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Ari Brings Greensgrow to Vietnam

Category: Guest Blog

This is ari, the Finance & Ops Manager at Greensgrow. This blog post is a summary of the instagram posts I made during my trip to Vietnam in October. You may remember Ha, a fellow that worked with us in May. She and I worked on a project together thanks to funding from American Councils. The photo above is of a produce market at the end of the day. Farmers bring food into the city to sell at very large covered markets. Fresh mangoes, dragon fruit, and bananas are prolific. Yum.

When Ha was working with us in May she helped do some research for a project Greensgrow will be launching in 2018 called A Plant for Every Home. The idea is simple – there are lots of kids in Philadelphia with asthma and there is research that shows that clean air reduces asthma rates. Plants help to purify air – absorbing not only carbon dioxide but volatile organic compounds (such as benzene and formaldehyde) as well. This project inspired her Outbound Project application. Hanoi has very poor air quality because of the vehicle traffic, construction, trash burning and coal-fired power plants. In planning for the project Ha discovered Green Fingers Vietnam – an organization working to educate young people about environmental issues in Hanoi and surrounding provinces. They also have a program where they collect disposable cups from fast food restaurants to re-use as planters. A perfect partner for our project. 

My first week in Vietnam Ha, the Green Fingers team, and I led workshops for around 480 students at two schools in Hanoi. The workshops focused on the impact climate change will have on Vietnam and why it’s important for each of us to live in a way that is supportive to the environment. The students each decorated a re-used plastic cup and planted a succulent or baby tree to take home. The Green Fingers staff and volunteers taught the students how to take care of the plants. The most impressive thing is that there were 120 students in each workshop at the same time! 

During my second week in Vietnam Ha and I went to visit Kim Son Farm in Co Loa (just outside of Hanoi). The farm was started three years ago by Chinh, a 26 year old man excited to do something a bit different. Chinh operates his farm using organic practices, something uncommon in Vietnam. He said that when he started the farm his family was concerned. A year later he had convinced them to join the team. By not using chemical fertilizers or pesticides Chinh is helping to rebuild the soil nutrients on his farm. He makes his own compost using bird droppings and weeds from the farm which get added to the soil before each planting. He grows a variety of vegetables and fruits including water spinach, lemon grass, luffa, cabbage, cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, papaya, pomelo, and bananas. Because organic farming isn’t something his customers are familiar with Chinh uses QR codes to help show customers his growing practices. They can see where the plants are growing on the farm, when it was harvested, and how many times it was fertilized. Oh, and the papaya tastes amazing.

I also visited the farm Ha works and and manages, Bao Linh Farm. Located just outside of the city in Gia Lam the farm is home to pigs, chickens, tilapia, and five workers. In addition to the animals they also grow peanuts, sweet potatoes, bananas, pomelos, and a variety of vegetables for the workers to use in their own cooking. They are working with a professor in Hanoi to do research on using micro-organisms to make the food for the animals easier to digest and to make the living areas cleaner. The micro-organisms digest the waste from the animals creating living areas that don’t smell! 

And, of course everyone wants to know about the food! Vietnamese food is all about flavor and texture. Common ingredients include fish sauce, rice, fresh herbs (mint and cilantro), chili, and lime. Many dishes include plants prevalent in the country including bamboo shoots and lotus root. As a vegetarian I didn’t explore the full range of options available but definitely had more than my fair share of Pho (a rice noodle soup traditionally served at breakfast; broth includes ginger and coriander and often has spring onions and sprouts), Bahn Mi (a simple sandwich on french bread which is served with meat/egg, cucumbers, cabbage slaw, chili paste and/or shrimp paste, and cilantro), Mi Quang (a noodle dish that combines sour and savory flavors – typically includes peanuts, fried shallots, mint, and some flavorful oils), and Rau Muong (water spinach). I also had the opportunity to try some interesting desserts including Chè (shaved ice, coconut milk, colorful gelatin pieces, tapioca and various types of bean pastes and fruits) and Banh Cam (a fried ball filled with sweet mung bean paste and covered in sesame seeds). Oh, and I would be totally remiss to end this post without mentioning coffee. Egg Coffee, which started at Giang Café in Hanoi, is a pretty amazing experience. The top is egg yolks that have been beaten with condensed milk and sugar, the bottom is coffee. You can order it plain, with cocoa, or with green bean flakes. I am definitely going to miss the food. Many thanks to Ha for taking me around to all of the best places in Hanoi and doing all of the ordering! Check out stories for some video clips from a performance at the Vietnam National Tuong Theatre.

It’s was an amazing two weeks in Vietnam – launching a Plant for Every Home, visiting with farmers, and exploring the city as thoroughly as possible. I feel so grateful to Ha, Green Fingers Vietnam, American Councils, and my co-workers at Greensgrow for making this trip possible. A special shout-out to Jay who has carried most of my workload while I’ve been away from the main office and to Bryn who has trusted me to be a decent social media ambassador despite my lack of qualifications. Hope you enjoyed the posts.

Check out all of the photos from Ari’s trip here.

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