Seventeen years ago my son told me that I did not farm. It was a simple observation by a thirteen year old. In his mind I did not have enough land, buildings, tools, or large equipment to qualify as a farmer. After all, everyone around us farmed industrially using vast amounts of fertilizer, sprays, and fuel. I was clearly out of step. But the definition itself is culturally specific. There are innumerable farmers in other places in the world who would rightfully be called farmers, but who do not resemble at all what is commonly considered farming here. The definition even changes over time, industrialized farming today bearing little resemblance to farming here thirty years ago. But in spite of our enculturated notions, the biological roots of agriculture remain the same.
Somewhere in the middle of my third year of university I was informed about the need for an agriculturalist to technically assist an agricultural development project sponsored by the denomination in which I was raised in SE Asia. More specifically, they were looking for someone to spend an extended period of time evaluating all aspects of their newly founded holistic agricultural project, especially that of their swine portion of the work. This news could not have come at a more opportune time in my life. Not only were my agricultural studies overly adequate for what was needed, but combined with three years of full-time labour on modern hog farms I was trained to balance feed rations from scratch, design and construct facilities, and evaluate and manage breeding and hog lot animals for market. My social conscience had been shaped so that I was open to the integrity of other cultures and eager to learn from them. And I had a strong sense of obligation that I needed to give something back to a region that had been devastated by a war that had been wrongfully inflicted on them by the country in which I had grown up.
At twenty years of age I packed two suitcases, one with clothes and the other with books and research equipment, and boarded a Boeing 747 with connecting flights through Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Taipei, and flew twenty hours with two overnights to a place and a people who would change my life forever. They gave me much more than I ever gave them. I could not have guessed what I was in for.