Green Earth

My second week of work was spent preparing for two of the most influential days of my experience thus far. Monday and Tuesday of this week we journeyed to the Lao Ngam District of Salavan Provence in southern Laos to visit VFI’s Green Earth Center (GEC). This center is where we produce our mak mao juice and wine, train local farmers, and will (fingers crossed) open an agritourism business. Basically, this incredible place is the heart of my summer assignments. This weekend was my only chance to visit and talk with the people working there everyday. No pressure. Except a lot of pressure.

One of the women working at the GEC

One of the women working at the GEC

The GEC is situated in a very rural area in Southern Laos along a popular tourist loop called the Bolaven Plateau. Tourists flood to this region to see stunning waterfalls, stay on little islands along the mekong river, and gain perspective on rural life in Laos. Because the Bolaven Plateau is in itself a draw for tourists, it has a lot of potential for agritourism industries to take off. There are a few farms in the area that have already begun to tap into this market. GEC is unique because it has a plethora of products and crops and is not confined to any single season. However, we have not yet made the center accessible (the road is a little scary), we do not have an advertising strategy, and though we have the space and potential to give tours and create interactive experiences, we do not have the internal capacity or structure to enter this market.

After touring our center, I saw that we have the ability to create farming demonstrations, give tours, allow people to take part in harvesting a wide variety of crops, meet our animals, cook, and do much more. The important steps moving forward will be training our employees (or new hires) to give tours, and getting the word out to tourists. We also need to improve some facilities and hopefully create capacity to accommodate guests overnight. The goal is to invest now so we can open the center to tourism which will allow it to be self-sufficient in the future.

W&M student Milena Almetica holds a starfruit grown at VFI's Green Earth Center

W&M student Milena Almetica holds a starfruit grown at VFI’s Green Earth Center

In order to examine the potential that exists within this market, we visited a nearby coffee plantation that gives tours to guests, has a small cafe, and provides overnight accommodations. Mr. Vieng, the owner of the farm, gave us a short but incredibly informative tour of his plantation. Many bug bites and an incredible cup of coffee later, I gained a lot of insight into what we can do to create a positive experience at our own center.

Sign for Mr. Vieng's coffee, an example of a small agritourism enterprise on the Bolaven Plateau

Sign for Mr. Vieng’s coffee, an example of a small agritourism enterprise on the Bolaven Plateau

After every meeting, trip, and experience I feel more excited about the work I get to do. I just hope I can do enough in my short time here to create a plan that can be put into action before the rainy season ends and tourists (rather than water) flood the south.