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."
The kids of class 5 have been asking Roshni about why we are doing Ragi and how little of farming are they actually doing. A seed here, a hole punch there, some digging, a bit of watering and that's all. Worrying about this lack of razzmatazz in farming and the lull in a group activity, I got down the school bus on Wednesday slightly apprehensive about what the day would bring. Not to mention , it continues to be very bright and sunny . Not a cloud in sight.
But, to my delight, the next one hour turns out to be very engaging. Sreeja, Vasantha, Indu, Jalaja, Roshni, and Ashwini come along. We bring over the leaves that Vasantha has stored at school the night before ( Neem and Pongamia leaves (honge in kannada- which have a very sweet smell) in the school bus and gather at the farm to MULCH.
Vasantha explains why we mulch- to improve soil nutrition and retain water. Here is some more detail on why and how we mulch: https://permaculturenews.org/2016/01/22/mulching-with-purpose-and-precision/.
An excerpt : "Mulching is a top priority for a healthy garden. It does so much work that it’s hard to oversell the importance. A proper mulch maintains the integrity of the soil beneath it, protecting the earth from drying out under the sun and/or washing away when the rains come and/or blowing away in the wind. It creates water retention, mulched gardens credited with requiring as little as ten percent of the watering that other gardens do. Mulching prevents weeds, provides habitats for useful insects and microorganisms, and moderates soil temperatures. The right type even feeds the soil as it decomposes. In other words, it’s a good idea."
We discuss the lack of rain. And what people/ governments do to entice rain( sing songs/ pray/ seed clouds!) Later we pick up rain and the lack of it as the month's theme for classroom activities that teachers might do with students.
(Indira later in the week sends me some facts from the recently published newspaper article : http://bangaloremirror.indiatimes.com/news/state/another-drought-year/articleshow/59851744.cms indicating that Karnataka faces a severe water crises in the next few months. We expereince it visually every week when we go to the farm. Laskh reassures me later that Tuwar and Ragi will survive. They are draught resistant, hardy crops . But the farm caretakers are not watering enough.The drip can is not prepped well and so the water woes of being completely dependent on rainfall continue)
Kids have a go at spreading the leaves around the Tuwar plant. Jalaja quips that the care shown to Tuwar more than Ragi makes her think this is the Tuwar project. HAHA! Yes, Ragi looked like a stepchild indeed. It had only grown to 13 cms. -growth measured and quickly noted down by kids in their books.
I looked around to see who was not having fun. I saw kids collecting the seeds from the honge branches and thinking of making a craft out of them. I saw kids making a green tunnel of leaves ably supported by Vasantha and Sreeja; some running to get water to fill in the can, some digging insects out, some making tall claims about kind of insects they or their dads (!) have eaten ; some going ewww about many claims( "I once ate a scorpion, my dad once ate termites etc, etc!")
It wasn't that bad! Everyone was engaged even if it was to trace out the termites and follow the line of ants and being on the farm was nice and open despite it being sunny.
Sreeja and Vasantha have another go at fixing the drip pipe to the water can. the m-seal around the hole still leaks because we didn't give it time to dry. Chandru feels we didn't cut the hole properly. We might have to redo this but for now Sreeja ingenuously decides to make a small tunnel for the leaky water to go. Vasantha volunteers to do it as she lives nearby.
We came back and talked of how hot it was and that the real farmer would never have worked on her field at this time. By this time s/he would be napping after a thindi of ragi mudde and perhaps buttermilk?
This week was also a discussion amongst all of us involved around visiting Narayan Reddy's farm to see how farming can be done ecologically . Laksh had pointed this possibility out and I think it would be good if students can "see " a farm.
All this talk of insects prompts me and Roshni to explore farm based insects as a next week topic. Perhaps only one class can go and we can give others a break.
At lunch time, a quick meeting with the teachers was very very useful to plan a bit for the coming months. Here is what we decided:
1. Vasantha: will refix a new can.
2. Roshni : will check dates for Narayan Reddy’s farm visit ( 5th /12th); also will update notice board with outputs of other classes.
3. Roshni +sreeja: will make a DIY instrument for making music accompanying rain songs
4. Ashwini: tackles her topic on monsoon/ sawan, explains nature/animal/farming through nagapanchmi,. talks a bit about monsoon and limits to diet and prepares two students who will talk about monsoon and limits to Vasantha’s class who will then use this to prepare their rain related performance next month.
5. Madhu will prepare a script for a drama around rain/appeasement to rain god.
6. Jalaja will focus on 2 rain songs or prayer songs for rain- explain context of water woes and farm
7. Madhu will remember to get a " Frog wedding " organised when kids visit her family farm to give a sense of how culture deals with nature , especially rain.
8. Dipika is already doing rain guage so all 3 ragi groups need to get that data and talk abt lack of rain. Maybe Dipika can come and talk in class about her results?
8. Madhu will set up a system whereby we systematically have conversations with kids saround the why of Ragi project.
To me , as a coordinator of this project, this was a fantastic meet! These bright,enthusiastic and very involved teachers coming together to think of ways and what to teach around the theme of food!
Oh, And I almost forgot, Asha's class was cooking and the small kids made Ragi Payasam. Almost like chocolate pudding. Almost. I saw some kids going ewww and some asking for second helpings.