In Chiang Mai, the launch of Ori9in
, a sustainable farm backed by the Banyan Tree group, might offer a blueprint for the green economy initiatives that Thailand needs to move forward.
The farm, occupying 885 rai of land in Chiang Mai’s rural San Sai district, aims to supply chefs in Thailand with top-quality, organic ingredients, helping to wean them off pricy and unnecessary imports while cutting down on carbon emissions in the process. They do that by offering farming space for rent—plots go for as little as B150 per square meter—while abiding by a “no fuel” farming policy. That means no manmade fuels or machinery will be found anywhere on the farm. It’s instead powered by solar energy and uses hydroponics to grow produce.
The project is being run by James Noble and his wife, May. The two have supplied over a dozen top restaurants and hotels in Thailand with ingredients over the past five years through their Pranburi-based Boutique Farmers business. Noble himself boasts a head-turning CV and Michelin-starred pedigree—he even worked as a private chef for Mick Jagger before shifting his focus to sustainable farming.
In Pranburi, the two have tested seeds for chefs, proving that many luxury ingredients typically imported can be grown here, like white asparagus, heirloom tomatoes and shiitake mushrooms. Rather than simply focusing on the supply chain with Ori9in, essentially the leveled-up version of their business in Pranburi, Noble and May are setting up cooperatives in the community and providing rentable farm space to the general public, too—the farm’s community garden grows a wide variety of vegetables, and villagers are allowed to harvest them for free each day.
They’re also serving plant-to-plate food onsite at Waiting for May. This restaurant project features a zero-waste philosophy, using seasonal ingredients grown onsite or provided by fishermen, livestock farmers and other artisans who live no further than 30km away from Ori9in.
“Luxury is changing. Fine dining is changing. What people want from the new norm is to know where their food is coming from. They care much more about the process than whether there’s a white cloth on the table,” says Noble.
At the restaurant, guests will write their preferences on a piece of paper, and then Noble will handle the rest with a simple concept: put produce over price and presentation.
“We know where our entire product comes from,” he says. “We know all our farmers, contributors and team members by name and their personal circumstances. This is very important to us and we know what we are doing is the right thing to do.”
Waiting for May will be operating as a pop-up in Chiang Mai from the end of July until later in the year, after the farm opens to the public in October. When it is fully up and running, there will be ticketed options that include access to what will be Asia’s largest corn maze, crop-planting classes, group events and more.
Will this farm help us turn our attention to the bounty we can produce in Thailand and reduce our carbon footprint? Time will tell. Ori9in looks like a step in the right direction, in any case.