Farming as we know it is an age old practice and has been feeding us since time immemorial. But the organic farming concept is currently booming here, with a lot of professionals venturing into this field – be it by quitting their secure job for this or taking it up part-time. The fact is a lot of farmers in the rural areas are using chemical fertilisers, pesticides and hormone applications in their farms, due to a lack of knowledge, and also to get early and abundant produce. The passionate folks we spoke to believe that the time has come for us to take the organic route, and spread this knowledge to the rural farmers as well. This will not just benefit the farmers, but the consumers, too. The more organic and natural the produce, the safer and healthier it is for us and for the environment.
Here are a few people from India who have traded their lives of being in a cubicle to a life on an organic farm. Meet these folks and read why they have never regretted their decision, and be inspired by their mantra to live well while doing good.
Gaytri Bhatia – Vrindavan Farm
Three years ago, Gaytri Bhatia quit her seven-year-old job as an Environmental Analyst to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to take up farming. “I decided to flip the top-down approach and started my endeavour in food, working bottom-up,” says Bhatia, who runs an organic Vrindavan farm in Wada, which is near Mumbai. And why she took the plunge? “It's when I heard the words like ‘DDT’, ‘urea’, ‘round-up’, from the farmers of my community, farmers that knew very few words in English, that I became absolutely committed to the work,” she states.
Brought up in Mumbai, Bhatia believes that farming is a lifestyle, and she is a grower and works round the clock. She quickly adds, “It's hard to be a part-time farmer. To be a grower requires dedicated care and nurture during a crop's cycle. Typically, part-time means someone else is working the earth.” Including herself, they are a team of seven members. While she personally grows in select seasons, she leaves the growing to a team during others. She grows fruits, herbs, and some vegetables, including many indigenous species. At her farm, she encourages species biodiversity, heirloom seed selection, home-brewed fermented manures as soil feed, fermented teas as sprays, celestially harmonious sows and crop rotation – Bhatia tries to combine indigenous wisdom with modern day knowledge.
Bhatia thinks that we're in a pretty scary place with agricultural practices in India today. “Seed manufactured by poison experts Monsanto, food injected with oxytocin to reduce growing time by a third, and simultaneously, we're more interested in apples from Washington as opposed to the lovely ones from Himachal. Food should speak of a season, of a climate zone, of a land, of a people. There is a unique story behind each ingredient. If we're looking to keep a healthy populous and earth. I sure hope organic and beyond becomes the standard,” she says, with a concern. Further, she wants kids to have experiential education in food and the earth - from touching a seed, planting it, to nurturing it. “Education on what it takes to bring the single grain of rice into being and to our plate.”
Besides working in the farm, she also spends time (since 2013) in the Himalaya, as a backpacking Instructor with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), and teaches First Aid across India, with the Hanifl Center, Woodstock, Mussoorie.
For More Details: Vrindavan Farm Fb, vrindavanfarm.com
George Varghese And Susheela – No Man’s Land Farm
George Varghese and his wife Susheela had been wanting to live a land based, rural life and wanted to grow their own food and become more self-reliant. This interest led them to move to their farm in 2007. To concentrate on farming, George quit his IT job in Australia and Susheela completed her Masters of Environment from University of Melbourne, and then moved to India. “There was a disconnect between the corporate life and lifestyle that the IT job came with and the rural lifestyle that we wanted to embrace. Being in a rural place, our lives were greatly simplified and our consumption and needs came down greatly. So it didn't require a corporate salary to support it. We felt that we could support this simplified lifestyle from farming. We now feel more secure in this lifestyle, than we ever did while working at a 'secure' job,” says George, smiling.
In order to create awareness on farming, he believes that there needs to be a closer interaction between the producers and consumers of food. “There needs to be a focus on localisation which will make it possible to have a greater connect between the farmer and the consumer. This will enable the consumer to become more aware of how their food is grown and the role that a farmer plays," he says.
George and Susheela look after a 8.5 acre land, which is located in the Western Ghat region near a town called Sirsi. They grow a wide variety of crops like rice, sugarcane (which they make into jaggery on our farm itself), turmeric, ginger, banana, pepper, mango, cashew and many other fruits. “We also have betelnut on the land, which we inherited when we bought the land,” he adds. They have two workers, who work with them regularly at the farm. And George says, “The four of us handle most of the work on the farm. We are very hands-on with regards to farm work. Occasionally, when a larger workforce is needed for harvest or planting, we bring in a few more people.”
And the best part of all is that their three kids aged 9, 8 and 5 are unschooled. The farm is their classroom and they spend the day playing with each other or the various animals like cats, dogs, chicken, ducks, calves, cows and buffaloes that they have on the farm. “They also help out with farm work sometimes,” he concludes.
For More Details: No Man's Land Fb, www.nomanslandfarm.in
Hamsa V And Nithin Sagi – Growing Greens
This farming duo didn’t really quit their jobs to pursue farming but gradually farming happened and the rest took back seat. “And this became our bread and butter,” says Hamsa, smiling. While she quit her job from the corporate world and was trying to figure out what to do next, things just fell into place and farming started off. But for Nithin he had quit his teaching because farming took up most of his time. From starting off their tryst into farming (in 2013) from a balcony, to a terrace and now a proper farm, the duo has come a long way. “We always wanted to get into agriculture to be more connected to the roots. But coming from a different background we were not sure how and what to start off with. With little bit of research in the market, we found out microgreens were in need and demand, and hence started off with it," says Hamsa.
Though Growing Greens is not an organic farm, it is a hydroponic farm. She adds, “We do not use any kind of pesticides or fungicides in our practices. We began our innings with growing of microgreens in our terrace garden. Soon we expanded to edible flowers. With more demand and need for other niche products we moved to a farm in Doddaballapur, and we started growing salad leaves and baby veggies.”
In about 4 months’ time, Hamsa says that they will have 10-15 more types of salad leaves and 3 more types of baby veggies. They also plan to grow tomato, coloured capsicum and cucumber.
Apart from Hamsa and Nithin, they have Ganesh who has been part of Growing Greens since its inception and he handles all the delivery logistics across Bangalore. “We have a family whom we have employed. They help us at the farm with day-to-day maintenance. But the microgreens is handled by us on day-to-day basis as it’s a delicate product and not many people are aware on how to take care of them. We are a team of 5 currently, and in about 4 months’ time it will be 10-12 people,” she adds.
They also supply their micro greens to clients in Bangalore. “It is given to them in the growing stage which makes them interesting as displays and also they remain as fresh as they can,” they say.
For More Details: Growing Greens Fb, www.growinggreens.in
Madhu Chandan And Bhaskara – Organic Mandya
After working as an IT professional in the US, Madhu Chandan quit his comfortable job to start an organic farming movement in India. He took the plunge in in 2015, and along with four other members, set up Mandya Organic Farmers Cooperative Society. Bhaskara, one of the members, gets talking about their venture. “Farming and agriculture has been my passion. Earlier I used to spend most of my weekends at the farm, but later we evolved it into a cooperative society, he says, adding, “The main idea came from Madhu Chandan, who decided to educate the farmers about various farming practices.” Once they created a society, the next step was to buy the farmers’ produce and sell it, and that’s how Organic Mandya (located on the Bangalore-Mysore highway) came into being. “So whatever we and the other farmers grow in the farms, it will be packed under this brand. The main mission is to help the farmers get a better value for their produce,” says Bhaskara.
Besides farmers, the society consists of Ayurvedic doctors and agricultural university scientists. The team visits the rural areas and villages, and bring together people who are interested to learn, and conduct organic farming training for them every Monday. He says, “We have taken a land on lease, where we grow vegetables and all the greens.” The entire team consists of more than 55 employees right now.
Along with the store, they run a restaurant right beside it. “We run the restaurant in a joint venture with Gokul Veg,” adds Bhaskara. While Madhu Chandan has moved to Mandya to take care of all the things there, Bhaskara takes care of all the sales, marketing and promotions, in Bangalore.
For More Details: Organic Mandya Fb, www.organicmandya.com
Laxminarayan Srinivasaiah – Bettada Budadha Thota
After 18 years in the software field, Bangalore-based Laxminarayan Srinivasaiah, recently took a sabbatical from work to concentrate and give all his time to farming. He ventured into farming in 2008 when he started to grow vegetables on his rooftop. “In 2007 there was a small financial meltdown and I started to think about job sustainability. At that particular point of time I was wondering what else can I do, and that’s how farming started. After rooftop gardening, I started off by growing plants on hilltops, and then graduated to growing vegetables with a few of my friends,” says Srinivasaiah.
Srinivasaiah and his team work on the concept of community farming. The farm is located almost 70-80 kms away from Bangalore. He says, “The idea was to grow everything that we wanted to eat. And not really look at the commercial aspect of it. So far we have been growing food grains, horticulture crops, fruit crops and so on.” And he adds, “Whatever we grow is for our own consumption. But there are a lot of friends who know about our farm, so they visit and pick whatever veggies or crops they want.”
He quickly adds that organic farming/natural farming is gaining popularity all over the world and it is high time we start adopting it. “Because we are seeing the ill effects of farming with use of chemicals and pesticides. Eating local and organic is the only way we can move forward,” he concludes.
Besides working on the farm, he has also launched a start-up called Jivabhumi, which he is working on currently. His main idea is to work with the farmers, buy their produce and connect them with the consumers.
For More Details: Bettada Budadha Thota - An Organic Farm Fb
S Madhusudhan And Bhairavi Madhusudhan – Back2basics Farm
Brainchild of S Madhusudhan, Back2basics is an organic farm that produces high quality organic fruits and vegetables, and have farms spread across close to two hundred acres around Bangalore. It is currently run by a father-daughter duo. The farm boasts of over 90 varieties of local and exotic varieties of fruits, vegetables and greens, grown using world-class techniques and chemical-free inputs. “Our objective is to encourage healthy eating among consumers and provide the best of chemical free organic produce,” says Madhusudhan.
He had been in the advertising and marketing field for over two decades until one day he stopped to re-evaluate his own fast-paced lifestyle and food habits after a health scare. He says, “I soon realized Bangaloreans have access to many different varieties of fruits and vegetables, but very few people are actually buying fresh produce grown using natural, sustainable methods, directly from the farmer. After personally witnessing my local vegetable vendor washing carrots using sewage water, I decided it was time to make a change. And so back2basics was born.”
The team also introduced a unique concept of experiential farming, “which is a first of its kind in India”. They have set aside a 3.5 acre farm purely for their consumers to visit. This is because “we recognize and appreciate our consumers’ need to see exactly where our produce is coming from, because ultimately seeing is believing,” he says.
Back2basics supplies produce to reputed grocery chains, retailers, organic stores and gated communities in Bangalore. Their produce is also exported to organic chains and retailers in other parts of the world. “In our direct to consumer initiative, we sell our produce on our e-commerce site, where it goes under the brand name of back2basics farm. Also, we make sure that the morning harvest reaches our customers by evening, as fresh as picking up from their own kitchen garden,” adds Madhusudan.
For More Details: Back2basics Fb, back2basics.farm