I am not alone in this world .
You are bound to me and I am to you.
I am also bound to the people in my community .
And we are linked to each neighbouring community
Together we form the world
Like oceanic circles , or the rooting branches of the great banyan tree .
We are all bound to each other and to the land.
Therefore , the sweetness you pour into our relationship will nourish my life.
Just as the bitterness I spill will harm your life.
We are under one sky .
We breathe a common air.
We draw water from a common ground.
We eat the produce of the same earth that sustains you and me
We are all the children of Mother Earth
This give and take ties us together in a net of mutuality
This is called Anubandh
Let us acknowledge this bond between us
The world is sustained by the sum of all our correlated actions.
This beautiful piece by Ela Bhatt is on the back cover of her new book , "Anubandh, Building hundred mile communities ", 2015 . I received it on email via my university colleague , when I came back to school after an exhilarating morning of transplanting Ragi.
These words put all our emotions in context. It had been a difficult week planning for the transplantation. We needed more time and we were worried we won't manage with the given timetable. We needed all hands on deck and were worried we will not have all the support we wanted. It had been raining on and off and the ground had some moisture. But we needed to make sure it was wet enough so we could transplant by hand. How do we do it? Will Vasantha get time to water the land a day before? Where will the water come from? Will it rain the day after ? The whatsapp group messages were not flowing fast enough to make decisions. And whatever I read on the internet was not giving me hope. I read up on ecological ways of transplanting and found we had done nothing right! :(
I tried asking around but everyone had more information about transplanting Paddy over Ragi. Do we need to till the land? Do we need to water it first? Everyone had differing opinions and my heart was sinking with each piece of well meaning advice.
A call to the school principal, Banu, the weekend before helped in securing a chunk of time (half a day ) for transplanting. But this small victory came at a cost . That very Wednesday when the school agreed, Laksh, our farming consultant , said he couldn't make it! Oh No! With Laksh away this seemed tougher!
The teachers had a meeting a day before and one of them strongly felt we weren't prepared enough to transplant ; dipping our morale even further. At night when Roshni and I exchanged messages, we were surely nervous . But then we thought, how bad can it be??!! The worst case: we will do it all wrong and the Ragi wouldn't grow. And then we had so many teachers amongst us who were daughters of farmers. Again, how bad could it be?
With this new found courage and hope, I got into the school bus on Wedneday morning. We had divided our duties. We had to get seeds of marigold and beans to inter crop ; we had to pick up the school nursery saplings; , we had to arrange for water and wet the land before hand. We needed a team to pull out the saplings and a team to transplant. We needed a team to make rows and holes in the ground at equal distances. We needed monitors, facilitators and workers. And of course the photographers! ;)
Vasantha had paid a tanker and watered the plots the evening before so the soil was usefully wet. Roshni had invited extra hands- volunteers from parents and we had three extra set of hands. Sreeja , Madhu, and Jalaja were given duties to pull the Ragi saplings out. Sreeja had an interesting rhythm to pull the saplings out and soon little bunches of ragi plants were sitting pretty behind them. Sharief helped in making rows and kids helped him in drawing lines by the garden plough. Ashwini and Vasantha demonstrated and monitored the planting.
It was action from the word "Go". The soil was soft. The spirits were high. And row after row the plots transformed into lines of green proud standing plants.
At some point, Roshni exclaimed to her class: "Alpha, look behind you- look how your plot is shaping up!" All the kids were like worker bees. Busy, bending their bodies close to the land. touching the soil, and walking barefoot around rows. It was a heart touching sight. We were all in it together and were so close to nature, touching it, turning it, patting it, and shrieking every now and then if we spotted a farmer friendly insect!
The clouds covered the sun, the cool wind blew and within 3 hours we had 3 proud plots of Ragi saplings!
Came back to school and found Ragi payasam on the menu :)
Came back home and the skies opened. :)
We had been planning to visit Narayan Reddy's farm for weeks ever since Laksh (Agastya Foundation) told us about the ecological ways with which this 82 year old farmer grows food and takes care of his farm soil. Before requesting him to visit his farm in Srinivaspura we read about him and saw his interviews online to arm ourselves with information around natural farming. Here are links to some nice information around him: The short video : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4BqUXLsWkL4&t=206s and the newspaper article about him: http://bangaloremirror.indiatimes.com/opinion/views/a-farmer-called-narayana-reddy/articleshow/59223419.cms?
When Roshni called him to request for a visit, he was excited to know that school kids were growing Ragi but said we had sowed too early! ("Now is the season" and then he said kindly, "I hope god will help you"! Words of faith that will come to reassure us many times later.
With this reassurance and with a bit of excitement we were all looking forward to meeting this wise old tatha! Vasantha and Jalaja took pictures of our farm with them to show him. We decided we will not coerce all kids to attend- only those who wanted to. Over 25 kids from 3 classes signed up. Two parents asked to join and they did. School teachers (Roshni, Jalaja, Vasantha, Sreeja, Reena, Madhu) and Sumathi and I - we all got ready on Saturday morning for the ride. It was a beautiful Bangalore morning - the harsh sun had gone down and it had rained the night before. With help from Googlemaps and phone calls back and forth, we managed to reach his farm in the bus arranged by the school.
We disembarked on the main road and walked on a kaccha path - just a short walk fbut very rejuvenating after sitting in the city traffic for an hour or so.
Narayan Reddy's farm greeted us with moos , baas, and quacks. The cattle shed right up in front yard and ducklings and goats were very nonchalant to this little group of visitors. perhaps used to many visitors!
He offered the kids the visitor rooms on the farm for a wash and asked them to gather around him under a shady tree. We saw avacados around us and were very tempted but sat still quietly to listen to him (under his instructions- wow, a rare experience for Poorna kids!!!). He spoke for about 45 minutes in Kannada and English and he basically told us the following:
1. Grow your own food and eat local as much as possible
2. Don't listen to the agriculture experts sitting in universities. Observe nature closely and learn from nature.
3. Keep your soil covered. Use tree cover to protect upto 72 nutrients (not only NPK!) that the soil has.
4. Don't till the soil deep. Tractors spoil 50 years of free labour that the earthworm has done for your farm. Many hands went up to ask about insects as soon as he relaxed his hold on a monologue and the Boochi talk by kids and questions came tumbling out. Seena's experience with kids had definitely piqued their interest about the whole food chain and role of insects in the soil!
5. An acre should have atleast 120 fruit trees! Trees bring rain and make the soil fertile. (Oh no! We all thought about our barren Ragi farm as he spoke!)
6. Each gram of healthy soil can accommodate one million microorganisms. Our whole effort should be to make the top soil healthy.
7. Multi crop! Don't go after mono cropping. In his farm later when we walked around, we saw fruit trees, cotton, chikoo, avacado, coconut, sitaphal, ramphal, pepper, cattle feed, hulisappu, guavas, all growing in harmony with each other.
After that he took us for a walk in his farm and like a gentle ajoba/ grandfather/tatha/ he allowed the kids to pick on the guavas and encouraged us to pluck huli sappu. We all had our laps full of this and came back to a simple lunch. Narayan Reddy himself served a piece or two of jackfruit to each kid and I heard him say to kids who had protested, It is good for you,don't say no to good healthy things .
As the day ended and we walked back, we saw the adjacent fields getting ready for sowing,The farm labour was spreading urea and tilling their land with tractors. What a pity. to not use the wealth of information on ecological farming next door !
Here is the day in pictures:
Oh! what a day! what a day! A part of last week was spent frantically figuring out who could come help us with identifying insects on the farm. I spread the word on my Facebook page and got a few names but actually I should have just explored my ATREE connections first. By Sunday, we had Seena! A friend who is also an entomologist with ATREE and an expert on dung beetles. Here is more about her work( http://www.atree.org/user/100)
Roshni and I designed and quickly put up a poster by Monday- 2 days before the visit and Roshni and Jalaja drummed up the excitement and energy level amongst the kids.
As usual , every farm visit, before 9 AM we scramble for last minute arrangements. The buses get in by 8:30 and the rest of the half hour is spent collecting items to carry. Everyone runs around and I keep observing how hard teachers work to make sure things move. Once in a while we should all sit down and congratulate ourselves on keeping things together and still having sane minds!
Anyhow, we are getting better at this and in this trip we had almost everything we needed.
We only had class 5 kids with us. Laksh decided to stay back this week and Roshni, Sreeja, Seena and I reached the farm by 9 AM. We had an hour, lots of enthusiasm, and some gardening tools, and plastic buckets for watering with us. Seena had carried vials with spirits, her sweepnets for a show and tell with kids, a small spade, and forceps. I had briefed her on what the visit would be about. Largely focusing on role of insects in a farm and indirectly in our lives.
Seena gets introduced on the way to the farm, but the kids already know thanks to the poster and Roshni informing them. Seena asks what all they have observed already on the farm- termites, ants, beetle . As if on cue a beetle appears digging its way through on the sand and Seena bends down to pick one up and show the kids. What do they see? where are its wings? what is it preying on? who eats the beetle? the role of food chain?
Then Seena sends the kids on different trails in groups offering her equipment of Petri dish, forceps and telling them where to look and what to look for. every other minute we heard shouts of "I found something! ", "Come , Seena, take a look" from groups of children. We saw several kinds of beetles, earthworms, shirt horned grasshoppers and even spiders.
It was fantastic! The kids went from "ewww", to "soooo cute", to "awesome" in the beginning to searching for them under rocks and in dung cakes, learning the names of the species, holding them with care, capturing them to observe and marvelling at their role in nature. All in one hour!
Seena generously gave away her spirit filled vials to kids to take back some of the insects.
Roshni had already thought how this learning will get documented in class. She got them to write and draw their observations.
Seena later helps me list down all what the kids discovered and saw:
1) 5 types of butterflies: Common Jezebel, Common Rose, Crimson Rose, Lesser Glass Blue and Tawny Coster
2) Two species of Ground beetle (Family: Carabidae including the yellow and black beetle that was collected)-
3) Darkling beetle (Family: Tenebrionidae)- Many individuals of 2 species.
4) Tiny wasp carrying a moth larva - who dropped his larva when we crowded around it.
5) Two species of short horned grasshoppers
6) Four species of ants and a trail of ants carrying larvae
9) Hairy caterpillar of a moth
10 ) Three species of millipedes
11) Four species of spiders
12) A dwarf honey bee
13) A mating pair of robberfly. They were flying together from leaf to leaf!
14) And the Mexican beetle ; also called the invasive beetle , introduced to India from Mexico for the biological control of the invasive weed Parthenium
I couldn't stay back in school to sample the Ragi Ladoos cooked in the community lunch. But kudos to Ashwini and Jalaja who held the fort on ragi dishes! I only got to feast on the picture! But I hear they were YUMMM.