What many Bitcoiners these days dream of – Rich Haslam has made it a reality.
Saving in Bitcoin allowed him two years ago to buy his own plot of land in Hóc Môn just North of Saigon (Noen Cu Chi Farm) Binh Thuan province to grow and raise his own food.
BVNews: Hello Rich! You are originally from Massachusetts in the North-Eastern part of the US which is known for its pretty cool climate compared to the eternal tropical temperatures of South Vietnam. What’s your story that made you come across Vietnam and ultimately led you to “get stuck” here?
Rich Haslam: Oh. that’s really a very long story, but the short version is I came here on a business trip, in 2006, with an ex business partner, who is a Vietnamese expat and her husband. I had been in the Medical Massage business for many years and we were looking into buying a Spa here and also opening an advanced massage therapy school. We couldn’t find what we wanted so that never happened. In the meantime I had made some friends and fell in love with the country … and of course a girl. The first 2 lasted, the third didn’t. But in the meantime I traveled back here several times to visit her.
It was in 2012 that I had made the decision to move here. My business took a pretty big hit from the economic downturn in 2009, but took over 3 years before I decided to close it and get out of the massage business and look at something else. I lived in South Florida for about 13 years and that is how I became acclimated to the South Vietnam weather, which was about the same.
I moved here in 2013, with a plan to start a business and teach English until the business started making money. That never happened. So I taught English for other centers until I opened my own, English In Action. At the center we were originally going to teach soft skills in English with a primary focus on agriculture based schools, but when we approached parents they just wanted their children to learn English. SO we opened the center teaching English but we also have created a summer camp program where we teach them the soft skills
BVNews: After your long time with Toastmasters and helping Vietnamese people to improve their presentation and speaking skills, you moved on two four years ago to obtain your own plot of land – with the aim to grow and raise your own food. What drove your decision to move to the countryside at an advanced age and remain active with the work on your farm – rather than enjoying the comfort and amenities of the “big city life” which Saigon in its glory days certainly has to offer?
Rich Haslam: Well, I’m not that old! At 66 years young I’m just getting started. I never really wanted to retire and sit around doing nothing, or even going on a perpetual vacation. I needed to produce!
It was always my dream, since I was 22, to get a piece of land and create a homestead on it. That dream started when I read a magazine called Mother Earth News. I’ve subscribed to that mag for 45 years now. Sometimes they would have an article about Permaculture
While we were scoping out different farms to have our summer camps for our center, we visited one in Binh Thuan. They had a piece of land that they were interested in showing us. When we got there I saw this big rock, in the middle of the field, that looked like it had been cleaved in two with a giant axe. Instantly, my mind started to race with memories of articles I had read about building using natural materials and something called “permaculture” . The owner of the property saw me looking at the rock and told my partner that I was the only one who came to look at the property, to buy, that looked at that rock. She said “I like him. Do you want to buy the property?” I immediately said yes.
BVNews: You have been also getting increasingly active and sharing and spreading the knowledge and information around Permaculture, besides organizing meetups you even run your own Youtube channel with updates from your farm life. Can you explain to us a bit about the ideals behind this movement – and what sparked your initial interest in it?
Rich Haslam: As you know, I’ve been reading about permaculture for years. When I had those flashbacks, that word permaculture came up. I decided to research more about it and came across this guy who was offering an online course on permaculture. The thing that attracted me to his course was he had over 70 teachers and experts teaching the lectures along with videos of real life examples. His name was Matt Powers. I have since taken his Advanced Permaculture Design Certification (PDC), Regenerative Entrepreneurs & Experts, Introduction to Regenerative Soil, and the full course – REGENERATIVE SOIL.
What drew me to permaculture was that it emcompasses not just gardening but also your own life and the lives of others. It is based on 3 ethics;
What drew me to permaculture was that it encompasses not just gardening but also your own life and the lives of others. It is based on 3 ethics;
- Care For The Self
- Care for the Earth
- Care For The Future
That along with 12 principles:
- Observe and interact
- Catch and store energy
- Obtain a yield
- Apply self-regulation & accept feedback
- Use & value renewable resources & services
- Produce no waste
- Design from patterns to details
- Integrate rather than segregate
- Use small and slow solutions
- Use and value diversity
- Use edges & value the marginal.
You can use these in all areas of your life which will help you to live in balance with this world we live in. When the ethics and principles are added to your everyday life … well to me, life has more meaning
BVNews: From which persons did you draw the most inspiration?
Rich Haslam: I’m really not that much of a follower of people in general. As far as permaculture is concerned it would be my teacher, Matt Powers. As far as my life is concerned there are many. I tend to follow the deeds and words, not necessarily the person.
However, there were a few books that did have a great influence on my life, Think and Grow Rich by Norman Vincent Peale, How to Make Friends And Influence People by Dale Carnegie.
BVNews: What have you learned so far in running your own small farm – and what unexpected challenges have you faced in your journey?
Rich Haslam: One thing I learned is that it’s not as hard as you’d think, if you do it the right way. Many people are obsessed with having a nice tidy garden with no weeds. My garden is full of weeds and lots of plants mixed in. Yet, I still have an abundant harvest.
Another thing I sometimes run into is when people see my garden they have all sorts of suggestions, such as pull the weeds, and adding soil amendments and artificial fertilizer and poisons to control weeds and insects. I don’t have a problem with those things. The weeds don’t hurt, the bugs eat very little and end up providing food for my chickens and other birds. A garden based on healthy soil doesn’t need anything artificial and will actually take care of it’s own insect problem by attracting beneficial predatory insects.
BVNews: The farm was made possible by your habit to start saving in Bitcoin years ago. As such our colleagues of VBTC, Vietnam’s oldest Bitcoin Exchange service, also had the honour to work with you as one of their clients. What compelled you to start to save in Bitcoin rather than fiat currency – and what would you recommend newcomers who are weighing to do the same?
Rich Haslam: When BTC started to make the news I saw it as a way to transfer my money from my US account to my VN bank. I was using my debit card at first to do that, but the bank kept flagging my purchases because of suspicious activity coming from a foreign country, even though I told them I was moving here.
I tried sending my money to my sister, who would send me a Western Union, but that also became cumbersome and time consuming for both of us. I couldn’t do a bank transfer because the bank required me to make the first transaction from a local branch in the US.
I opened a BTC account with Coinbase, and then transfer my BTC to VBTC and then to my VN bank. I soon realized that even with the transfer and sale fees, I was making money. 2 years ago, I made over $800 after all the fees on buying and selling/transfer about $250 a month.
The one lesson I have learned is that since BTC is still very volatile, you have to stay on top of your investment. Check it every day, even twice a day! I do. When BTC first started to rise, I had a total of $6,000 invested. That soon ballooned into about $28,000 at about the time I was looking at that farm. After cashing out a few grand for a deposit, I got a little complacent. I failed to check it every day, and when I did, it was starting to fall. Luckily I cashed out with enough to buy the farm, dig a pond and plant 3,000 trees. But I also missed out on about $7,000 because I wasn’t paying attention.
Another thing I recommend is that you should join a BTC facebook group, or sign up for a newsletter. Get informed before you buy. Forums are a great place to find out about the different exchanges out there. Some of them are good, some bad. And never listen to just one complaint. I remember this guy complaining about VBTC and the high fees. Yet, he probably didn’t bother to check his account and see that he made a lot more than if he left it in the bank where they charge you for everything and give nothing in return.
BVNews: You made happen what many people dream of – retiring in a tropical country surrounded by beautiful nature. What is your advice for people who are looking to take a similar path – and what are some compelling arguments to take Vietnam into consideration as a possible location to make that happen?
Rich Haslam: Well … Don’t do it the way I did! 🙂 I more followed my intuition more than doing any serious planning. However, there is one thing that I did that everyone should do and that is to visit here a couple of times for about a month. Don’t stay in some hotel or resort. Stay at a VN home and get to know the culture and traditions.
I usually joke with my friends back home that VN is 180 degrees around the world from my home in the US and the customs here are also the same, which is opposite. I think adjusting to the lack of personal space and property were the most significant challenges I’ve had. The other thing I highly recommend is not to live in expat areas. OK, maybe at first to blunt the impact of culture shock, but I would move out into a real VN community as soon as you are ready.
I have found that the VN people are EXTREMELY helpful and friendly. Dirt poor people, who are barely able to feed themselves, will ask you into their home for dinner. It’s amazing how far a simple smile will get you here. Back in the States it would get me slapped in the face LOL!
BVNews: And last but not least: How can people support you in your efforts? And is it possible for city dwellers in Saigon to get access to the clean food products you and your neighbours grow?
Rich Haslam: Right now our plans are on hold because of covid. Some partners have backed out of our proposal to deliver fresh organic produce. I don’t blame them. There is so much uncertainty about what the economic situation is going to be and what kind of business will be the best to invest in.
Everyone should keep a sharp eye on bitcoin though. The future is going to change after the great reset and I think BTC will be part of it.
Right now I am putting together a free, live, online, permaculture training class. I am also exploring the possibility of creating a course on urban permaculture. After seeing the problems that this current pandemic has caused with food shortages, I see food independence as a vital tool in personal, and national, security.