Where the Real Things Grow
The road from Bangkok to Korat is a familiar one for Sho Oga. He travelled it monthly in the mid 90’s as an executive for a medical equipment firm checking on business in the Isaan capital. One particular landmark en route made a lasting impression. Each time he passed Wat Thep Phithak Punnaramddha Buddha Oga recalls being inspired to start a farm.
Virgin land was available in the area and Oga subsequently purchased 50 rai in 1999. ‘Anyone can farm but it’s important to protect nature, human health and all living things’, he explains of his decision to make it an organic endeavor from the beginning.
The foodscape in Thailand in 1999 was vastly different to today. ‘Organic products weren’t on shelves. There was no certification and there was generally low awareness amongst customers,’ recalls Oga. ‘Today there is an organic corner in almost every supermarket’.
Oga had studied Marine Biology at Shizuoka’s Tokai University south of Tokyo and had a lifelong passion for all things natural but organic farming presented an entirely new learning curve.
Trial and error was very much a part of the process for the first 4 to 5 years. The Harmony Life farm couldn’t maintain regular supplies of vegetables to their first customers; Isetan Department Store and another supermarket in Bangkok. Harvests were unpredictable due to pests and disease. ‘Sometimes we lost the entire crop’, recalls Oga. ‘It took 7 years to achieve a consistent supply’.
Total dedication to organic farming meant chemical fertilisers and pesticides were out of the question so Oga purchased chicken and cow manure from other farms to create his own organic versions. A watershed moment was the realization that the consistently foul-smelling waste was a problem. Poor quality animal feed was inducing digestive problems and leading to inferior manure. Today the Harmony Life farm has over 2,000 chickens and 30 head of cattle that are fed an organic diet resulting in a better quality fertilizer.
In truly holistic fashion Oga carefully considered the water source for his farm. ‘From the beginning we have used well water that comes from a depth of 150 meters. Rain from 20 years ago,’ Oga points out. River water wasn’t an option as it could be contaminated with factory and household waste as well as agricultural run off. The farm further closes the loop by using 70% of its own seed. The remainder is non-GMO from Europe.
Hands on experience as well as Oga’s wide research, including the study of effective micro-organisms in Okinawa, has led to a flourishing operation. In 2010 Harmony Life’s Bangkok outlet and Sustaina Restaurant opened.
Oga is justifiably proud of the 5 organic certifications Harmony Life has achieved from USDA, IFOAM, Canada Organic, Euro Certificate for Organic Agriculture and Organic Thailand. Shoppers are increasingly skeptical about certification these days and when asked about the reliability of Organic Thailand Oga states that they do perform market checks to ensure their standards are being maintained and apparently have been known to revoke certification from products that don’t comply. In light of recent news shoppers can surely be comforted by the ‘broad spectrum’ certification that Oga’s operation has achieved.
Harmony Life exports to customers in 10 countries including Wholefoods USA. Products include herbal teas and moroheiya noodles (a powerfully nutritious leafy green that can be traced back to Ancient Egypt).
Despite his thriving business Oga doesn’t want to expand his land holding. ‘It’s more effective to help others and to spread ideas’, he says of his mission to teach organic farming techniques. Annually over 500 farmers from Thailand, the ASEAN region and Japan visit the Harmony Life farm on study trips. ‘Seeding’ organic farming is Oga’s preferred expansion model and it’s having an impact. In 2014 the Asian Development Bank asked his help to conduct a pilot project to teach organic farming and marketing.
Harmony Life’s retail outlet in Bangkok makes its own tofu and baked items to compliment the farm’s fresh produce. It also stocks products from trusted suppliers including Ginger Fizz by Raitong Organics and Dairy Home milk. True to his mission to ensure the healthiest options possible Oga likes to meet and understand the motivations and philosophies driving other vendors before doing business together. ‘Many people think it’s easy to make a lot of money [in the organic sector] but it’s very difficult with many hurdles to clear’. Harmony Life’s founder can truly speak from experience.
Harmony Life Organic Farm Since 1999
Head office : 16/3-4 Soi On-Nut 74/1,On-Nut Rd,
Kwang Pravet,Khet Pravet, Bangkok 10250 Thailand
Sustaina Organic Restaurant
1/40 Soi Sukhumvit 39, (BTS Phrom Phong)
Klongton Nua, Wattana, Bangkok 10110
1F Shop 9:30-20:30
2F Restaurant Mon-Fri 11:00-20:30
Tel : +66 (0)2 258-7573
E-mail : firstname.lastname@example.org
(Except for Songkran and New Year)
Tel : +66 (0)2 258-7516
Delivery : 085-564-9090
(Image credits: Harmony Life, Hans Werner-Mueller)