Meet A Farmer in Fargreen Network: Hang Tran

A Farmer in Fargreen Network: Tran Thi Hang

A Farmer in Fargreen Network: Tran Thi Hang

“Mom, can I pick the wild ones next to the oyster mushrooms?”

Nhai, 10-year-old, asked her mom Hang, a farmer in Fargreen network. Nhai was keeping her mother company when Hang watered and cared for the mushrooms. That's the scene I was lucky to see on my first trip to Fargreen’s branch in Thai Binh and it has stayed with me ever since.

I’ve been with Fargreen for almost a year and a half and whenever work got too busy or stressful, my mind went back to that very scene, which reminded me of my decision to choose this path, of the dreams and passions.

That afternoon, while sitting on the porch of the house Hang used to grow mushrooms with Fargreen, I listened to her story. Before joining Fargreen, she got into an accident and broke her leg. It meant spending a lot of time (and money) in the hospital worrying about the future as she needed a good health for farming as well as her seasonal work at a factory.

After she recovered from the accident, her ability to do labor work reduced so she started to look for something else. Living next door to Sim, Fargreen’s Farmer Network Coordinator, Hang got to know about the enterprise and its involvement with the farmers. She hesitated to apply to join Fargreen's Farmer Network at first as she thought her health would be a problem. She was, however, encouraged a great deal when Sim explained to her about the nature of growing mushrooms and what involved. She decided to give it a go.

“The two-month probational period was an interesting experiment,” Hang told me. The whole family was excited about growing mushrooms: her children ran to the mushroom house as soon as they got back from school, her father-in-law came to the house every morning to check if the mushrooms fruited well, her husband took over the heavy tasks like transporting the buckets of mushroom from Fargreen’s office to the house. The joy multiplied day in and day out!

Hang shared with me her content with the regular income from growing mushrooms and the emotional values from the work. She still remembered the first time she came to a meeting at Fargreen headquarters in Hanoi, a journey that left her feeling more knowledgeable and self-confident.

Now she goes to Fargreen’s office in Thai Binh most days, either for working the straw or preparing for new batch of mushrooms. Sometimes, she just likes to be there so she can help with whatever needed as she would miss working with the team otherwise. She loves that her work with Fargreen has a positive impact on her personal life and the environment as protecting the Earth is protecting herself and her family.


- Story by Dang Thi Hoa - 

Meet An Advisor: Leon Hiemstra

Leon Hiemstra

Leon Hiemstra

In 2015, ten years after his first arrival in Vietnam, Leon was back. Leon had spent a lot of time in the country designing and making medical equipment for NGOs.  

This time, he embarked upon a new project: improving technology used at Fargreen. Previously to his arrival, a special cargo came to our facility: a square straw baler. It was one of the many things that Leon has brought to upgrade our production system.

The square straw baler is a familiar object to Leon and his farm back in the Netherlands but is fairly uncommon in rural Vietnam. When our CEO Trang Tran, told Leon about our problem with storing rice straw and retaining its quality, he thought the baler might be the solution. He helped Fargreen to purchase a used machine, and had it shipped to Vietnam. It was the first of its kind in Vietnam, as far as we know.

Leon got to Fargreen’s farms later, so he could show the staff how to work the machine and make any needed adjustment.

The baler was not the only machine at Fargreen bore Leon’s mark. Before the end of 2015, he had built a solar drier so Fargreen could diversify the product range. Using an open-source design, Leon built a system specifically for the needs of Fargreen: The mushrooms are dried slowly using indirect heat, so that they keep most of their flavors and nutrients. Furthermore, during the drying process, mushrooms stay in a well-ventilated box away from insects or other types of contaminants. Not only that the solar energy is a green solution, it also helps deal with the instability of electricity supply in rural Vietnam. Furthermore, Leon added a heating panel so the drying box can be of use during dark winter months.

Showcasing the drying system 

Showcasing the drying system 

Another contribution from Leon is a wifi sensor at each and every farm to monitor the temperature and humidity. He said it's “Internet of things”. Thanks to the sensors, Fargreen could collect real-time data that would help predict mushroom outputs in different farms. With sufficient data, we hope to optimise the yield in all farms.

When I asked Leon if it’s challenging working among farmers who hardly speak English or Dutch, he shook his head, thought long and hard and confined that he should have learned more Vietnamese but the language was just too difficult. He has been managing with the body language, hand gestures and Google Translate.

Leon is back to Vietnam and Fargreen again for a few more months. He said he would try to make the sensors more robust so that they would survive harsh weather conditions and maybe another drying system, which would be more compact - the IKEA-style I guess. At Fargreen, we are so glad to have Leon again and can’t wait to see his new works.

Meet our Fargreener of the Year 2016: Hien Dang

Hien Dang, Fargreener of the Year 2016

Hien Dang, Fargreener of the Year 2016

This year, the Fargreener of the Year Award goes to Hien Dang, our newly appointed Admin Manager. The award recognizes Hien’s many contributions to the development of Fargreen as she has met and exceeded all expectations in her job and in building the team.

Joining the team in August 2015, Hien started as an Admin Assistant. After her one year’s 360-degree assessment from the whole team, Hien was promoted to the position of Admin Manager thanks to her exceptional performance.

She is responsible, collaborative and truly a team player. Even though administrative work could be really frustrating, Hien never loses her cool, which makes her fun to work with. She is always willing to lend a hand, being it packing for a mushroom run or collecting straw for hours during busy harvest periods.

Award Ceremony 

Award Ceremony 

As an innovative startup, Fargreen highly values and encourages create ideas to help reduce cost and increase productivity. One of the year’s highlights was from Hien Dang and Linh Vu. Together they implemented a system to better input and manage data across different departments and offices. It is another step toward a more transparent, collaborative and professional operation at Fargreen.


Hien is very well organised, responsive and active. Her teammates can totally rely upon that she would fulfil her commitments. That’s why we have voted for Hien Dang to be the Fargreener of the Year. She is the epitome of Fargreen’s values.

Meet A Farmer in Fargreen's Network: Hien Tran

Hien Tran - A Farmer in Fargreen's Network 

Hien Tran - A Farmer in Fargreen's Network 

Hien Tran is the first member of Fargreen's farmer network in Thai Binh.

When Hien gave birth to a set of twins when she went into labor the second time, the bigger family suddenly needed much more money.

Hien shared: “Before joining Fargreen, I had to pick up a lot of work  in addition to growing rice so we could feed our three children, I also did a lot of heavy labour work. I raised ducks, took on odd jobs, worked at construction sites during the day. I even worked in the evening, doing some embroidery. I was always tired and didn’t have the time to help my children with their study.”

Her words told a common story about the hard life of the rice farmers who chose to stay with the land.

Since her house was very close to Fargreen's straw storage, she became curious seeing the company collecting rice straw,  which she often  burned after each harvest. She started asking about Fargreen got extremely excited about the work. When she knew that Ms. Sim - Fargreen's Farmer network coordinator was looking for farmers to join the operation, she registered for a trial period.

The work required of her was pretty simple: tendingand  picking mushrooms. The simpler the work, the better it is for her, she found. Hien spends only three hours a day for the work with Fargreen, half the amount of time she used to spend on embroidering, yet that counts for more than half of her total income.

Furthermore, all members of her family also participate and support her. Her husband Mr. Thuan works with Fargreen too, filling in when the company needs people to collect and transport straw. Another source of income for the family! After school, her children could help her with watering and picking mushrooms, which could reduce the total time to 30 minutes. More importantly, her children now understand that they could  spend their time helping their parents as well.

She remains to farm, and still picks up odd jobs now and then,  to gain more stability. It still surprises her how well Fargreen’s work fits in her situation.

Hien Tran transporting rice straw for Fargreen

Hien Tran transporting rice straw for Fargreen

After a year of working with Fargreen, her family has seen a lot of improvement: they are more stable financially and mentally as they no longer have to worry about not being able to find more work. They  have built a new  house, a bigger one near his parents.

The old house where the five of them used to live is  now used to grow mushrooms. The eldest daughter now works for garment factory and has a stable income, the twins are also in high school.  

Approaching an age when heavy labor work is no longer suitable, Hien is glad that she is in Fargreen’s farmer network as the extra income would help to pay for the education of her twins.

Meet a Fargreener: Sim Luu - Farmer Network Coordinator

Sim Luu - Fargreen's Farmer Network Coordinator 

Sim Luu - Fargreen's Farmer Network Coordinator 

Born and bred in the agricultural province of Thai Binh, Sim Luu has a long lasting love for the land, even though farming was once associated with the disappointment of low and unstable incomes. 

After getting married and having children, Sim needed to pick up additional jobs as the family needs more money. When her husband passed away, she became the sole provider who might have to leave the rice field to look for a higher-income job. 

Luckily, she came to Fargreen instead. The company was looking for someone to extend its operation in Thai Binh through recruiting and training more farmers. Sim decided to apply to work for Fargreen because she had a good feeling about the company’s development model. 

It was very challenging at the beginning as everything was new to her, but Sim didn’t give up. She learned whatever she could about the technology and the process of growing mushrooms and of working with other farmers. She learned to send an email at the age of fifty-something. She was willing to try and even fail, so she could grow with Fargreen. And she did. 

Launching the mushroom products 

Launching the mushroom products 

Now as the Fargreen’s farmer network coordinator, Sim is the strong bridge linking the company with its farming communities around Thai Binh. Sim is always patient with other farmers and she truly cares for them. Ms. Hien, a farmer in the network, shared: "Ms. Sim is so kind. With her being in the company, I feel assured as I always have a good guidance." 

Her love for the motherland, the aspiration to bring wealth to her family and other farmers, the dedication to protecting the environment and the anticipation of Fargreen success have motivated Sim to work harder and overcome one challenge after another. Her life seems quite better now, with her income stabilized and her family taken care of. Her youngest daughter will enter her first year at university this summer and Sim is so proud. For Fargreen, we happy that we can trust Sim to help us building a strong network of farmers in Thai Binh. 

Fargreen Farms Tour with CEO/Founder Trang Tran

At Fargreen, we believe that consumers have the right to know about the origin of the products you use. We thus would like to offer our loyal customers opportunities to visit our farms and learn about our sustainable way of growing mushrooms. From April, Fargreen will organise a monthly tour at our farms in Hung Ha, Thai Binh Province. Join us to have a chat with our technical staff as well as the farmers in our network, and enjoy a home grown, home made lunch with us. Our CEO/ Founder will also be there to share with you stories about starting Fargreen, sustainable agricultural practices and our operation philosophy.

To Participate:

Start collecting stickers on our mushroom boxes today!

If the total amount is 01kg+, you will get 01 FREE tour of our farms with our CEO/Founder Trang Tran. You will also get to enjoy a home grown, home made lunch with Fargreen mushrooms and other local produce at a discounted price of 50,000VND/person.

If the total amount is 02kg+, you will get a FREE lunch with us.

Notes:

  • Visitors pay for your own transportation
  • Free tour for children under 8 accompanying parents (one child per each.
  • Free lunch for children under 8
  • The number is limited (less than 10) and on a first-come-first-served basis
  • Tentative date of the first tour: Sunday, 03 April 2016
  • Register at the Weekend Market of Naturally Vietnam or email linh.vu@far-green.com

Duom Luu - The Fargreener of the year 2015

Duom Luu started her journey with Fargreen at the beginning of 2015. In just twelve months, Duom has done an amazing job to shape the production flow in Fargreen farms. Additionally, she has built a strong production team, which is sprinting towards the commercial launch of Fargreen mushrooms this coming spring. These are two of the many great things that Duom has contributed to Fargreen in the last year, and that makes her a well-deserved "Fargreener of the Year".

Born and bred in one of the many rice villages in Vietnam, Duom understand the farmers’ struggle to make ends meet. She always wants to help farmers to get out of poverty and somehow not have to do things that harm their health and others in order to stay the land. Knowing Trang through her last job, Duom has supported the idea of Fargreen since the early days when it was not yet a company but a learning project that Trang pitched at Colorado State University in 2013.

With absolute trust in Trang and deep-running sympathy with the mission of Fargreen, Duom made the move in 2015. Duom left the stable job where she had climbed the ladder for seven years and became the Production Manager of Fargreen - a startup of merely one year old. It's a career turn not without risk but truly comes from the heart and the desire to help more farming communities. For the last year, she has not only met and exceeded all expectations for the tasks required of her but also motivated others with her positive attitude and high level of energy. “She inspires the people around her to work with more excitement and enthusiasm”, Mai Truong, the admin assistant said, “because she is always being active and sharp.” For Fargreen, it’s been great because without Duom we could not have achieved so much so far.

Let’s raise a glass for our Production Manager, Duom Luu -  our "Fargreen of the Year".

From Johannesburg: Echoing Green's All Fellows Conference

After 24 hours and three flights, I arrived in the sunny yet a little chill Johannesburg, the business hub of South Africa. It's time to meet the all other Echoing Green fellows and I just could not contain my excitement. Every year, Echoing Green brings all its current fellows of three different consecutive cohorts, fellows at large (i.e. alumni) and staff members from all over the world together for a week. It is not a traditional conference with back-to-back workshops where you hop on and off from one session to another, without knowing much about the person sitting next to you. I've found it more like a big family gathering with a lot of personal and interpersonal check-ins and catch-ups.

And more..

This is the kind of event where your view of the word "community" is constantly challenged in every single moment. Having born and raised in a tiny town in the northern part of Vietnam, I understood community as being personal and local. Since I started moving around, the "personal" part has been fairly constant but the "local" part hasn't seemed to stop evolving. No, it is not just the geographical aspect that I'm talking about, even though it's truly geographically diverse where I'm standing now in the room with other Echoing Green folks. There must be a least a hundred different names of countries mentioned, in all five different continents, and many of them I honestly don't even know where they are located exactly on the map. It's also not just about races or genders even though we've truly got rainbow colors here.

There's always more added to that definition of community every time I come to this type of event, which makes it so special to me. It lies in the people who join and the work that they do. Everyone is the social leaders and entrepreneurs who are society-minded, impactful and purpose driven. I'm humbled and constantly blown away by how many different ways to improve the world that my fellows have shown me. Those could be the changes in social justice, woman empowerment, poverty alleviation, sustainability development, worker unions, healthcare, and policy advocacy. I could go on and on.

The world is definitely not a depressing place like what's been portrayed on the everyday headlines at all. It’s gratifying to see this international movement for social good happening in so many different layers and so many different parts of the world.

This conference week is also the opportunity for many of us, including myself, to have a legitimate excuse to take a break from our busy day-to-day work of running an organization so we have that time to sit down properly and checking up on ourselves: where we are? how are we doing? where are we heading to?

It seems a little arbitrary or strange to me at first to learn that Echoing Green has a chaplain to support its fellows. This is certainly not a religious community by all means, but the work they do is incredibly appreciated among the community. Running a normal organization is hard, let alone building something that disrupts the status quo and bringing changes in societies. Besides the glorious side of being praised for the work that you do, there's also so much stress, sleeplessness, and frustration. That's the reason why having someone whose job is just to listen to you without any judgment, without trying to help you to solve your problems, to remind you and guide you through the process of taking care of yourself mentally and spiritually is so important and totally makes sense. The word "support" is certainly taken to a much higher level than being just financial and connection assistance. For that, I'm so grateful to be part of this community.

As the week unfolds to an end, I find myself amazed by a realization of how similar our vision for Fargreen and this vivid picture in front of my eyes of the Echoing Green community are in so many ways, and of how many lessons I could take from this experience to help to bring our organization to a success. Fargreen aims to build prosperous and sustainable farming communities in rural Vietnam and around the world where no such environmental damaging practices like open burning of straw exist and no farmer is left behind in poverty for choosing to stay with their land. In doing so, we help nourish the society with high-quality and healthy local food products.

Reading through this mission statement again, it's crystal clear that building community stays at the focal point of what we are doing. And by community, we mean the community of innovative farmers who join us in collecting the straw left over after the harvest, not setting an open fire to clear it like in the traditional way but instead using it to grow yummy mushrooms with us. This is also the community of doers/risk takers/funders/social entrepreneurs/engineers/mycologists/moms and dads - those who believe strongly in our mission and who are dedicating time, energy, effort and resources in helping to make Fargreen a reality. This is also the community of conscious customers who are smart, sensible and conscious in the way they choose what to buy which pave the way for radical changes in the food industry.

I’m blown away by how many great communities that a tiny single entity like Fargreen is in touch with and being nurtured. Thank you all for being the source of our strength and inspiration so we want to get up every day and try our best in what we do. The change is here and together we can make it happen.

Johannesburg, November 2015

Trang Tran, Fargreen CEO & Founder.

Trang is 2014 Echoing Green Climate Fellow and 2015 TED fellow. Contact Trang at trang.tran@far-green.com

Postcard from Rome: Youth for Food Security Network

Last week, our CEO sat as a panellist at the Incubator event in FAO's Committee on World  Food Security, the CFS42. Trang was there to offer her insight, experience and advice to the young talents who presented their innovative projects at the event. We were proud that Fargreen participated in such an exciting event, as "as one of the six must-known startups in Asia", quoted by David Nabarro, UN Special Representative for Food Security and Nutrition.

IMG_2351
IMG_2351

Besides the honour, we found it educating and rewarding to hear from young people coming from all over the world to share their brilliant ideas in solving the world's food challenges. Meeting like-minded people was the biggest treat for us though we did enjoy the reception and the photo session afterwards.

All in all, it was an amazing experience considering what we've learnt, whom we've met and, of course, visiting Rome and FAO Headquarters.

Open Rice Straw Burning in Red River Delta: Damages and Possible Solutions

Written by Quynh Nguyen, Fargreen's Communications & Community Manager

Open rice straw burning in Red River Delta can cost up to $200 million in environmental damages (according to a recent study), not to mention the risk posing upon the health of a community of millions.

Why Do Farmers Burn Rice Straw?

In the past, farmers used to keep rice straw after they harvested the grains. They dried and stored straw for various purposes. A portion could be burned for energy, mainly cooking. Some others were fed to their livestock. People also recycled straw to make a thatch for their house or turn it into fertiliser.

A common scene during the harvesting season in Thai Binh 

A common scene during the harvesting season in Thai Binh 

The situation has unfortunately changed in recent years. Alternative fuel sources, like coal and gas, have become affordable. Most houses are now roofed with tiles instead. More people means less land to spare for storing straw. All together they result in increasing rates of straw burning in the area. In some villages, 80% of rice straw was burned right on the field. Thai Binh is one of the provinces with the highest rates, partly due to its high population density. It is the reason why Fargreen has chosen Thai Binh as the target for our second pilot project.

So many farmers think burning straw saves them the transportation cost of removing the straw off the field so they can soon start with the next crop. However, their action costs everyone else a lot more, with the farmers themselves paying the bigger share.

Burning straw releases millions of tons of greenhouse gases (GHS), including carbon dioxide - the greenhouse gas responsible for 70% of the global warming to date. Besides, the smoke can cause respiratory problems for local communities, with the poorer being affected more seriously. The burning of wet straw results in smog, which limits the visibility of vehicles travelling through the areas,  and is likely to cause more accidents.

What are the solutions?

Rice straw has been proven to be a useful source for mushroom production, bio-fertiliser and power generation.

For over one year, Fargreen has joined the mission to prevent straw from burning and turning the seemingly-useless waste into a useful possession. Working with farmers across Red River Delta, we have collected tons of straw to reuse for mushroom production. We aim to produce high-quality mushrooms in an eco-friendly closed-loop system. Our organic mushrooms will be offered to the local market as a green and reliable product while the leftover after mushroom cultivation will be recycled back to nourish the soil as bio-fertiliser.

You can find updates of our second pilot project on Twitter and Facebook. If you would like to support our mission in any way, please write to us at comms@far-green.com

Climate change and Vietnam

Vietnam is a small country in Southeast Asia yet we export more rice than any other countries in the world except for Thailand. Every year the country produces around 27 million tons of rice and together with that is 23 million tons of rice straw waste. This enormous waste is normally burned openly in the field, on the streets or in  any open land. With every ton of rice straw burned, a ton of toxic greenhouse gases (CO2 and NO) is released to the air. No wonder that the country is listed as one of the ten countries most affected by climate change. Follow us in the journey of finding way to create a prosperous green agriculture in Vietnam.