Crop Connect Chronicles

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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.

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Living the organic life


The Crop Connect team recently spent a week in Majkhali, near Ranikhet in Uttarakhand working on a report on organic agriculture and financing needs in the value chain. We stayed in a rented holiday home of a family kind enough to let us use their lovely property and were hosted by our key collaborator on the report, Mr. Ajay Rastogi a veteran environmentalist. His house, a few houses away from our temporary residence, was located on a slight elevation nestled in thick foliage making it a few degrees cooler at any time of the day. This is where we spent 6 days working and eating, fully exposed to the joys as well as the trials and tribulations of living a fully organic life.

What then is one might ask an organic life? Imagine eating mooli (radish) parantha for breakfast made of a mooli plucked 15 minutes before cooking. Imagine researching and writing a report in the middle of June on a table in the midst of trees and not feeling the need for even a fan. Imagine having kadi (Indian spicy yogurt soup) for lunch made not of pre-processed besan atta (chickpea flour) but of freshly ground chickpeas. And but of course, the afternoon tea made of ‘just plucked’ lemongrass. Every flavor in every morsel stands out because it has been grown naturally in a happy and healthy soil. You eat only what is freshly made. And what is left over along with skins and seeds is fed to the house cow who fed us back with her milk, curd and ghee.

In the absence of information overload and city life distractions, it was easier to be in the present. This meant that not only could we focus well on our report but also that we could listen to our bodies and its circadian clock. We were sleeping 9 hours, having beautiful conversations, eating healthy food and being productive all while having a great time. Not a bad life!

It is during this week that I understood the true meaning of living an organic life. Accordingly to the Merriam-Webster dictionary the word organic means “of relating to or derived from living organisms”. While living a city life in Delhi, organic is only about buying organic food and produce. We falter even in that as we are totally unaware of the many different ways of labeling organic and near organic produce, something I will address in another post. Coming back to an organic life – it dawned on me that surrounding oneself with life of every form including the realization that we are ourselves fully alive organic creatures, is the true organic life.

When every grain, vegetable and fruit has a story behind them,
When the breeze alerts one of approaching monsoon clouds
And the first beetle the arrival of dusk.

When conversations are simple and uncomplicated
And I feel the air I breathe reach the tip of my toe
And the natural call of melatonin.

A calm voice in me gently murmurs
This indeed is the organic life.