Economic Empowerment Fellowship – Thailand – Laurie Strand Bridgeman

What an incredible journey this has been. It all began in May with Dr. Ornprapa Anugoolprasert visiting Montana for The U.S. Department State’s Economic Empowerment Fellowship program through the Mansfield Center at the University of Montana. I work for Garden City Harvest, and Orn, as she prefers to be called, and I were set up as a match. Orn works at Thammasat University, a prestigious University outside of Bangkok about 45 km. Orn and I both work within the realm of organic agriculture teaching these skills to students. While our avenues of teaching are different–I work for a non-profit and Orn is employed by a government-run university– we are able to offer a variety of learning experiences that have lead to the breadth and depth of both our experiences.

Mr. Ben Lou’s integrated farm

Lecture at Kassetsart University for Masters and Ph.D. students.

I have spent the past two weeks giving formal and informal presentations on food security, and the engagement of youth and young adults in this social issue. I have been able to collaborate with, learn from, and share my expertise with farmers, students, lecturers and social advocates about the agricultural system in Thailand. Some of the networks that have been created are with sustainable farming training centers, small scale subsistence farming operations in small Karen villages, large scale orchid farms for export, and urban agriculture projects in Bangkok.

Dr. Ornprapa, myself, and master’s student from Thammasat at Mr. Ben Lou’s farm and training site.

During these meetings, farmers shared their concerns about climate change and it’s impact on farming. They talked about environmental impacts with the rise of industrial farming over the past 20 years and how this relates to soil erosion, soil nutrient depletion and changing water resources. I have heard stories of bee populations dramatically decreasing as the dependance on chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides increases.

Working with City Farm on questions regarding Urban Agriculture and discussing a possible training program for youth from Montana to attend next January.

I am currently working with a past fellow, and Ornprapa to write and MOU regarding a possible exchange program which would be a collaboration between The University of Montana, Garden City Harvest, and Thammasat University. It is encouraging to see this example of a long term partnership forming out of this Fellowship Opportunity. I am also hoping to lead a group of University Students for a study abroad program next winter. During this time I’d like to visit one of the training sites that I was able to work with during this Fellowship trip, and is an urban agriculture training site in Bangkok. Being able to support these economic endeavors in Thailand, and provide students with an inside look at some of the innovative ways people are approaching a changing society and agricultural system is exciting. This fellowship opportunity has allowed me to make long term professional contacts and be able to then give others the opportunity to do so as well. This is by far one of the most meaningful experiences of my life, thus far. Thank you U.S. Department State and The University of Montana’s Mansfield Center for this opportunity, as I now know that it will be an opportunity that will not stop at the end of these two weeks.

Interview at the Embassy with the Lower Mekong Initiative English Support Project focusing on Agriculture and the Lower Mekong River Delta.


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