Saturday, July 31, 2010

Mongolian Permaculture: Day 32 – Lotus Guesthouse and Orphanage


We have moved into the cheaper [$8/night, and far more comfortable & homely] Lotus Guesthouse around the corner from the ‘Happyness’ [Voyager Plus] Hotel, a backpacker-style hostel run by the Lotus Orphanage.

The hostel is simply and elegantly furnished, by far the flashest place we have stayed in Mongolia, with ‘Buddhist Orange’ painted wood floors, bunk beds, and Mongolian artwork hanging on the walls.

There is a shelf full of handicrafts for sale near the entrance, Mongolian felt boots and Khazak slippers & hats and postcards featuring the children’s artwork and scarves and diaries and all sorts of useful knick-knacks, nothing too tacky except for maybe the obligatory deck of playing cards, with all proceeds going to support the orphanage.

Volunteers from all over the world pass through the lounge room, which is like your favourite hippie Aunty’s lougeroom to the world. We swap tales from the road, and everyone we meet seems to be outward-focussed, switched on, and working on amazing, contributing projects…

…including Stefan from Germany, who is finishing up a 12-month stint volunteering with the Lotus House before commencing his Environmental Engineering studies in Switzerland. He has been developing a vegge plot at one of the summer camp sites, growing potatoes and tomatoes and whatever else he could get his hands on during the short season.

Stefan shows us some photos of his project, and shares stories of the challenges and successes he’s had during his accelerated learning curve over the last year. Kat offers to sit down with him over the next few days to introduce and share the basics of Permaculture as a way to support Stefan and the project.

We are thinking that chickens, sprouts, and mushroom cultivation would be appropriate enterprises for urban application because of their potential for small-scale intensive production, their high nutritional & market value, and the immediate proximity of potential upper-scale markets such as restaurants and hotels in Ulaanbatar.

The biggest challenge in this scenario is that Stefan is leaving in a matter of weeks, and his replacement volunteer will not be arriving due to visa issues.

There will be no continuity; a challenge that charitable aid programs all over the world face and need to design around.

By chance, we run into Didi, the founder of the Lotus operations, and have a brief chat about her goals with the project… there is never enough bodies to do all the work there is to be done. We invite her to the Urban Workshop that is scheduled for the 13th of August, hours after we arrive back in UB from the Gobi.

So much to do, so little time…!

Great People = Great Times.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Mongolian Permaculture: Day 31 - Sustainability is DEAD


Ankle is better this morning.

Did some washing, caught up with the blog, and checked in with home. Main mission today is to replenish my funds with a visit the ATM round the corner.

Typing, typing, writing, writing, blog blog blogging… was it really only 2 days ago I was joking around in the kitchen with my newfound Mongolian friends?

Sorting thru all the pics taken that day and I am taken right back to Tosontsengel, now wondering where students go and what they will do with the Permaculture Design skills and knowledge they have developed…

It would be so interesting to see where each project is 2, 5, 10 years from now.

It would be great to be able to come back and revisit, though this is not a certainty.

Peak Oil, Climate Change, continuing Global Economic Crises… we live in such uncertain times…

It could be so easy to throw up our hands in frustration and disgust, to go down that dark road of disillusionment with humanity… to buy into the thinking that we’ve destroyed ourselves, and it is just a matter of time before the bomb we’ve set explodes in our faces.

Or, we could play for the best in humanity.

I have glimpsed the depths of the resilience of the human spirit in the eyes of my companions over the last month. I have experienced heartfelt connection and generosity that transcends language barriers, cultural differences, and geographic separation.

I have seen light in the eyes of our brothers and sisters here in Mongolia, who live closer to the land than I ever have in this lifetime, who have so much less than I have ever had, who give and share so much and so freely of themselves, to welcome us into their hearts and homes.

The light I have seen in students' eyes here on the Steppe, is that same light that goes on in people’s eyes at the end of the PDCs I have been on in Australia, the light that says HOLY CRAP I GET IT… we don’t need to have all the answers, just figure out the right questions… because it is all right there in front of us…

We do truly live in a Garden of Eden, with everything that we need to create a beautiful, vibrant, healthy community and life right before us… if only we train our eyes and hearts to see…

...suddenly, problems become solutions, waste materials become valuable resources… all with a slight shift in perception and a simple foundation of ethics and principles to guide us.

Maybe we really can solve all of the world’s problems in a garden.

Nature moves in exponential cycles, hence the quickening we are experiencing now, this hurtling towards potential and spectacular impending doom… ecological, economic, and cultural disaster, all converging into a gigantic cosmic SPLAT…

...though if nature moves in exponential cycles, than might it not also possible to harness this energy, and use the forces of nature to reverse the cycle of damage we have done?

High-intellect, high-tech design won’t solve our problems - you can’t solve a problem with the same thinking that created it.

Low-tech, remembered knowledge of how to move and work in harmony with the natural world around us is, well, the natural way...

…Head thinks. Heart knows.

Sustainability is not just a new, trendy buzzword that hipsters and hippies wax lyrical about in coffeehouses about town.

Sustainability is how we lived, out of necessity, for millenia.

Sustainability is simply living, living simply, within our means, and working with natural laws and forces, to expand that means, to expand our lives – not forcing and bending nature to our wills.

In nature, energy cycles, changes form, and comes back again, and if you ignore this law… you get modern society. The Piper always collects his due in the end.

It is time to move beyond Sustainability.

We get what we focus on, so let’s play bigger.

Instead of focusing on how to reduce our footprints, what if we were to focus on creating systems inspired by nature, using biological resources, in order to flourish?

What if we were to focus on re-discovering and re-organizing the vast amount of natural living resources we have all around us, and incorporating them into our designs to create multiple mutual beneficial relationships within our systems?

What if we were to focus on how much we could create and contribute to the world, instead of how much we can consume and accumulate?

What if we were to focus on how big a positive impact we could make, rather than how much we can shrink ourselves to minimize our impact?

What if we were to focus on
  • Restoring?
  • Regenerating?
  • Recreating?

…What kind of world could we create?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Mongolian Permaculture: Day 30 – Sleep and Recovery


Slept all day today. I am buggered!

Huge emotional and physical demand over the last 30 days, not to mention my swollen ankle is throbbing after yesterday’s mammoth 4WD experience.

So nice to be back in familiar surroundings with fresh bedsheets, a nice firm matress, and even had breakfast delivered to the room [I am assuming they did so because of how we stumbled up to our rooms zombie-like at 1 o’clock last night.]

Mind was racing, and body took 2 hours to calm down from the adrenaline of the road, so didn’t get to sleep until after 3am.

Checked on Kat around noon, after I had woken up enough to be coherent, and she had drying, hand-washed laundry strewn all over her nice hotel room. Great idea.

No work today, will just lie in bed, nurse my ankle, and rest my mind.

Happy to have a break, even happier that we will be moving on to the Gobi Dessert soon.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Mongolian Permaculture: Day 29 – C'est ne pas un mushroom...


I hate good-byes.

An unexpected departure at 6am this morning meant late farewells in the dark last night.

Still, Natesegdorg and Batsukh were up early to help load Kat & my bags, and give us a final hug to send us on our way.

They even gave me a warm A Hui Hou [Until We Meet Again] as we embraced, in their best Mongolian grunt.

The guttural Mongol language sounds a lot different than the melodic Hawaiian language I shared a little about during Act Night: the meaning of Aloha [when thanking them for sharing so much of their Aloha with us], and the meaning of A Hui Hou [did I mention that I hate good-byes?].

Rick is staying on to complete Day II of Teach-the-Teacher training and will fly back to UB in a couple days; students will present their own lessons to the class using the techniques and methodologies shared yesterday.

Meanwhile, word reached the hasha last night that a car was leaving in the morning for Ulaanbaatar at $30AUS/ seat.

While I would like to stay and participate in the lessons today, the thought of nursing my healing but still sprained ankle back to UB over two days on public transport does not sound at all appealing when a private vehicle awaits.

Our travelling companions are a mixed bunch - The Driver, who proudly sports his round belly from his unbuttoned shirt and looks like a character from the Tomb-Raider style movie I watched on the flight over, round dark glasses peering from under a broad-brimmed straw hat; The Engineer, also our co-pilot, dressed in lime green sweat-wicking sports top; China [Beijing], our surly and carsick-looking backseat companion, whom I find out later has been in Tosontsengel prospeting for gold; and Gaia, one of the students who has graciously offered to be our personal escort back to UB.

To say that Mongolian roads are bumpy would be like calling the Autobahn fast. It’s a grossly understated overstatement, if that makes any sense at all.

If you are a 4WD enthusiast and would like to experience some extreme off-roading, may I suggest you hire a driver to take you through the back roads of Outer Mongolia… I doubt that any 4WD owner in the west would drive their rigs as hard as they do out here.

We pass many broken-down rigs along the way [one with its entire engine layed out across the lane on a rare paved stretch of road], a truck fully laden with sheepskins and another truck on top of that [still figuring out how it got there, stays there, and will come down], and stop every couple of hours or so for a toilet break and a stretch.

The Driver goes through two packets of slim clover-smelling cigarettes, two beers, and a dubious liason with a bright-red lipstick wearing lady in Arrhagg. The Engineer keeps the music cranking, China snoozes the whole way and inspects rocks laying around at every stop, while Gaia points out various ovods and other interesting tidbits along the way.

The most curious stop along the way?


Totally random tourist stop off the main road outside the town where we visited Chinggis’ old home… The afternoon sun glinted off what I thought was the biggest mushroom we had seen so far in Mongolia, a rip-roarer of a specimen 3 meters high on the side of the hill, shining starkly white against the grey clouds building behind.

My next thought: C’est ne pas un mushroom…

And I was right. Looking at each other bemusedly, we turn off the road to investigate further, and find a busy roadside tourist stop with tables of souvenirs laid out on the tables below the giant phallus on this hill above.

There is a smaller one at the bottom of the hill that is less erect, far older and made of granite. A small fence has been put up around it, but this does not stop the local ladies from climbing over, mounting it and saying a prayer… to the spirits of fertility, we are told. People come here to touch the phallus and give offerings in the hopes of conceiving.

I like this story far better than the one made up in my head: Well, they wouldn’t let us have a souvenir shop at Chinggis’ place, so we decided to make our own out here…

The lady behind the souvenir table points to the small carved wooden phalluses for sale and says proudly ‘I made these!’ We wander around for a good 15 minutes and then pile back into the car, our curiosity satisfied… […please excuse all the terrible puns!]

…19 hours, 2 meals, 0 cramps later we arrive back at the Happyness Hotel in UB, home sweet home for the next few days.

Shower. Fresh bed sheets. Clean clothes. It’s the simple things in life that make me happiest…

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Mongolian Permaculture: Day 28 – Tosontsengel PDC, Day XIV – Graduation and Act Night


It is a tradition on Rick’s PDC Courses to have an ‘Act Night’ and celebration at the conclusion of Final Design Presentation day. Rick typically underwhelms anyone who has been to one of these events with his repitoire of infamous acts that he draws from: The Snowman Joke, Juggling Without Balls, and of course Monty Pythons’ Cheese Shop Skit to name a few.

Last night he took his acting repitoire to a whole new level.

The night had been progressing well, with my 10-year old fishing buddy Tetch [aka ‘ChoJo’ to the rest of the group] proudly performing MC duties and calling up embaressed classmates at random. Each student would then launch consistently into a haunting, melodic rendition of a Mongolian folk song that the entire class would soon harmonize into… goosebumps during each song.

Then, Bek silently disappears to prepare for his part in Rick’s skit and I am at least able to prepare myself for the shenenigans that are about to ensue.

An announcement is made from the back of the tent, WWF style but in Mongolian, the rough translation: “Ladies and Gentleman, Welcome… to the maaaaaaaaiiiiiin event! …tonight’s championship wrestling bout features the Thunder from Down Under: RICK COOOOOOLEMAAAAAAAAANNNNNN…!!!”

Enter Rick, shirt pulled over his head so that belly and chest are exposed, jocks on snugly and of course blundstone wrestling boots, flying around the room like a madman in his best impersonation of a champion Mongolian Wrestler – albeit a short, round, white one…

Bek continues his announcing: “…and the challenger this evening Ladies and Gentleman, all the way from Aus-tra-li-aaaaaaaa… RICK COOOOOOLEMAAAAAAAAANNNNNN…!!!”
And so begins an odd 3-minute battle between
Rick vs.... well, ummm… Rick! ...circling himself and wrangling for position against his imaginary opponent [himself], before he finally vanquishes, well, ummm… himself. Epic.

The Mongolians are enjoying the show, laughing heartily at the crazy man at the front of the room, while Bek announces the next challenger: “…the Mongoooooooolian Marmot…!!!”

In flies ChoJo, racing around the room flapping his arms like a sparrow-hawk, flexing his skinny arms and playing to the crowd, who roar in delight. This match lasts another 3 minutes, with ChoJo chasing a terrified Coleman round and round the tent before pinning him heroically.

Then, Bek announces the grande [and un-scripted] finale: “…Ladies and Gentleman, this evening’s final challenger, also all the way from Aus-tra-li-aaaaaaaa… MICHELLE AAAAAAABELLLLLLLLLLL…!!!” Nobody escapes Act Night – everyone must perform – especially The Boss…


We are rolling with laughter by this stage, and when Rick finally goes down ungraciously to Michelle’s special long fingernal attack, tears of mirth are being wiped from the audience’s cheeks.

Classic. Epic. Epicly Classic. Classicly Epic.

More epic words to describe the occasion absolutely fail me at this point.

But in true premie-fashion, even this event has a multi-function purpose…

Students have just spent an intense 9-hours presenting and watching other students present, not to mention the long hours put into their teams’ design over the last few days.

It becomes vitally important to everyone that each person does well in the final design task, not only as a review mechanism for instructors, but because students really take on the challenge personally and own the results. As a result, the criticism given during feedback is always constructively framed.

The course - which takes a group of like-minded individuals searching for answers, and in two weeks creates a synergistic collection of permaculturists equipped with a framework to gather information, and fit that into sustainable designs for their farms, businesses, and communities.

Party night is a small but significant reward at the end of the intense conclusion to the PDC. It is often the last time that the group will be together under one roof, and is also an opportunity to share cultures, gifts, and fellowship with new friends and colleagues before we head back out to continue our journeys…

…and I haven’t even started telling you about how the day went!

‘Teach-the-Teacher’ is a bonus section that Rick has built onto the Mongolian PDC in conjunction with ADRA, because it is one thing for students to go back to thir projects and communities with new skills and knowledge, but it is an entirely different thing for students to go back equipped to actually teach and transfer their new skills and knowledge.

This is a challenge for most people working in Overseas Development and Aid.

To illustrate this point, perhaps it is best to quote from an article by Rick entitled ‘The Role of Permaculture in Sustianable Aid’:

“…permaculture is information and imagination intensive, thus lending itself to be followed up even from a distance, by email or internet.

If we design well enough we create spare time and energy. When communities have those, they then have the ability to move quickly.
I believe in any permaculture aid project, training participants in the PDC (Permaculture Design Course) is integral.

Permaculture is not about clay ovens or water management systems [or composting toilets and greenhouse gers –ML-]. These are techniques applied to solve specific problems.

Permaculture is about design systems thinking. If we can introduce this methodology we leave behind an empowered group able to design their own solutions. Successful projects can then host new permaculture volunteers in a mutually beneficial way leading to further training and implementation.

An integrated approach tends to lead to higher uptake and therefore better success rates. …[therefore] permaculture has a major role to play on the world stage. As a design system, permaculture has so much potential to positively impact on aid and development projects around the world. Not only does it address issues of depleting soil, water and energy, but it creates empowered communities who can become more self reliant and less dependant on aid and more able to direct the aid they receive into positive capacity building projects.

In establishing successful permaculture projects around the world, we are also creating skilled designers who prove that permaculture systems work. As change is forced upon the world at an unwelcome rate, it will be crucial to have successful models on the ground.

Through implementing permaculture, aided communities of today have the potential to become the models for sustainable practices for tomorrow.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


We were treated with yet another special surprise this afternoon during the Certificate Presentations.

After all the certificates had been awarded, the co-operative members who had been sitting silently and elegantly in their colourful traditional diels at the back of th tent, filed to the front, then presented and dressed each of us in our own custom, hand-made traditional silk garment:
  • An ornate, brown-and-gold diel with a bright orange sash for Rick.
  • An intricate, red-and-gold top for Kat.
  • An elegant, white-and-black top for me.

I love this work!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Mongolian Permaculture: Day 27 – Final Design Presentations


Today was the culmination of 6 months’ preparation in Australia, two weeks on the road in Mongolia, and two intense weeks of classes in the Suvraga Aguyt Co-Operative of Tosontsengel.

Students were assigned the task of redesigning the hasha we have been staying in over the last 12 days to be as intensively productive as possible, including 6 gers out on the river flats for managing livestock, if they choose to incorporate this into their design.


The 5 Design Teams must demonstrate an understanding of the Permaculture Design Principles they have learned, for example maximizing use of available resources, maximizing use of biological resources, and diversifying crops and income sources. Each team member will present a portion of the design to the class.

Design Parameters:
  • Incorporate Permaculture Ethics of Earth Care, People Care, Resource Share
  • Intensive as Possible
  • Environmentally and Economically Sustainable
  • No imaginary streams! …or sheep… [some imaginary elements were incorporated into earlier design tasks]

Some teams were awake until 2am last night putting the final touches on their designs. A couple team members didn’t get to sleep until 4am.


Presentations begin at 10am and go all the way through until 7:30pm, with Kat and Rick asking questions and giving detailed feedback after each team.

We saw some great ideas, including:
  • A ger design with a root cellar
  • Compost tea irrigation systems
  • Compost heaps in greenhouses to help warm them biologically from the inside during colder months
  • Greenhouses adapted for use as animal shelters during winter
  • Compost toilet designs
  • Adaptive re-use of existing abandoned buildings in the hasha for restaurant, information center, more greenhouses, sewing & felting businesses, a welding business, food processing facility, and even a hot shower houses
  • Mulch crops, herbal barriers, and green manures
  • Intercropping and crop rotation strategies
  • Use of vertical space for crops such as beans and squash
  • Food forest design
  • Orchards with future planning for grafting cultivars onto wild root stock

On a personal note, it was very gratifying to see that each Design Team started their planning with a SWOT analysis to further establish parameters for the design brief… such a wonderful feeling to have immediate feedback that the single session I facilitated was understood, internalized, and implemented so quickly.


I can only imagine what a profound feeling it must be for Rick and Kat, having taught the entire course and seeing how students have understood, internalized, and implemented so much information thoroughly enough to start making their own connections and create effective design solutions – not only to the parameters set by the design brief, but even further to the detailed parameters each team discovered through their own design process.

Each student demonstrated a solid understanding of the skills and knowledge acquired in the past tw
o weeks. It is a foundation that will serve them well in their lives going forward.

One would be hard-pressed to find a better example of how to effectively Educate, Equip, and Empower a group of individuals looking to make a positive change in their lives, and in the lives of others around them.


I am truly honoured to have been a part of this team, to bear witness and participate in the life-changing work that was done.

The work continues tomorrow, when the two day ‘Teach the Teacher’"course begins to equip students to go back to their projects and communities, and effectively transfer the skills and knowledge they now have.

It has been a long and intense day, we will all sleep soundly tonight…




Sunday, July 25, 2010

Mongolian Permaculture: Day 26 - Food Culture and Solar Ovens


Ankle is swollen to the size of a tennis ball.

Two more treatments of salty tea compress and I am able to hobble around by afternoon on a walking stick Moko cut up for me from an orange painted ger pole.

Spent the morning simmering tomato chutney in the outdoor kitchen for Kat’s Food Culture class; creating value-added products such as chutneys, pickles and preserves that can be processed over winter can create higher proit margins, and extend the co-operatives productivity into the cold winter months.

1kg of cucmbers = 500MNT.
1kg of pickled cucumbers = 1500MNT.

There is 2-3 times more labour involved, and the additional cost of bottling materials, but the long winter season is currently an unproductive time, and proximity to local markets could also give them an edge against inferior goods imported from UB and beyond.

Chimgee plays her Mongolian hip-hop mixed in with Black Eyed Peas and Beyonce while we cook, and we have become friends through our conversations in very basic, very broken Mongolian-English-and-Mime… she has been tending to my wound as if she was my little sister. I am surprised to find out that she is 23 years old, as I had picked her for 16 or maybe 17.

Tsurren, one of the women I spent an afternoon digging irrigation trenches with, gives my ankle a very painful massage and laughs with the others at my howls of anguish.

In fact, the entire kitchen staff and co-operative workers and I are becoming friends through our very basic, very broken Mongolian-English-and-Mime – I love this, making friends across language, cultural and distance barriers…

The Solar Oven Construction group-workshop after lunch is a hit, with 4-and-a-half working ovens being made [vs. the planned 2] from waste cardboard, reflective foil bought in Tosontsengel, waste plastic, rocks, a woolen blanket, and even a washbasin we picked up. This is could be a highly appropriate and replicable technology for the area, given the scarcity of fuelwood and long daylight hours [in summer].

Some boys show up at the gates of the hasha again this afternoon with a fresh catch, and Rick is able to haggle them down to 8500MNT, about $8AUS for 18 pan-sized Mongolian trout…delicious.

Tetch and I buterfly fillet the lot of them, lightly salt and dust with flour, and fry to a crsip in the wok-pan for a late dinner. There is enough for Bek,The Program Director, Rick and I to eat our fill, and feed the remaining kitchen staff.

I can almost feel my ankle healing minute-by-minute as I sit here typing the daily log listening to my iTunes. There is an almost-full moon out tonight, wispy clouds glowing in the Mongolian night sky casting a dark outline of the surrounding hills. The dogs of Tosontsengel are quiet(er) tonight, and the buddhist temples on the hill glow with a pale white light.

Students are buzzing with activity, are showing no signs of slowing down, and the clock is ticking over to 11:30pm. Tomorrow they will present their final designs for the task Rick has set.

Mongolia’s first-ever Permaculture Design Course will soon draw to a close.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Mongolian Permaculture: Day 25 – Rest Day Tournament



Rest Day today. At least, that’s what the class schedule said.

Apparently, ‘Rest Day’ translates to ‘Let’s have a sports tournament d
ay with soccer and a relay race and jumping rope and especially wrestling!!’. Did I mention that Mongolians are very competitive?

We all sleep in until around 9am or so and wander in and out of the dining room all morning, sipping bowls of tea and instant coffee. Bek holds a few meetings with his staff in his ger, and the co-operative busies themselves making preparations for The Program Director's arrival this afternoon.

The cook has been asking me to teach her how to make omlettes [still asking for cakes!], and has been commandeering the eggs for her stash almost as soon as they are laid. The kitchen has also begun making salads especially for Kat, who has been managing our daily meat-fests admirably. She lights up at the prospect of an omlette made with freshly laid eggs and freshly picked chives, beetroot leaves, and spinach from the vegge plot.

After The Program Director rolls in and everyone has had lunch [around 4pm], we all pac
k up and walk over to the river, about 1.5km away.


We split into teams and donate 3,000MNT to enter; the winning team takes the pool. The soccer matches [played with a rubber basketball] are played like bemused bloodsports, with men, women, young and old taking the field in equal capacity. My fishing buddy Tetch is on Bek’s team and darts around like a squirrel between everyone’s legs.

The men compete hard, roaring with delight each time someone takes a tumble, and the women compete even harder, aiming their kicks at unprotected shins and laughing all the way.


Rick has never played soccer before, though you wouldn’t know it the way he nonchalantly stops the ball under his foot and boots it the length of the field, and Kat runs around the field like a madwoman looking to steamroll her nearest Mongolian.

After shooting a very cheeky goal from the halfway line [subsequently disallowed in waves of controversy], I go down in the 2nd half of my match with no-one else even close to me. As I limp of the field shaking my head in embarrasment, The Program Director asks, ”What happened?! …I looked over at you and you just fell down!?!” Um, err ….yup. Dunno exactly what happened, slipped on a cowpat maybe?

Anyway it is my pride that is hurt more than anything, it will probably take a couple days for the swelling to go down and the ankle to heal enough to walk without limping. It does mean, however, that I will be sidelined for the Wrestling.


Mongolian Wrestling is a gentlemanly brutal sport, used by Chinggis Khan to keep his armies in top fighting shape at all times. The aim of the game is simple: first one whose elbow, knee, back or bum hits the ground loses. No kicking, punching, or submission holds, just two men circling each other like lions, grappling for position and maybe an arm lock or leg sweep, until one exploits a small advantage to take the other down.

The spirit of competition is fierce, but good-natured. There is no crass, obnoxious trash-talking or testosterone-drenched carrying on, and the contest is held with a mutual respect for all competitors.

Dashi takes down Natsegdorg in his first round, despite being half his size, and then pins The Cowboy in round two. Bek and Gumbaa have an entertaining match, then Bek moves on to face the old man Dorlig, who put me on my back the night before during my impromptu Mongolian Wrestling lesson.

Dorlig stalks his opponent like the grizzly lion that he is, Bek reluctant to let him get a grip on him. They circle each other for ages, and finally Dorlig gets a grip on the younger man. There is more grappling and subtle jockeying for position for ages, then suddenly Bek’s legs are taken out from under him and he finds himself looking at the sky wondering what happened.

The old man smiles his toothless smile and does the falcon victory dance, spreading his arms like the birds of prey circling overhead.

Meanwhile, Gumbataar has been battling with Erdenstdeger, the other elder the other elder stateыman of the group who stands a good couple inches taller than everyone else and has just disposed of Dorga, the youngest & strongest of the students. Erdenstdeger moves like the gorillas we watched during Nadaam, and disposes of Gumbataar pretty quickly despite the younger man's speed and strength.

Final round: Dorlig vs Erdenstdeger, with hardly a chance for Dorlig to catch his breath after the epic match vs. Bek… Erdenstdeger catches Dorlig with a leg sweep that ends the wrestling portion of today’s games.


The grande finale is a skipping competition, with everyone weaving a figure-of-8 around the rope-twirlers until someone messes it up and is disqualified. Kat makes the final two with Gumbaa, and is beaten when the rules of the final round are lost in translation to English – home court advantage…

Back at the hasha that evening, the smiles are broad and tales are being swapped of the day’s highlights. People limp through the camp and walk around rubbing sore muscles and bruised joints.

I soak my throbbing ankle in icy-cold water drawn from the well, and am treated to a traditional Mongolian remedy, a salty-tea compress to wrap the swollen joint.

Tired, battered, and bruised, but happy… I really enjoy this peoples’ spirit.


Friday, July 23, 2010

Mongolian Permaculture: Day 24 – Microfinance


Two years ago I read a book called: Banker To The Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle Against World Poverty, by Muhammad Yunus.

I had recently closed my business, and was desperately looking for something to jump right back into so that I could make back all the money I had lost.

In six short months I had gone from flying around the islands teaching finance classes 2-3 times per week, supported by a small, super-efficient team that allowed me a 4 ½ day work week, and making more money each month than many people earned in ½ year …to working for a former Investment Banker 16–20 hours/day, 6-7 days per week.

Reading the book sparked a transition in thinking which changed my entire perspective on money, finance, and financial literacy.

There I was, worrying about all the the income, the material items, and the socioeconomic status I had lost …when in a blinding flash of the obvious, the realization struck that over half the world is living on less than 1 dollar per day.

Yunusbook told the story of how he, a college professor with no entrepreneurial background, had an epiphany one day while walking to the high-finance class he was teaching.

As he walked through the poverty of the neighbouring village reviewing his lesson plan in his head, something dawned upon him...

If he applied this knowledge towards helping the people surrounding him, he could make a far greater impact upon improving their quality of life than if he spent his life teaching privileged students, who would then go on to leave their communities in search of better lifestyles elsewhere for their families.

Thus was born the concept of microfinance: lending tiny amounts of money to those whom were deemed unimportant and unprofitable by lending institutions, in communities where severely limited opportunities exist.

Yunus designed a system to educate, equip, and empower some of the poorest people on earth to create new opportunities through these small loans which allowed them to create micro-enterprises which could generate incomes for their families.

Grameen Bank was founded, and went on to create a billion-dollar institution which helped hundreds of thousands of people in Bangledesh to finance and create small businesses of their own to break the cycle of poverty in their communities. Traditional banks in developed countries are still amazed at the low default rate and high profit margins of a Grameen Bank, which makes its loans $25 at a time.

This got me thinking – perhaps I could use all the lessons I have learned in business and finance over the last 10 years to do something bigger than finance my [formerly] affluent lifestyle. There is far more to life than $300 dinner tabs, driving a fancy car and living in a wealthy neighborhood.

Problem was, I had no idea how to make the transition from flat-broke former businessman to social entrepreneur working on projects to contribute to the betterment of humanity.

Two years later, somehow I find myself in Outer Mongolia preparing a lesson plan to teach nomadic herders the basics of business and finance.

My lesson plan was simple:

  1. Introduce myself and explain why Rick has asked the course photographer to teach a class on finance.

  2. Break the class up into four groups - i) Co-Operative Members
    ii) Co-Operative Leaders
    iii) Field Officers
    iv) Project Managers
    [Demonstrate how different perspectives, at all levels, are crucial to gain a deeper perspective of your organization to support future planning].

  3. Brainstorm for 20 minutes on Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats to their existing enterprises/projects.
    [Demonstrate how SWOT analysis tool can be used to lay foundation for future planning.]

  4. Facilitate discussion amongst class to examine what is working, what is not working, and how they can improve.
    [Identify areas of most urgent need, and demonstrate how valuable a resource the support network they have created here with each other can be.]

  5. Highlight and examine wins and problem areas to explore and create possible strategies to overcome challenges. [Open the door to this kind of continuing conversation to learn from each other’s successes and failures, add input where appropriate if group is unable to come up with solutions. Bek has identified sales and marketing as one of their weakest areas, so cover 3 Fundamental Principles of Marketing here.]

  6. Introduce and explore 3 Fundamentals Principles of Business through class discussion. [Provide framework to work from in designing their organizational structures and business plans going forward.]

Class highlight: as I began the transition from my twenty-now-fourty minute SWOT brainstorm, a policeman appears at the back entrance to the tent. Bek and I keep a nervous eye on the officer and continue in hopes that he will disappear, but he moves quietly towards Gumbataar, and I groan inwardly with visions of him being carted off in handcuffs…

…then it is Bek’s turn to flinch as the officer asks to speak with The Boss… turns out that the police have shown up to commandeer our metal tent pegs for their own tent, and have generously brought wooden replacement stakes for us.

We take an unplanned morning tea break to switch out all the tent pegs, grab a quick cup of tea, and then resume the lesson with a big sigh of relief.

The 3 Fundamentals of Business that I shared with the nomadic herders?

  1. Business is a Team Sport.
    None of us is smarter than all of us.

    Problems and challenges shrink relative to the number of like minds working towards a solution.

    The SWOT brainstorming group session was analyzed and discussed to highlight why and how to use this tool effectively.

  2. Assets feed you. Liabilities eat you. Focus on buying assets.
    The class was asked to classify a petrol water pump as an asset or liability.

    Concensus was that it is an asset because it represents a large investment and was necessary to irrigate their crop fields. However, if co-operatives’ income were interrupted, the petrol pump would begin to ‘eat’ them because of the high and rising costs of petrol to keep it running.

    In contrast, a pump running on wind, solar, water power would begin to ‘feed’ co-operatives almost immediately after the initial purchase because low operating and maintenance costs will create a far quicker return on investment.

  3. Use profits to strengthen your community. The example of Cuba and their transition from a high-energy to low-energy society was given.

    Community leaders recognized the need to change pro-actively with changing times, and those with growing knowledge and ability became the new wealthy.

    The shift to natural, organic, low-energy food production systems led to better health and money earnt from food production cycled into the local economy to help create stronger communities.

As I type, I realize how ambitious it was to cover all of this in just 1 hour …no surprise that my class went for 1 hour, 40 minutes! Unfortunately we were unable to cover any of the marketing lesson I had planned, though Bek tells me later that the class was highly engaged and interested with what we were able to get through.

Biggest lessons learned with input from Rick and Kat on how to improve my teaching:

  • Include a review mechanism in the lesson plan to check and see what the class has learnt.
  • When using a story to illustrate a point, be sure that the connection between story and point is very clear.
  • Plan mechanisms to compress your lesson should one area begin to run overtime.

Today I made my first small steps towards becoming that social entrepreneur whom I envisioned two short years ago.

I love this work.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Mongolian Permaculture: Day 23 – Chickens


Special Guest Entry today from Rick, here is an excerpt on the report we are preparing about the Mongolian Permaculture project:


Chickens were introduced by the Aid Agency in 2004, and only one person sill has chickens remaining.

The reason for this lack of transfer comes directly back to a lack of skills and knowledge of chicken management.

A class was conducted to skill up participants and prepare them for future delivery of chickens.

It was also clear that after observing the chicken house at Tosontsengel that a contract was needed with co-operative members: if they did not have a well designed and built system, than no chickens will be forthcoming.

Chickens will be particularly useful in an urban and suburban setting, as they can be kept in a small space and maintained close to the house. Fertilizer can be generated for small intensive gardens; far more sustainable than importing it from the countryside.

Chickens can supply protein, fertilizer and waste management. For example, in order to feed chickens cheaply, owners will give chickens any waste food to clean up, keeping pests such as rats to a minimum.

Chickens also create high-value produce in the form of eggs and meat, creating an income source whilst only occupying a small space. Eggs fetch 300MNT at market, and our eggs will have yellow yolks and so may well fetch a higher price.

Other niche markets may open up because of higher quality (eg. Restaurants and Hotels).

Chickens should be selectively bred in a similar manner to seed-saving. Traits to look for are:

  • Cold hardiness
  • Fast growth rate
  • Disease Resistant
  • Even temperment
  • Non-flightiness (means lower-fences required)
  • Mothering skills
  • Superior meat
  • Superior eggs
-Rick Coleman-

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Mongolian Permaculture: Day 22 – Potato Fields and Pit Latrines



Spent the afternoon working the potato fields with the women of the Co-Op.

Our mission today was to start digging an irrigation trench network to catch and use some of that rainfall which flooded the hasha on the Day 01 of the PDC.

We’ve had two more heavy downpours since then, and the co-operative has dug a trench outside the walls to protect the potato crops from being washed away. Since the roadway outside basically drains all the water off to us, we can and should catch and use this water constructively.

So, we dig a trench under the northern fence with an earth berm in the outside moat big enough to catch and divert smaller flows but small enough to let excess water pass. If we have a really heavy rainfall that is too much for our little catchment and distribution network then we can simply close the ‘tap’ by closing off the inlet trench.


This inlet trench runs perpendicular to rows of potatoes, so we use it as a ‘spine’ to bring water in, and run ‘ribs’ off it at right angles into the rows of potatoes.

The adjacent crop rows run parallel to the inlet trench at the bottom of a small slope, so we dig a ‘bathtub’ here – just a deeper, bigger pool - to slow the water before distributing it again. The ‘ribs’ run of radially down the slope here, very shallow trenches to ensure the water doesn’t pick up enough velocity to be damaging.

Mongolian women are tough!

We dig through a rocky layer into the brickie-sand soil about a foot down to create our ‘bathtub’ catchment and pile the soil onto hessian bags, which are then carried two-by-two over to the potato crops and used to mound the plants. When covered with soil in this way, the plant produces more tubers where it is in contact with the soil.

Whatever I do, I must not drop one of these heavy bags of soil that they tote around with one hand...

It is a great way to connect with a people, getting your hands dirty by sweating it out in the fields side-by-side. They teach me some Mongolian words: rain [boro], potato [tummus], onion [tsongion] …and we have lively conversation about our families through signing and guessing at what the other is saying. Lots of smiling and nodding.

whom I picked to be about 19 or 20, is actually 29 and married with 5 kids. Baska is the wife of Mogi, my friend the Watchman. Tsuuren is quiet and stone-faced, Attakka takes a mobile phone call every half hour like any other teenager, and Mama tells me that I have to think of a better nickname for her because she is far to skinny to be a mama. I can’t pronounce her name, she is my Mum’s age, and she has smiling eyes that remind me of Mum, so that IS the best I’ve come with so far…

At one point, we all stop and watch a herd of horses mosey past the hasha, and suddenly everyone is riding the steppe with the wind in our faces …then the moment passes and its back to the rhythmic digging, heaping, carrying, and mounding of the precious crops.

Meanwhile, we’ve had a major breakthrough with the class this morning… Rick and Kat have found that the students are simply parroting back examples the instructors have given during the reviews, showing a lack of understanding and independent thinking to make connections of their own.

It is not a lack of intelligence or in any way a reflection of the capacity of anyone in the room - many of the students are college educated. It is more so a symptom of a western university system which values a lecture format and formulaic teaching methodology, and perhaps some leftover quota-mindset from the Socialism era.

Case and point: at one point Rick mentions that he has no idea exactly how much vetch seeds you would need to collect in order to plant out enough to fertilize a crop field. One of the agronomists quickly pipes up with the answer, “Ten-to-twelve kilos.”But the connection between this plant’s growing requirements and functions, and actually designing use of this plant into the fields as a green manure system has not yet been made, and the highly specialized knowledge has sat filed and unused while the co-operatives continue to manually collect and haul animal manure as fertilizer for their fields and struggle to efficiently maximize production.

So an adjustment in teaching methodology is introduced, and a shift towards forcing independent thought and connections between the principles that have been laid is made.

This is done effectively by setting problems that small groups have to solve themselves using what they have learnt: parameters are set to design a greenhouse for rural and urban settings, and the 4 unique [and quite clever] designs produced at the end of the session show that the cogs are starting to turn in students’ heads.


Composting toilets turn out to be another favorite subject, not really that surprising when Rick produces a bottle of poo-coloured water, points out that the pit latrines we use each morning are 4 meters deep, the water table is 5 meters deep, and by the way who would like a sip of his bottle of poo water? …because this is what the water supply in the soums will look like if the populations continue to grow and use their current septic system.

He then presents his crazy idea for the day, a wild possibility for a multi-function sewerage system for the cold Mongolian winters – giant yellow icy-poles. Yup. He went there.

Imagine: it is so cold outside that your urine freezes almost as soon as it hits the ground. Your body shuts adjusts so that you only go once a day. You know that cartoon of an eskimo peeing ice cubes? Like that. Worse if you are a woman, and worse still when it comes to number 2s…

The Problem is the Solution, right?

So why not pee in a bucket in the greenhouse/airlock outside the ger door, then place the bucket outside so that it freezes solid? Better yet, why not put your shovel into the bucket to make a large icy-pole? Then, when the bucket fills up you can simply pop out the giant icy-pole, walk it out to your crop field, and kick it off the shovel.

Over the winter your crop field will become dotted with frozen yellow pee-pops, which will melt in the spring to fertilize your fields. It’s a lot more comfortable way to use the toilet , your waste is harnessed and converted to a valuable resource, and you have the additional multi-function of portable salt licks for the livestock!

The class gets a good laugh out of this wild scenario, which is presented in jest as a humurous way to broach a subject that we don’t even like to talk about in the deveoped world.

All kidding aside, there may be some merit in the idea, which was just thrown out there to open the door to conversation, thought, and discussion about better ways to deal with human waste in rural and urban contexts.

Kat walks the class through her ‘Bucket’ composting toilet system in Melbourne, outlining why she has chosen specific design elements and highlighting the safeguards in place to ensure safe treatment of potential toxins and pathogens. Rick then walks everyone through an above-ground rotational system that could suited to the soums, and possibly adapted for use in and around Ulanbaataar.

Nothing like some good old Aussie toilet humour to loosen things up [excuse the pun – I am clearly spending too much time with Rick…]. …and judging from the questions and enthusiastic discussion during and after this session, this light-hearted approach to teaching this subject worked very well.


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Mongolian Permaculture: Day 21 - Mongolian Spaghetti Carbonara and The Dilema of Chocolate Cake


Cake is still being requested each time I walk past the kitchen ...which I spent the better of part of today in... first to prepare the Filipino-Style crispy fried salted fish that was devoured pretty quickly, then to figure out how to prepare a spaghetti dinner to feed 26 hungry Mongolians using the sparsely inhabbited spice rack.

In fact, the pantry is looking pretty sparse, and Rick's watermelon search in town [for Kat's seed-saving lesson] reveals that the recent heavy rains have chewed into the roads and delayed deliveries from Ulanbaataar. We are both hankering for some peanuts to break the monotony of fatty meat broths and noodle dishes, and have been put on text-alert by Mogi The Peanutman, the young Lolly-Shopkeeper who is going to text us as soon as his delivery arrives!

There are no tomatoes in town, the potato and turnip boxes are down to the scraggly dregs that would have been thrown out of most western supermarkets weeks ago, all the milk has been commandeered to make traditional milk vodka by a wealthy local to celebrate an up-coming wedding, and Rick picks through an garlic stocking full of dried husks to come back with barely a handful of cloves. Of course these come at the end of the day, as the kitchen serves up our Mongolian Carbonara Creation...

...we are out of butter and cream, and there are 3 small packets of dried red spaghetti sauce packets in the kitchen. There is no garlic in sight, but we do have 3 potatoes, 3 small tomatoes and 3 onions to work with. A bagful of mineral salt leftover from the fish fry, and I find an unused packet of powdered white pepper. Luckily Kat has brought a packet of sweet paprika from Australia in her vegetarian survival kit, and this just may have saved the day...

Of course there is no shortage of meat, which the cooks insisted be included in our dish, so we use an old [clean!] grinder to mix our onions in with our mince meat. This is then salted and peppered with paprika.


I find a piece of sheep's fat in the freezer which we slice thin shavings from and use to oil our pan. A large wok-shaped pan sits directly on the thin-iron, wood-fire stove - you turn the temperature up or down by adding or withdrawing more firewood - and once the fat shavings are crispy, in goes the mincemeat mix. Once this had cooked through and started to simmer in its own juices, we removed it from the wok-pan and set aside for our garnish...

Meat as a garnish? A scandalous, revolutionary concept in Mongolian cuisine!

More fat shavings are fried to season the pan since we have run out of butter, how am I going to make a carbonara sauce without butter and garlic? I caramelized some onions instead, then add the last of the kitchen's milk and the cooks gasps audibly.

The sauce winds up being pretty tasty: lots of mineral salt, the freshest, most organic milk on the planet, some white pepper and sweet paprika to pick it up, simmer for two hours and thicken with flour... One scoop of sauce poured over the pasta and garnished with a ladel-full of mincemeat to stretch our meagre rations to feed 30 very hungry people who have just come in from an impromptu working-bee in the potato fields [time to mound the potatoes again], and hey presto Mongolian-Carbonara-with-Meat-Sauce!

Kat forgoes her garnish and one of the herders quickly asks for her portion: 'Wheeeeeeere's the Beef?!?'


Chocolate Cake.

Who am I to deny my newfound friends the simple pleasures of baking, and sharing a delicious, moist, melt-in-your-mouth Chocolate Cake?

Each time I walk past the kitchen, the question is plantively asked: "Cake?"

When I announce my intentions to teach the kitchen a simple chocolate muffin recipie with Kat, she is quick to point out her discomfort with introducing processed sugar into the diet of a culture not used to eating this kind of food. Have we really come all the way to Mongolia to introduce a part of western food culture that has only lead to epidemic diabetes and obesity rates?

Furthermore, neither sugar nor chocolate are locally available ingredients, having to be imported from tropical parts of the world - high cost goods in financial terms, but more importantly, extremely high-cost goods in terms of embodied energy.

Rick points out that we are here to teach Sustainability, not to be Jamie Oliver in the kitchen... and so agrees completely with Kat's stance.

Howzabout apple cake, I can rehydrate the dried apples bought in town and coat them in sugar to give a nice caremlized taste... when the Co-Operative starts growing apples, they can use their own produce in the recipie, and maybe even use their newfound baking skills to create a new micro-enterprise and income source. That's good, right?

Nope. Still using imported ingredients, and the processed sugar, so foreign to the Mongolian food culture, is very risky to introduce into their diet. Apples are at least 3-5 years away from production, and so won't be a locally available crop to utilize for quite some time. We can do better.

Perhaps carrot-cake, using carrots grown right here on the Co-Operative's plot, sweetened with locally harvested honey, or better yet, sweetened with a locally grown sugarbeet crop? Rick gives the nod, and so I begin my search for a good carrot-cake recipie ...I've never actually baked a carrot-cake!

In this way, we can meet the request of the community in a more responsible way, responding to their needs and wants a little more creatively - and perhaps opening the door to a new micro-enterprise [baking], or maybe even a new cash crop [sugarbeet].

It can be a slippery slope, this business of being more aware of our diet and consumption habbits. The more ecologically aware we become, the harder it can be to navigate our options, even in the Developed World ...perhaps even moreso in the Developed World...

...Organic is better than 'conventional' food production, but if it is produced organically in another bioregion and shipped thousands of miles to get to your door, than how 'green' is 'buying organic'?

A little deeper thought, a little more creatively problem-solving, and we can come up with better ways of living. I think it was Einstein, or perhaps Edison who summed this up best:

"Thinking is the hardest work these is. Indeed, that is why so few people engage in it."
-Einstein. or Edison. or maybe it was Benjamin Franklin...-

Monday, July 19, 2010

Mongolian Permaculture: Day 20 - 1st Design Presentations, Fishing, and A Feast For Kings


Using A-Frames to Find Level and Wicking Garden Beds on the prac list today.

Students were given their first design tasks yesterday and will be presenting this evening so that the Instructors can gague where everyone is at: what areas need more attention, which lessons/principles/tools have been understood best and worst, how people are working together, and which individual students need more attention in any areas.

Ater the pracs I spent much of the day in the outdoors kitchen, working with the cook to prepare some salad and tracking down ingredients to make a socially responsible cake. More on this later as I think it deserves an entire post to explore on its own, The Dilema of Chocolate Cake in Developing Countries.

The very talented Michael [our principle translator] invited me to witness the traditional Mongolian livestock slaughtering technique ...HARDCORE.
The sheep is brought into one of the abandoned buildings to face his executioner. Michael takes of his shirt as he sharpens his knife: "Very Important," he says [the knife, not the shirt!].

Gunrick holds the animals back legs while Michael pins him with his leg as he crouches over its exposed belly, makes a small surgical cut just below the ribcage, then reaches into the live animal's organ cavity elbow-deep to sever its artery with his finger. The sheep kicks a few times and organs bulge out of the incision, pulsing with their last throbs as the life fades from its eyes.

Death comes quickly, and the Mongolians deftly push the guts back into the animal and begin skinning the warm carcass. It is a grisly thing to watch, very clean and efficient. No blood.

The animal bleeds to death internally, and the blood will congeal inside to be scooped out later for the broth and sausages. The organs are highly nutritious, highly prized and will all go into the broth for later.

The next part we had not seen before: the stomach and intestines are cleaned out, and the head and hooves scorched of their hair and scraped clean. The entrails are stuffed with the congealed blood, the stomach turned inside out and stuffed with the head and hooves of the sheep.

The fatty tail pad is scooped out, filled with meat, and sewn shut to be boiled next to the stuffed tripe for at least two hours: it is this part that was considered to be Chinggis' favorite meal ...a feast for kings.

I witness and participate in most of the preparation all day, and am picked up at around 6pm by 13-year old 'Gunner' and his little brother 'Huong', and their buddy 'Tetch' [that is the best I can do to pronounce their names!] while the students present their first design tasks to Rick and Kat.


Gunner stopped by the hasha with about a dozen Mongolian Trout, which we butterfly filleted and salted this afternoon before heading to the river. Tomorrow we will fry them to a crisp and add some garlic and vinegar, Filipino-style. Fish and rice are now on the menu! I have enlisted Tetch help me with my Microfinance class on PDC Day 10 - hopefully he can design a logo for the Co-Operative by then...

It is about a 1 km walk to the river, and Gunner's halting English is good enough for us to have a pretty good conversation all the way there and back. He studies music and dance, likes basketball, soccer and volleyball, and has a very large family living in the ger encampment by the river in the distance.

I am determined to see one of the monster fish that lurk in the depths of Mongolian waterways, but as soon as I start signing that I want to hook the first fingerling he catches, Gunner puts his hands to his throat and signals that going for one of the big fish will mean certain death

So, me and my new fishing buddies stand at the river banks casting handlines hooked with grasshoppers into the current, and manage to pull out one pan-sized trout, and two small fries that the small fries wanted to bag.

We walk back to the hasha as the sun sets behind the hills and I play a little tune on the harmonica Rick has leant me for the trip. I'm not much of a player, but it is fun to walk home Huck-Finn-style from the river, and all of a sudden I am 9 years old again without a care in the world in the middle of Mongolia.

I arrive at the feast late and Rick is not impressed. Rightly so, as Michael has spent the entire day preparing a traditional feast reserved for royalty, and I waltz in with a few small fish on my back just as everyone is finishing up their meals.

We have been invited into their tribe, an extra-special effort is made to welcome us, and one of the guests of honor skips out on the feast. Not the right message to send to the group.

I will have a heart-to-heart with Michael tomorrow, and pay closer attention going forward... but geez it was fun today

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Mongolian Permaculture: Day 19 - Grafting


Special Guest Entry today from Rick, here is an excerpt on the report we are preparing about the Mongolian Permaculture project:


The skill of grafting was introduced with the intention of using it on two levels:

Firstly, grafting vegetables: tomatoes, eggplant, capsicum and chili can be grafted easily.

The benefit of grafting are multi-layered; superior cultivars are not necessarily tough. Stronger, cold, disease or pest-resistant rootstocks can be grafted on to. Grafted plants are more productive, grow faster, produce more, and produce earlier.

Tomato cultivars and cherry tomatoes are both produced as seedlings. Some cherry tomatoes are grown out as future seedstock. Cultivar seeds can be collected from fruit at the end of the season.

The second intention is to bring apple cultivars to Mongolia.

There are wild apple trees growing here able to tough out the conditions. For a very low start-up cost, a number of varieties that match the seasonal length could be introduced. This could perhaps be extended to other fruits as suitability is explored.

Tomatoes and other vegetable crops grafted were introduced first as their effect is more immediate and tangible to co-operative members.

Apples will take at least 3 years to produce fruit and 6 years to produce in decent numbers.

I believe it is worthwhile to build these skills now and be well into preparation for deteriorating conditions.

-Rick Coleman-