In Conversation With… The Teepee Farm
Ali Frankland explains how one new farm in Thailand is inspiring school children with bamboo.
What is the Teepee Farm?
Three years ago, the Teepee Farm was just a small patch of grass in the middle of a carpark on the outskirts of Bangkok. Over the past three years, fuelled by the passion of children aged 3 to 12, the space has been transformed into a thriving farm!
It all begun with a particularly enthusiastic group of six-year-olds back in 2016, who asked to learn survival skills there. The young explorers built their first bamboo teepee, and as the students sat in their bamboo den, they began discussing the juxtaposition of learning wilderness skills without a tree in sight. The children suggested that if there wasn’t a jungle to play in, then maybe it was their job to plant one. And there began their love affair of bamboo, and the beginning of the Teepee Farm Journey…
Now, the Teepee Farm is a child-developed green space, a part of St Andrews Samakee school, Bangkok, in which children focus on taking care and playing in the natural environment, campaigning for sustainability, planting trees and developing their wilderness skills—almost all of which is achieved through bamboo.
What was your aim for the Teepee Farm? Have you seen that start to happen?
The Teepee Farm has evolved quite organically from the ideas of children, and so the main aim has always been to develop a space where we can nurture children’s relationship with nature so that they’ll grow up with a passion to protect it. The children visit the farm for one to five hours a week, every week, and have watched the explosion of nature on the previously urban patch. The children are proud of this reforested green space and can look at individual bamboo culms or bamboo structures and tell you a detailed story of exactly how it got there.
Why is nature so important in children’s education?
We are living in a world of rapid deforestation, mass animal extinction, plastic-filled oceans and people living in cities in which the air is too polluted to breath. The question is, why aren’t we all learning more from nature? It truly does hold all the answers. Using bamboo as our main teaching tool really gets this point across to learners of all ages. A majestic wild grass that grows to its full height in 2 months, matures for use in 3 years, oxygenates our planet 30% more than hardwood trees and can be made into almost anything. Bamboo is our superhero and we are yet to find something that it can’t do!
When you think about the Teepee Farm three years ago—that little barren spot of land—it’s hard to believe it’s the same space. Bamboo is majestic in all ways. Children glow when they see their bamboo shooting toward the sky: their very own air cleaning machine. They pick the leaves to make tea, build friction fires using only dried bamboo. They can pluck an idea straight from their imagination, confident that they can create it with bamboo. Treehouses, homes for their pets, spinning toys, tools, seesaws: with bamboo the possibilities are endless.
But at the end of the day, when you’ve outgrown your toy or you want an upgraded treehouse, these kids know that unlike plastic, this material will decompose into mud again, the organic kind, the soil that new bamboo shoots need to grow. The beautiful cycle is endless.
Can you give some examples of the work you do with bamboo and kids?
Currently, we are building an earth home because the children became interested in natural cement and mud potions, but leading up to this project we’ve built a bamboo treehouse, which was a request from our school council, then we rewrote the tale of the Three Little Pigs [a European fable], in which the bamboo house was the indestructible home. We’ve built several bamboo houses for our beloved ducks, bow and arrows and telescopes to guard the houses, yurts, toy cars, slides, ziplines… The children are constantly experimenting with bamboo as a sustainable building material. They are taking part in the whole process, from planting new offcuts, to harvesting culms, sawing and splitting the wood, designing and building different items of interest, and then observing it turn back into soil. They are eating bamboo shoots, using canes to make music, looking at the nutritional benefits of the silica. Bamboo captures children’s curiosity and creativity and helps them to understand and appreciate the natural world around them.
Do you think the Teepee Farm could become a reality in more schools?
There are many wonderful nature programmes out there in the world; any teacher embedding that love of nature in their children, fighting climate change or choosing to use nature as their inspiration is doing an important job. When it comes to education for sustainable development, working together and supporting each other is key.
For me, I think the Teepee Farm helps to show people that anything is possible, no matter how urban our environment. If we look closely we all have a spot of land to show children, hands-on, that reforestation is possible, it’s our duty as educators, as humans, and the more we look closely at nature, the more we can learn. Nature evokes curiosity in us all, and if you live in a region of the world where bamboo grows, I’d highly recommend that you go out and play with it. The Teepee Farm is a child-built bamboo playground and gradually evolving jungle, built by the hands of children. In my opinion, every child, everywhere deserves the opportunity to be so deeply involved in this kind of urban reforestation project.