Over the last weekend, Tanya and I went to a small village on the boarder of Kerala in the Western Ghats (near Coorg). There is a small village there that is starting to produce a biodynamic farm producing aromatic crops for essential oils. The activities ranged from getting to the village to making compost. Here is the story of how the trip went.
I thought the alarm clock was set for 3:43am, however I mixed up the am and the pm. There was knocking at our door at 4:15. It was Kristen, a nice person who loves to help people, woke us up. Our ride was supposed to come at 4:30, which isn’t a lot time to get ready, especially when there is only one bathroom in the house. Our ride was late however, so we were rushed, and then we waited, for over an hour. We are picked up by a Tata Sumo, a diesel powered SUV, although there is enough to seat 8, you often 15 or more jammed into these things. There are no seat belts, and on the windshield OM is painted blocking the view of the passenger.
We were off leaving the deserted streets of Mysore, heading on the open road. The road fell apart as we moved on, causing us to move slower and slower. The 150km took us over 6 hours, with lots of stops. India is like this, you can’t really rush things, you can’t have a deadline, with open schedules you will be a lot less stressed out, as we were, we were along for the ride. The final destination was a small village called Gundre. Situated in a valley, there is a river at the middle of the valley and as you increase in elevation, rice paddies fade into the deciduous and bamboo forest. There are a number of houses scattered throughout the fertile landscape. It looks like a peaceful life, filled with nice temperatures and a supportive community. These people got power last year, and there is a newly paved road connecting the villagers with traffic that drives way too fast for these country roads.
Kristen visited this village many years ago, and they asked for help. She helped out, but not by giving money but by trying to improve their livelihood. This is where a guy name Sridhar Babu comes in. Sridhar Babu is part of Earth Trust (a biodynamic charitable organization with in India). Sridhar Babu wants organic essential oils, and has the knowledge to teach Biodynamic farming. The villagers want something to produce on their land and they don’t have much of anything. On most days, the villagers will go to Kerala (across the river) to work someone else’s land for $2 a day.
Their land (which has great access to water) is planted with super low maintenance crops (because they don’t have time to work their own land). They sell their crops (mainly tapioca) to buy food, consuming nothing that they grow. It is amazing land, not being used to its full potential, there are a couple of coconut trees and that is it. There is no reason why they couldn’t have some fruit trees planted to provide some nutrients to their families. Sridhar Babu says that a family should keep 40% of their crop for themselves and sell the rest, however the villagers sell 100% of their low value crop and buy their the cheapest food (and western luxuries like cigarettes and booze) they can.
We arrived around 11am in the morning, stopped for breakfast (we were running a little behind) and then we are off to the village. No one was there, they were all off working in Kerala. Kristen is trying to help these farmers and there was a lot of work done getting Sridhar Babu (the teacher), and all the materials (10L of cow urine, 20kg of cow dung and other supplies).
With only a small fraction of the people there, Kristen was frustrated. What happened? Did they not get the message; do they not care about this? There was a discussion about what to do. If Kristen is going to put all this effort in (fund raising in the UK, gathering supplies, paying for the training), they better show up (there are others who would love this opportunity). The missing villagers showed up around 4 in the afternoon. There were discussions and conditions put in place. As there will be many more visits in the future, any unreasonable absence will result in Kristen putting her energy into another project. It was a slight downer on the afternoon, but it was good, because the next day everyone was present, keen and knew that they only had one chance.
According to Sridhar Babu, the first thing you need to do is feed the soil. We were going to make some biodynamic compost (there will be a post on this later). After the compost heap was created, Sridhar Babu did a few other preparations. We then said our farewells to the village and headed back to Mysore. The trip was amazing, a great learning experience. I also met some amazing people. The idea of farming seems to be more and more appealing to me. Biodynamic farming is another tool that we can use to produce our food without the need of fossil fuels (i.e. no chemical fertilizer, no chemical pesticides). I think this is definitely be a skill that will be needed sometime in the future.
There is a team of Individual working on this project. Kirsten, Neal, Shivu, Pardip and Surya Prakash. Without the work of these individuals (and there was a lot of hard work and late nights) this trip would not be possible. I would like to thank all of them for organizing every aspect of this as it was wonderful to be a part of it. I would also like to thank Sridhar Babu (with Earth Trust), who was the instructor for the Biodynamic processes and put up with my constant onslaught of questions about Biodynamic farming.