In April 2019 I had the great pleasure to visit the Nui Tuong Organisation in Vietnam.
I found this place online, as I was interested to get out of the overcrowded city of Ho Chi Minh and find a place off the beaten track, close to nature and away from mass tourism.
Nui Tuong farm is nestled along the Dong Nai River, in the outskirts of Nui Tuong village. It’s a pretty rural place and it took me about five hours by bus from Ho Chi Minh City to get there. The Cat Tien National Park is just around the corner (literally).
The farm is managed by founder Hang and the french staff Celine who is in charge of the agricultural projects. There are also many local children around, who are great little helpers with many tasks at the farm.
Nui Tuong organization was founded in 2016, purposed towards community upliftment in rural Vietnam.
The project is based on the development of a sustainable agriculture system, with a goal of providing education to the local children in Nui Tuong. International and national volunteers as well as a financial contribution from tourists who can stay on the farm as guest help to achieve this mission.
The farm area includes a main building with a kitchen, a classroom, a dorm for the volunteers and several little bungalows for guests.
There are basically three key elements at Nui Tuong: Agriculture, Education and Eco Tourism. A great mix if you ask me!
The farm currently covers about 2000 m² of vegetables and fruit trees. Celine came to the farm in February 2019. She has a background in agriculture and is in charge of the agricultural development of the farm. She is very interested in the permaculture concept and does a great job practicing sustainability when cultivating fields.
Her current mission includes two main tasks: to manage the farm and make workshops for the kids. On the farm, she grows organic vegetables, mainly vietnamese plants for the guests and the team. She also tries to make the farm a good place for education, showing the diversity of local plants and share with the guests her knowledge about permaculture.
At the moment she is organizing the garden, making some raised beds to protect the soil from erosion during the rainy season, planting new vegetables and taking care of the existing ones. She really enjoys the Vietnamese vegetables she discovered here, such as rau ma (centella), mong toi (malabar spinach), dau rong (dragon beans)…
In two years when her time at the farm is over she hopes to be able to make the farm operating smoothly, with a wide range of fruits and vegetables available year round. The goal is to leave the farm management to another person… Hopefully to a local kid! She also tries to gather as much knowledge through her own experience and from the local people and wants to share it with anyone interested. So far, she has been working on a Guide of local plants & a Short guide of fertilizers.
Besides working in the garden she also helps to prepare classes and workshops with the children. She does both for the local kids and other kids from the nearest cities like Sai Gon. Mostly about plants and agriculture, but also drawing sessions, sustainable living and other things.
In her freetime she likes to explore the surrounding area by bike!
I was very impressed by Celines knowledge of agriculture and her strong interest in plants. Her commitment and passion are admirable and she is really doing a great job!
Education is central at the Nui Tuong project and it really matters for founder Hang! Most of the local children do not have access to quality education. Their guardians are traditional farm workers who lack the resources to teach their children. Thirty percent of the youth in this area are living with their grandparents and other relatives in difficult conditions, while the parents of the children are working far away, have seperated are have passed away. Hang aims to equip the children with practical skills, such as critical thinking, academic rigor, knowledge of how to develop and sustain an agri-business, and personal core values such as honesty, maintaining physical health, creativity, kindness, self-respect, self-discipline and gratitude. Besides, Hang and the international volunteers also teach English to the children and cultural exchange promotes mutual awareness of societies.
“Education is the foundation of change”Hang, Founder of Nui Tuong Foundation
Hang told me, that in the past she had problems to find partners to run the farm with, as most of them didn’t agree to the idea of offering educational programs for the children. Thus, she eventually ended up running the farm by herself and has faced many problems, such as finance, team and health.
However, in the end she is happy that she kept on the direction that she wanted and she is on the right way. Without education, she thinks, she wouldn’t have much motivation to move on and keep things running.
Nui Tuong offers people the option to visit the farm as volunteers or guests. They welcome anyone who loves nature and people who search retreat from living and working in the big cities. As a guest you pay a small fee for accomodation in one of the bungalows and for breakfast, lunch and dinner. With this money you contribute to the project and help to keep it running!
I decided to set up a insect hotel during my stay at Nui Tuong farm. The children helped me to cut some bamboo and find other materials to set it up. I would say we did a pretty good job, what do you think?The other volunteers prepared some signs for a market and workshops. They looked beautiful!
Besides that the volunteers help with farm work like weeding, planting, composting, educational work like teaching the kids and holding workshops and household tasks like keeping the farm clean, cooking and entertaining the kids.
A lot of things at the farm are sustainable and zero waste, like the recycling station, the compost or the cleaning detergent made out of lemon peels. You can learn from that!
I also had the chance to visit a few other farms in the area and the homes of some of the children that use to come to the farm. Quite an unique experience!
As we decided to also be guest for one day, we had the chance to spend the day to visit Cat Tien National Park. It’s really close to the farm and only takes a few minutes by bike to get there. We could borrow the bikes from the farm. So for people who plan to visit the National Park, the farm might be a good destination to stay at and quite a bit different from the touristy lodges.
I had a good time at Nui Tuong farm and it was a great pleasure to meet Hang, Celine and all the kids. I definitely got the chance to explore Vietnam of the beaten track, made some great experiences and good memories.
I think the combination of sustainable agriculture, education and gentle tourism is a great concept. The project is run by very committed and hard working people and I will keep following the future developments. I’m looking forward to see a lot of progress and hear many fantastic news from Nui Tuong!
By Stefan Simon for Collective Green