Six years since we took over Chiguru Farm which was already 4 years old, making it a 10-year old farm now. Six years is not a very long journey for a farmer. But it gives immense satisfaction to us tracing back the journey and the amount of transformation achieved during this time. Transformation on multiple aspects. From a banana-majority-horticulture-farm using chemical fertilizers to highly biodiverse organic farm having a mix of commercial crops, fruit trees to forest trees and field crops it sounds incredible. We now have more than 40 varieties of fruit trees - some of them being grown commercially and some others for our own use or for diversity or for agri-tourism purposes. Another 30+ varieties of forest trees and timber trees including teak, silver oak, banyan, hebbevu (melia dubia), neem, 30+ varieties of medicinal plants, grains and pulses like ragi, toordal, avarekayi, moong dal and urad dal, and different seasonal vegetables are growing and/or being cultivated at the farm. With cows & calves, sheep & goat in the farm, move towards sustainable living is slowly becoming a reality. This is definitely a proud moment for us!
This journey can be divided into 3 parts:
1) First 2 years of status-quo (as a chemical farm) when I was still a weekend-farmer! Nothing was moving and I used to come back from the farm empty handed. We wanted to focus on many other important things that normally get ignored by farmers. Spent time on rain water harvesting and building cowshed during this time.
2) Next 3 years of conversion to organic. We did take a hit in the revenue during the conversion process as the plants get confused. We also tried to grow rose organically which failed miserably and we ended up removing them completely in a year. Started multi-cropping and inter-cropping extensively.
3) Now the stabilization phase with steps towards self sustenance. Started growing some field crops also like toordal and avarekayi. As far as the food is concerned, we are at least 60% self-sustaining and expecting it to reach at least 75% by the end of the year. Also targeting the farm to be self-sustaining in a year or so without any external inputs and move towards natural farming.
Soon it is going to be 3 years into Agri-tourism. We knew that the disconnect from nature among the young generation is real, but we had never realized the severity of it. They cannot even recognize the common trees around us (like coconut, papaya, etc) and they don't know the importance of parts of the ecosystem like bees & insects, frogs, birds, snakes, etc. They don't know what is in season and what is not. It really looks like a sad state of affairs. We understood this magnitude of this problem only after we started conducting educational trips for school children. This is when I started feeling that there is more scope for such ventures in different directions of Bangalore. More and more farms should open themselves up and start inviting school kids. Other than school trips, we also have been conducting trips for families with the intention of spreading the farming knowledge. In general our target audience are kids in the range of 8-16 years. Unfortunately the kids in this range don't want to visit this kind of place and that is why during family visits we hear that their kids are back home staring at some gadget! Only younger kids and adults who have a nostalgia of their ancestral home that was abandoned long back end up visiting the farm. Even among the schools it is surprising to see the interest among montessory and small kids below 4th grade, in which case it serves a very limited purpose. I don't understand why schools think that farm visits are for small kids. Few schools which brought bigger kids have not realized the importance of these visits and have been very appreciative.
People ask me what is the best time to visit the farm. They should understand that each season is different and the best time depends on their interests. For example, summer time will have varieties of fruits including mango and litchi, but it will be quite hot outside. Winter will be pleasant with lesser number of fruits. Monsoon time will be green with even lesser number of fruits.
There are also people who ask whether we have a swimming pool, whether they can bring food from outside, why they can't bring alcohol and drink in the farm, etc. SMILE is the only answer!
Will write another blog post exclusively with the experience in farming...