Crop Connect Chronicles

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Zen and the Art of Weeding – farming in Uttarakhand part 2

The afternoon lesson was in using a hoe for weeding. I had to squat, dig the earth between onions and later potatoes and remove the weeds. I had to gradually make my way along the line of onions while squatting. It was important to dig the soil deep and turn it inside out to allow for more oxygen to go to the onions.

I realized this whole process was like pranayama for the soil and vegetables. When we do pranayama well our entire body gets oxygen, promotes blood circulation and health. Similarly when we help the soil do its “pranayama” well sufficient oxygen goes into the soil and roots of the vegetables allowing them to grow well.

The toughest part of the whole thing was squatting and keeping focus. Whoever said you can’t workout and meditate at the same time.

I asked Dayanandji if he gets bored with his job. He has been a farmer ever since he remembers. His reply was a very matter of fact one – “why would I get bored? Just as you folks change jobs, I change my vegetables, grains and fruits. It’s the same thing. I am doing what I love.”

There is a strange mix of languorous zen and inefficiency in rural life. Farmers like Dayanadji are the true zen masters. He sleeps only 4 hours every night, works atleast 6-7 hours a day on the field and wakes up multiple times at night to chase away wild boars that his trusted guard and lieutenant dog – Kaalu alerts him to.

Wild boars and monkeys have been one of the chief reasons why agriculture in Uttarakhand is on a steep decline. The government has recently permitted killing of wild boars but still hasn’t mustered the courage to allow the same for monkeys – after all Uttarakhand is “Dev Bhoomi” or “Land of the Gods” and how can one kill monkeys that resemble Hanuman, the monkey God. Dayanandji had an interesting take on this. He said that Hanuman was a ‘brahmachari’ or a “follower of brahman” which implied he had given up sex and marriage so then how are there so many monkeys!!!

Dayanandji is totally in sync in with the natural rhythms around him – all evolved from his rigorous training on the field in growing vegetables and grains.

He was tending to his potatoes with the same attention and love at 75 as he must have when he was a young farmer of 25. He knows that only by focusing right now on clearing the weeds, mounting the soil around the potatoes and creating a water gulley will he later get big sized potatoes. He has mastered the art of being in the present. At 75 he squatted and deftly worked his way along the line of potatoes. While I kept standing every 10 minutes to flex my “squatting unaccustomed” thighs and kept looking at the pending rows of potatoes that we had to get through.

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Wannabe meets the Real Deal – farming in Uttarkhand part-1

We have a dream at CropConnect to have a farm of our own where we will grow food and make interesting value added products from it. So far all we have done is talk this dream to death without much action. Neither have we bought or leased a plot of land nor have we tried to grow anything in the urban space available to us.

Things they say happen when the time is right. For some reason events so transpired that I find myself currently in Uttarakhand for a farming internship over 5 days with a famous and progressive local farmer, Mr. Dayanand Joshi.

Mr. Dayanand Joshi is a progressive, organic farmer based in Govindpuri village. He has been recognized for the work he has done in farming over the course of his life. So much has been his interest in farming that he cross bred and developed a new variety of radish, each of which can weigh up to 15 kgs. Locals from far and wide line up to get the seed for his radish.

He is 75 years old, a widower and still practices active farming. As is common with most farmers in India today, not one of his 6 sons or 3 daughters is interested in farming. They have all been enticed by better paying big city jobs.

Dayanandji came to pick me up at a pre-decided time at a local tea stall and took me with him to his home which is nestled in the mountains and takes a good 25-30 minute uphill walk to get to. He is fit. And I am not. I was already panting by the time we reached his place and was so happy to hear that we will first sit and have tea.

My farming lessons started with an orientation of his farm. While he has a lot of land, increasing age and lack of interest from his children allows him to cultivate only about 1 acre of his land, using step-farming techniques. He is growing mainly vegetables like potatoes, carrots, radish, onions, garlic, pumpkins, spinach, fenugreek amongst others. His farm is also dotted with a variety of other trees and plants like walnuts, pomegranate, big cardamom, bananas and cinnamon. He also has a bunch of bhang (cannabis) plants growing wildly – not an uncommon scene in the Himalayas where the nutritious and non-hallucinating seeds of the plant are widely used to make chutney and other hemp products.

Dayanand Joshi does everything on his farm himself as he doesn’t have help from his family (even though one of his sons and the wife of another son with her 1.5 year old baby boy are living with him right now) and he doesn’t trust outside labour to do go a good job.

“Till there is life in my body and bones, I will keep doing farming”, he said while sipping tea and chewing tobacco.