Many of us who love nature often get our fix by heading to the beach or going for a short hike. But not many would leave our day job to build a farm, like Suangsan (San) Chotithamaporn did.
San used to work full-time as a regional training manager at Louis Vuitton. Her natural inclination to teach and bring out the best in people enabled her to flourish in the industry.
However, at 40-years-old, having been diagnosed with diabetes, arthritis, and gout, San hit a turning point.
“The doctor told me that such degenerative diseases couldn’t be cured, and the medicine I took didn’t help me at all,” she shared. “My body hurt so much from all of it, and one day, I was in so much pain trying to climb up the stairs, I couldn’t climb even one step.”
“So I resolved to heal myself somehow,” she said.
San sank her free time into researching natural medicines and homeopathy. She changed her diet by becoming vegetarian and ate only certain foods that were clean and not processed.
“After three years, I was healed. All my diseases were gone,” she said. Now, San is so healthy, she runs half marathons.
This recovery defied what conventional doctors had told San, and further instilled the belief in her that it was important to live a more natural lifestyle.
“I knew I wanted to share this information about how I recovered,” San said. “If I could share my experience with other people like me, maybe their journey to cure themselves would be much faster.”
That was one of the seeds of thought that led her to build a safe haven and farm where people from around the world could visit to learn about living as naturally as possible.
San’s farm, also known as Thai Panacea, is located just two hours to the north of Bangkok. On this land, you’ll find plots of fruits and vegetables, farm animals, a Learning Centre, where workshops are held for anyone who is interested, and San’s farm home, a small house with a green roof and pond.
As she works as a freelance trainer and coach to keep income flowing in, she used to shuttle between Bangkok and her farm, but COVID-19 gave her reason to settle down in the farm, long term.
The unique thing about her farm is that every system in it is linked to nature as much as possible. For instance, instead of using air-conditioning when she sleeps, San built houses out of mud bricks, which naturally regulate the temperature down to 25-26 degrees celsius at night.
Instead of using a water heater, she uses composting to generate hot water for showers. And used water from the shower is channeled outside to irrigate the banana and fruit trees outside.
“Everything on my farm is there for a reason,” she said. “Even my goats. I bought them because they are lawnmowers, and they fertilise the soil” she added with a laugh.
This practice of integrating daily systems, architecture and more with nature, is called permaculture.
“We actually can do a lot of things ourselves, but we are led to believe that we need to outsource most things. Whether it’s building a house or growing your own food. We are so dependent on outsourcing.”
“This is why it’s so difficult to own a house. You buy a small apartment in the city and you end up in debt,” she further explained. “That’s why I told myself I wanted to have my own house and not end up in debt for 30 years.”
Now, with her own house built, San is focusing on teaching others about this lifestyle.
She hosts permaculture workshops and invites volunteers to help out on the farm. The volunteers, which include architecture students, help design and construct many of the buildings on the farm by hand.
They also help grow many crops such as bananas, mulberries, pumpkins, tomatoes, cabbage, kale and aubergine. It comes full circle as the harvest from the crops are used in their meals as well. Currently, the produce supplies about 10% of what people on the farm consume, but San hopes to rely on the farm for 80% of their food needs, in three years.
It’s not all about farming and building on Thai Panacea though. It’s also about the community. In their leisure time, the volunteers exchange stories, songs, skills, and recipes with one another. It is a refreshing and communal way of living.
In line with living close to nature, the volunteers eat only vegetarian or vegan foods on the farm.
“I asked volunteers the difference they felt after living here and going on a vegetarian or vegan diet,” said San. “They have stayed here from anywhere between 2 weeks to three months, and all of them said they feel lighter, and have more energy,” she said. “One of them was a bodybuilder and he didn’t even lose any muscle mass.”
Though San changes people’s perceptions of living in a sustainable and environmentally friendly way, her ultimate goal is to encourage people to tangibly alter their lifestyles for the generations ahead.
“We have been living with so much consumerism. We buy, we throw, and repeat,” she said. “Everything comes from Mother Earth and it’s not endless. One day, we will suffer. The earth will go back to its natural form, but we will not survive. So it’s time to change.”