After three hours of swerving through the countryside in the 4WD today, Ingktor pulls off the track into the grasslands towards a couple of gers in the distance. As we approach, a couple men are huddled around a freshly butchered goat carcass.
Welcome to Oyogni Khishie Co-Operative.
The Aid Agency seeded this project around 2002 with a $10,000AUS investment to bore a 40-meter artesian well so that the 29-member Co-Operative could access water and start growing vegges for a market garden.
Since then, changing weather patterns and increasingly severe winters have caused the Co-Op members to lose most of their livestock... but the herders are quick learners and have managed to grow and sell enough vegges over the last three seasons to replenish much of their herds.
Our mission today, Bek informs us, is to enjoy a traditional Mongolian Barbecue, then teach a short course in the aternoon. Not sure what the course is supposed to cover, or how long has been allocated, so we are reading the landscape as we drive up and are taken on a quick tour of the Co-Op’s plot.
Distance is relative to Mongolians, who have spent lifetimes wandering the vast steppe in search of good pasture for their herds… it is a short 300-400 meter walk from the ger to the plot. Compared to the grassy basin we are in, which stretches from low mountain to low mountain, the 9ish hectacre plot we are touring is a small vegge patch. Their herds are grazing somewhere unseen from where we are, well away from the delicious vegges.
Then, we are treated to a 10 course Mongolian banquet:
- Clotted cream on fresh baked bread
- Sheep and goat curds [cheese]
- Pickled beetroot, pickled green tomatoes
- Milk tea, two versions
- Mutton broth
- Mongolian Barbecue! ...hack, pick and chew meat off the bones...
- Two more types of mutton broth
- Vodka [just a sip, out of respect]
- DELICIOUS Sheep and goat’s milk yoghurt with clotted cream and sugar
Traditional Mongolian Barbecue = Portable Hangi...
An old metal milk can is layered with hot stones from a fire that has been burning all day, a couple onions, a bucket full of spuds, and pieces of the butchered goat, then sealed and left to cook in its own heat.
No time to sleep off our feast; we wipe our greasy hands clean on leather bridles which are passed around the tent, and walk back out to begin the training. The thunder rolling in the background all day began to build, and just as Rick started the class outside the greenhouse, down came the rain…driving everyone sprinting back to the shelter of the ger where we had just feasted for two hours.
We all huddle inside, and Rick launches into almost four unscripted hours of training, focusing on the areas identified during our walk-around which can be applied most immediately and with the highest value return:
- Simple strategies such as pinching off and planting the shoots from your potatoes to help maximize potato production [The Ace of Spuds Method, from Robert DJ Hart’s book Forest Gardening]
- Simple strategies such as stressing seedlings until they flower before planting them to hep maximize tomato production
- Seed saving and selection
- Using southernwood species found in surrounding grasslands to create herbal pest barrier
- Using mulch to increase soil water retention, moderate soil temperature, improve soil quality, and increase crop productivity
- Using urine as fertilizer
- Intercropping to double crop yields from the same area of land
- Introducing chickens as a useful addition to the herd and high value crop [eggs, meat, more chickens]