Wednesday, April 22, 2009


the bears WHO?

well the kiwi family with 8 kids and a grandpa who came to stay with us

authentic anak
by Rach
Orkhon, Mongolia
I was a teeny bit apprehensive about signing up for time at Anak Ranch. It might be a real working farm, but it also has a snazzy website and is supposedly set up to cater to tourists. This fact alone means there is the potential that we might be housed in “fake traditional” accommodation, eating food palatable solely to a Westerner and only allowed to pat the animals from the safe side of the fence.
This is no tourist operation. There are no guides telling you what to look at or where to point your camera. Yes, there is traditional orange furniture (you can paint anything any colour in Mongolia so long as it is orange), but it is truly authentic. So is the long drop squat toilet and the firebox you need to keep stoked if you want to stay warm. The food is nothing short of traditional – there’s not a remote hint of Westerner-pleasing going down here. Not with garlic instead of drinking chocolate in your hot milk at night and lambs’ tails and black tea in your morning rice porridge! And fresh – why the milk comes straight from the cows.
As for the animals, even our two year old was let loose in a pen full of horned charging goats on the first day! And by the second day of horse-riding, one of the boys was invited to help round up the goats on horseback. Yes siree! This is the real thing! You can get your hands dirty shovelling cow dung (and we have), you can have a go at making dumplings (we’ll tick that box too), you can wander off across the steppe to the hills, you can stay wrapped up in bed all day if you want to watching the stars through the roof hole in the ger change to morning light, then to bright blue sky throwing shafts of sunlight at you…listening to the wind whistle and dogs bark outside in the snow flurry that comes across (we, of course, got up to marvel at the few snowflakes that blew past all too quickly!)
This is one authentic experience, one that meshes perfectly with our real life learning educational philosophy.
Actually, by the end of a week here, Jboy13 will be putting together a proposal that he returns here some day to research the weather patterns for a year, do eight hours farm work a day in exchange for food and a bed and put in some independent study time in the evenings. Sounds like a great education, don’t you think? Authentic, even if not recognised.
He won’t find a professor or any textbooks, but he’d have daily access to a widely experienced tutor. Martin, in fact. Remember Martin? Click here if you don’t!
Born in Germany to a Cossack father and mother with Austrian aristocracy ties, he lived in Australia, PNG, Philippines etc etc etc and used his time in a variety of enterprises; everything from the army to Master Builder, from glass bottom boat operator to lawyer (for real), from chicken raiser to architect. Jack of all trades, master of none? More like jack of all trades, Martin’s the man.
And he ended up in Mongolia. He’s been here nine years and is proof that “good things take time”, “it won’t happen overnight, but it will happen”, and other advertisement catch-phrases. (By the way, without a doubt, his favourite would be “Bugger”!) – apologies to non-kiwi readers unfamiliar with these ads.

Anyway, he has taken a piece of desert and turned it into a real working farm, a sustainable one, what’s more. With an eye to the future and having evaluated what really matters in life, he is putting down roots in Mongolia in more ways than one; both raising a family here and reclaiming the barren countryside. He is making a difference, providing jobs for a bunch of locals, sharing his knowledge, leading by example. (Go away Marty, stop reading now, your head will be swelling and ya won’t be able to get it out of your ger!)
In this place you can see grass growing where recently there was just sand. You see a healthy assortment of cows, goats, sheep, horses and dogs. You see the beginnings of an orchard and huge vegetable gardens. You see permaculture principles at work. He has created an ecosystem, where nothing is wasted, everything has a purpose. The begun-but-not-quite-finished bathhouse will be solar-heated in summer, all waste water will be fed to the gardens (and therefore no harsh soaps or other harmful chemicals will be allowed…with a germanic eye for detail he has really thought it all out). The begun-but-not-quite-finished dairy will provide an amazing setup for preparing cheese on a large scale and there’s a massive pizza oven tucked into one end too! Not that they need a separate facility – the cheese coming out of the gers now is deliciously divine. Then there are the huge workshop, milking shed, storehouse, fenced yards and stables….all of those have already been completed. In the summertime local kids buy his iceblocks made with milk from his cows, he’s hoping that in the next winter or so you’ll be able to buy frozen milk and frozen lettuce (silverbeet would be a treat if he could get seeds). And don’t forget the cashmere industry he’s supplying.
In his spare time he still works as a lawyer, and while we’re visiting he’s playing the part of a very hospitable host too, welcoming us into his compound and then welcoming himself into our ger for cups of coffee, shared meals and many a rollicking story. (*** addendum: he is also a miracle worker. When our laptop charger blew up, he managed to find a replacement for us there in Outer Mongolia within 3 days! Now THAT is impressive!)
Anak Ranch is a truly inspirational set-up, leaving one thinking that if it can be done here, it can be done anywhere – and by jove, it *is* happening here. Dreams for a kiwi farm are rekindled and the children are wishing the trip could stop here

ya don’t get more authentic than that!

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