Ethnic Seeds

Join Emilee Gettle and her family as they journey through Thailand in search of heirloom seeds.

| Fall 2013

Last fall, after our whirlwind tour of Spain, France and Italy during Slow Food's Terra Madre event, we flew to Thailand to spend a month soaking up the sights, sounds and delicious food crops of this amazingly diverse country. Our mission, besides a little down time, was to collect seed varieties from the Hill Tribes.

After landing in Bangkok, a taxi took us through the maze of highways and byways downtown to a small vegetarian restaurant tucked away in an alley. Upon walking in, we were greeted by Maneki-neko, the Chinese lucky cat with its mechanical arm waving up and down. We were amazed by the huge menu of delicious vegan dishes. We wanted to sample everything, but limited our choices to some vegetables we had been dying to try in their homeland, such as bitter melon. The meal was served family style, complete with the toddler checking out Sasha's plate and the family Siamese cat sitting next to me.

We spent a couple days taking in the city and all the glorious markets. Ask anyone who has been to Thailand and they will tell you the various scents that fill the big city streets are overpowering. One commonality I found was the lack of trash cans. If someone sets a cup down, it just becomes a new place to pile the trash — and pile it they do. I suppose it is job security for the street sweepers wearing surgical masks in the morning. So between the scents of trash mingling with the scents wafting from a myriad of food vendors selling every cut of meat, seafood and insect you can imagine, it is a sensory overload.

From Bangkok we traveled by bus to Kanchanaburi where we traded taxis for tuktuks and pick-up bed transportation. Just down the street from where we stayed, we found On's Thai Issan restaurant, which is where we ate morning, noon and night. The tiny vegetarian restaurant only seated about 15 people max, and the kitchen was outdoors. Mrs. On cooked dishes to order over a blazing wok while the neighbors dropped in to catch up on the morning gossip street-side. By the time we left, we felt like family.

In Kanchanaburi we picked up our missionary friend, Anthony, who would serve as our driver/translator for the rest of our trip. (Neither Jere nor I wanted to try to wrap our brains around driving on the opposite side of the road. So we were more than happy to turn the wheel over to him.) Anthony traveled with us to Chaing Mai where we wound around tiny mountain roads and through rubber plantations in search of tribal villages. This was why we were here in the first place, to locate the Hmong, Lao, Karen and Lisu people and find out what they were growing in their gardens.

Entering their villages was like stepping back in time. Children ran through the dirt streets in their native attire while the grandmothers chewed beetle-nut. The bamboo-stilt huts had clothes hanging from the porch while the family hog wallowed underneath. Chickens scattered across the road while their sleepy Thai dogs could care less.

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