Yaayyyy, The Ragi has sprouted! The kids first spotted it and I was sligtly envious- I wanted to sight it first! , "I am bending closer to the plant, Pallavi" ! said an eleven year old who was helping weed and mulch! True, true , kiddo!. And am so proud ! Roshni tells me there were groans and moans a day before when she announced the plans to go to the farm the next day. We didn't give them a choice this time and took them all. We made some quick plans and roped in Swetha to do an hour of art with the kids. Could they sketch something? Could they make some postcards? Let's do a postcard from the farm workshop! Last minute message to parents to send a reminder for pencils and clipboards; I had some extra art paper; Swetha said yes and we all got excited. Apart from this our one hour work was cut out: we had to set up the scarecrows too; weed or not weed(!) and apply Jeevamruta.
The farm looked lovely and green. And now the scarecrows are up , the ragi is sprouting, the tuwar /arhar plants stand tall, and the heart is full. We made it so far! And we'll make it to the harvest!
I had been having on and off conversations with Indira at the university about the project. In one such, I was letting Indira know about plans in school to make the liquid organic manure called Jeevamrutam and apply it on the farm land. Indira also had the know how and was willing to help out . She also hadn’t visited the farm till now so we decided to have her this Wednesday .
Laksh had suggested we weed out some of the grass growing in between the rows. There were some weeds growing around Tuwar too and we would have liked older kids getting their hands on to cutting and sorting the tall grass and bushes. This time, Indira, Vasantha , and Samhitha joined class 6 students. The sun was harsh and the soil wasn’t soft. But we spread around and pulled out the bunches of grass by hand. Of course we had to explain what needed to be pulled out first! The older kids (class 9) learning the home science subject on that day also joined us. It was their first time at the farm. And so I found myself repeating some basic instructions- walk barefoot if you can, walk around the plants, look where you step, you are crushing that Ragi plant! come on, talk less -work more!, use your hands - it is okay to get them dirty etc etc Phew… who knew that working with smaller kids was err…. faster and errr… easier? ;)))
There was some confusion about leaving the weeds in or not - should we have let the weeds grow along side? We discussed natural farming methods amongst us with indira telling us some permaculture principles but then we decided to farm one way this time. However we used the weeded out grass to mulch around the ragi plants to trap the moisture.
We decided to measure the tallest ragi plant but had forgotten to bring the scale so used a long stick instead. Again, we didn’t work around creating space and procedures around recording our observations systematically in a notebook. This has been a glaring gap since the project has started and none of us are able to find the time and space to crack this.
(Alongside this project, the class 7/8 kids of Poorna are involved in the Daily Dump project of growing food under the Hebbal flyover. I often see the clear instructions and clear expectations given to the kids and feel that this is how we should have run the project. Ours seems to be a dynamic one- ever changing-- ! ):)
Indira before heading back to school asked the children to gather around and asked them about what they observed. At first stating the obvious- ragi/beans/ soil/farm, slowly the kids started sharing interesting things that they observed. One had observed 6 different types of insects; one had observed a strange looking flower on the weeds, etc etc.
I thought it was a good idea to get a wrap up before the kids head back to school- something we should also start doing more.
Later Indira sent me a nice link about some perspective around weeding ,
"No weeding means that weeds are not removed either by herbicides or by cultivation. Fukuoka observed that weeds play an important part in the building of soil fertility and in balancing the biological community. So control, rather than elimination is the approach used in Fukuoka farming. This involves using straw mulch, a ground cover of white clover inter-planted with the crops, and also temporarily flooding his fields to effectively control weeds." from the link http://www.wildernesscollege.com/fukuoka-farming.html explaining Fukuoka farming principles.
Indira then met us all at school and we discussed possible new goal posts around the project. Some of them include:
We let a week go by after transplanting since the rain gods had smiled at us and every other day it was a rainy evening,
We visited the farm with some compost that Vasantha arranged for us from FRLHT , Foundation for Revitalisation of Local Health Traditions ( http://envis.frlht.org/frlht.php) and decided to give our little plants an organic boost.
We line up near the main gate right before we go to the farm. While the children line up, the teachers run around collecting our equipment- tools, bucket and usually each other. We should get better and better at this but somehow we don't .
There were some groans and "oh nos!" from some of the kids. 3-4 boys of Class 6 had revolted earlier as well and said they didn't want to come. We decided to give the kids who felt "feverish" and "had sudden stomach aches" an option and stay back but do something constructive with their time. I quipped - let's make them do 20 Maths word problems!
To both actions- Indira, my colleague at APU and the founder of the school , had something to say when I later discussed this with her. She hinted that we should have more time to talk it out with children who refuse to participate in a school activity before we take their 'Nos' at face value and she chided me about demonising Maths as an inferior /harder alternative. hmmm.
Laksh was able to come this time. The farm looked happy and green. The adjoining space also had got tilled (by the tractor) and Ragi and beans were sown by a seasoned farmer that Radha had contracted her land to. We had to walk with care around the plot and leave our shoes behind. He was amused at our efforts and was enthusiastic to talk with us about the varieties of Ragi seeds. Jalaja decided to ask him to come to school and talk to us about his farming experience. She also quickly noted down the cost of farming conventionally which I thought was very useful for our future discussions( the tractor/ the seeds/ urea/ water /labour)
Together we all mixed the compost with the soil (the kids were very enthusiastic about the mix) and filled smaller buckets . We used hands to shovel some of the mix and spread it around the plants row by row. After Seena's intervention, we always stop and look more carefully at the diverse insect population that plays peekaboo with us. All this took us less than an hour to do so. We decided not to water this time as the rains were plenty and also as Radha and Laksh both reassured us- "Ragi doesn't need too much water. Now it will survive!"
As I walked back with Laksh while the students and teachers went to school , Laksh confessed, " I didn't think you guys would make it so far. I doubted the seed quality, your watering was erratic, and the soil needed nutrients. But look at the farm now! Now it will grow and you will surely harvest some Ragi!" And then he went on to mention: "The teachers in the group knew what they were doing.. You didn't need me at all actually!" Yes! Yes!! Yes!!!
Again, I remembered Narayan Reddy's words to Roshni over the phone which were something like -- 'you are doing it all wrong but may God be with you! '
When we had returned from transplanting last week , random conversations in the staff room were about the rural-urban divide. Madhu had poignantly remarked, " Never in my 26 years of existence , somebody even mentioned to me that agriculture is important.. my success in life was all about getting away from my rural farmer identity... "
Sreeja remembered how practices like releasing ducks in paddy were common in her farm when she was growing up, The connections between this gift economy- pastoral communities letting loose their ducks in villagers farms in exchange of a few days of shelter benefited all- their dung added free compost; the ducks got to eat worms, and the farmers' children got duck eggs to eat and if they were lucky got to keep a duckling or two who had strayed behind !
These gently ways then are only romantic ideas now. Or are they? Can we not take the good of the past based on gentle , frugal, sustainable lifestyles and reinvent it in these times? If you have watched "The Story of Stuff", http://storyofstuff.org/movies/story-of-stuff/ you might remember the hope that the anchor, Annie Leonard, gives at the end...
"Some people say it’s unrealistic, idealistic, that it can’t happen. But I say the ones who are unrealistic are those that want to continue on the old path. That’s dreaming. Remember that old way didn’t just happen by itself. It’s not like gravity that we just gotta live with. People created it. And we’re people too. So let’s create something new."