Mulberry Magic: Life on a Den Chai Farm

Life is all about learning. It’s a non-fiction novel filled with chapters of lessons and adventures. During our journey, we’re meeting millions of people writing their own stories. We’re crossing paths, and some people only stay in our book for a few sentences, while others linger for chapters. Few stay for the entire story.

I’ve got my fingers crossed that Alek and Mike stay in my book forever.

Alek worked in the chaos of the corporate world for 17 years before coming to the realization that her life was boring, unhealthy and quickly passing her by. If she wasn’t at work, she was at school. Her life was a mundane, repetitive, unfulfilling black hole.

However, one good thing did come from working in the city, and that was meeting her loving partner, Mike, a nutrition guru from England.

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Mike and Alek in their kitchen. (Outpost / Michael Fraiman)

Together, they decided to bring their dreams to fruition. Alek quit her job as a grocery-store manager (“My friends told me I was crazy to quit!”) and built a home in the province of Phrae, in the district of Den Chai, right beside her parents. She and Mike started an organic mulberry farm that today produces a few other organic foods and products, such as coffee, mangoes, bananas, spices, silk and a variety of vegetables.

But their main staples are the mulberries. From the berries, Alek makes and sells jam, jelly, shampoo, soap, yogurt, smoothies and bread. We were lucky enough to make jam with her, but we’ll save that story (and recipe!) for another post.

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Alek’s laugh is infectious. (Outpost / Michael Fraiman)

Alek also prunes the Mulberry trees and sells the new roots and branches to people wishing to start their own piece of mulberry magic.

Along with their three adorable dogs, Rambo, Watermelon and Makki, the couple enjoys visitors from all over the world.

“It’s becoming the norm to come for a day and stay for a month,” says Mike. “People would come and help us with the farm, and we enjoyed it so much, we made it into a business.”

Alek and Mike are the most hospitable people I’ve ever met. You arrive as a stranger and leave as part of the family…that is, if you ever leave. The jungle bungalow (or “junglow,” as I’ve called it) overlooks the valley, and the front-porch hammock is the perfect place to enjoy a cup of coffee while devouring some of the delicious bread and mulberry jam that Alek makes from scratch.

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Abra overlooks the valleys below. (Outpost / Michael Fraiman)

This would be a perfect time to mention the Thai meals that we experienced during our few days at the Den Chai mulberry farm. “You can’t even order these in a Thai restaurant,” Alek told me. “These are only homemade.”

Each night, she produced an impressive selection of various dishes. I was delighted when she offered to teach me a few things about Thai cooking. Using a wok, we fried silkworms (which are surprisingly great!), made vibrant curries and tom yum shrimp soup, a fragrant pork and mushroom stir fry, spicy papaya salad and the best chicken wings fried in oyster sauce I’ve ever eaten!

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Mike and Alek over a fantastic homemade dinner. (Outpost / Michael Fraiman)

The term “a gem in the jungle” is apt here, describing both the farm and Alek herself. This was an amazing experience that warmed my heart and opened my mind. The minimalist way of life that they’ve embraced has brought them so much happiness and their admiration towards their daily life is contagious. We reluctantly said our goodbyes with promises to be back again soon, and I can say wholeheartedly that I hope to make that promise come true.

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