Biodiversity in Bali
These New Farm readers are living their dream and teaching locals on this tropical Indonesian island to farm sustainably.

Posted November 23, 2004

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Dear New Farm,

I am a graduate of Evergreen State College’s wonderful sustainable ag program and since then (over the past 7 years) my wife and I have been living in Bali, Indonesia, where we own and operate an organic farm and sustainable ag training center for local Indonesians.

Our vision has always been to help develop a model of viable eco-ag for marginalized farmers in the humid tropics, and while it has been a tough road, I think we’re having some great successes. Farmers come from all over Indo to work with our farm...Folks who want to enter the training program are paid the same as those who aren’t yet interested in a focused training, the only catch is that those who enter to train agree at the outset to leave after the first year. So many locals are tempted to just stay and farm with a steady paycheck, so it actually becomes tough to search out those individuals with higher aspirations.

These are the gems that are going to lead the way in local agriculture here. After a year, they agree to leave the paycheck and we help them set up a small farm elsewhere (usually back in their own village). Then, once they’ve reached succession with their harvests and plantings they are free to utilize our distribution channels, sales team and cold box truck to get to market. Usually they offer their products at prices far below ours, which essentially shoots us in the foot, but that’s the best part! That means its working. The end game for us is when we’ve got a large enough group of growers started up that we can’t even begin to compete and essentially aren’t needed anymore! Then we can return home and start our own little place!

So that’s my little blurb on our farm project in Bali. We also have a similar program we started last year to help build economic viability into other aspects of culinary cultural heritage. We search out artisan producers, help adapt their production systems and final products for new markets, and then introduce them to niches that can potentially save aspects of their culture (or at least give them the power of choice to whether they continue these traditions). We currently bring a number of products to market in the U.S. under our farm name, Big Tree Farms, Bali—handcrafted Balinese sea salts, wildcrafted long peppers, traditional honeys from Java…and we’re about to introduce a fabulous new sugar product from a few incredibly obscure, marginalized islands in the Moluccas! It is all so much fun…sorry for digressing but just wanted to share! You have a wonderful clearinghouse of information!

Ben Ripple
Big Tree Farms, Bali