Language barriers and organic farming both come with many hurdles. But Norbert Binot, the founder of Fair Farm and Kampot Jewels, is not hindered by them- he’s been jumping above them all with ease. Today, he’s sharing his journey of setting up an organic pepper farm (all the way in Cambodia!) to not only bring quality pepper to your table, but also fair work to local farmers- and a funny story about turkeys that happened as a result.
“We call it ‘farm-ily’. They are my farmers but they’re also my family” – Norbert Binot
We spoke to Norbert about:
> How he came up with the crazy idea to start an organic farm in a different country
> The intense process it takes to get pepper from farm to table
> A funny mishap with turkeys
There is an incredible amount of labour involved just for us to crack pepper on top of our pasta. What gave you this crazy idea to buy a plot of land in Cambodia to build a pepper farm on?
NORBERT BINOT: I think it is because I wanted to go back to farming, coming from a farmer family. My roots definitely belong in the ground so I wanted to stay in Asia and do agriculture. This was the perfect fit.
You have been doing this for a couple of years now- how has that journey been now that you’ve finally got your first harvest coming in?
Basically, we are organic so there are rules we need to follow. But before even starting to follow those rules, we needed to find proper land. I have visited over 40 plots of land in Cambodia to find the perfect ground, plus I wanted to make sure that I won’t have any trouble with the neighbours who might be using harmful chemicals and pesticides. I eventually found this land down the mountain and fell in love with it – so I started Fair Farms. At the beginning, it was just bush.
What’s the process of growing peppers like?
To grow pepper, we need to add water when the pepper is thirsty- usually during the dry season (there’s no need to do so in the rainy season!). We then need to help it attach itself to the poles- we use strings that we make out of the bark of a specific tree. We then need manure, so we get that from our cows. Then it starts to grow. After 3 years, when the pepper is mature, we harvest it. We have 3 different processes when we do the harvesting to get either the green, black, white or red pepper which all come from the same grape. Once it is clean, we package it. Once it is packaged, we ship it to the tables directly. We don’t work with supermarkets, we work directly with chefs.
You run an organic farm, and you have eco-friendly practices too. What goes on at your farm?
There are 3 important things at our farm. Firstly, we don’t have electricity as we are not connected to the grid. So we use solar panels. We are also 100% organic and we are extremely proud of it. We use cow dung as manure, and at the beginning, we even used some bat shit. We also don’t have any chemicals or pesticides, we use our very own kind of insect repellent made with the roots of one tree, potato and all the local stuff we find here.
Fair Farms really uses and lives off the land! You also have an incredible relationship and love for your farmers.
The name of my company is Fair Farms because we want to be fair with our guys. So they have a very good salary, they have health insurance. We also provide accommodation, food and of course happiness.
What is the most interesting or crazy thing to happen at your farm?
Working here in Cambodia is not that easy because obviously, my Khmer is very limited – so you get very funny stories. Once, I asked my manager to buy some walkie talkies so I said “Please buy some talkie”. A couple of days later, I come back to the farm and saw some turkeys here and he said “Yea I bought the turkeys”. So I asked “why did you buy the turkeys?”, which he replied, “because you asked me to buy turkeys”. Then I said “No I asked you to buy talkies” so you can imagine the talkie and turkey confusion that just wasn’t working out.
What are some #LittleGreenSteps we can take to be as green as you?
The easiest and best thing to do is use whatever is at your disposal around you. You don’t need to go far to get products. You just need to look around you and you will find it.