partner and I set out to explore this beautiful land. We took another short bus ride to Vang Vien, a great little town nestled in the Karst hills of central Laos.

The town was one of the larger in the area and was surprisingly progressive for what we had seen thus far in the country. We decided to call it home for a week or so and spend some time enjoying this amazing land. We had stopped to eat in a great little healthy restaurant and noticed a flyer for an organic farm up the road that was always looking for volunteers. We decided it would be the perfect way to not only help support an industry we both believed in, but give back to this country we appreciated so much. It was a hot day and I was definitely not prepared for the hard farm work that lay ahead, but I did find a new appreciation for how much work it was to create nourishing food. The farm was set on a large piece of land near the river and contained a main eating hall, several small huts for the staff and an education center where they were teaching the local children sustainable living through agriculture. It instantly reminded me that there are progressive thinkers everywhere, and that humanity really does have so much good in it. Our task for the day was to build irrigation trenches beside the rows of soil that were about to be planted. Of course being that this was a third world country, there was no machinery, just basic tools and good old muscle power. While this farm grew many veggies and fruits, they were known for their mulberry plants. These amazing trees gave rise to a berry which we juiced, added to pancake mix or just ate fresh. The leaves were also often lightly fried and served as an appetizer with mulberry jam dippingsauce, sort-of a local chips and salsa.

I later learned that Mulberries contain high levels of resveratrol and anthocyanins, both of which are potent antioxidants and often helpful in cancer protection and anti-aging. The leaf has also been implicated in helping control blood sugar, which is essential in the prevention and treatment of diabetes. Our day finished by enjoying fresh mulberry juice with some of the staff in the dining hall by river. The day was long, but satisfying and we vowed the next time we came back to this part of the world, we would spend more time helping this great cause.