Momentous things have been happening in the last one month. At least, it feels momentous to me because, while it is only the first small step forward, I dream of it becoming a movement in our locality.
It all began when I asked Gopi (my permaculture guru at Navadarshanam — more about him here) if he was thinking of adding any more farmers to the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) suppliers side. I didn’t really have much hope of this happening, so I was stunned when he immediately agreed to my idea of trying to coopt some of the farmers from our neighbourhood. A month ago, we set up a meeting with the farmers. Some fourteen guys attended (sadly, though it was International Womens Day, no women turned up). They were both interested and sceptical. These guys have all grown up in the age of DAP and chemical pesticides, they have never seen anything different and they do not believe in organic. Between Navadarshanam and Anilodharani, we provided a good spread, elevenses and lunch, which hopefully softened them up a bit. Two weeks later, eight of these farmers went to spend a day of exposure and training at Navadarshanam. And this week, we had a demo at one of the farms in our area – friend Gopakumar’s place. Unfortunately, only five attended this, not so much out of disinterest, but because of other work. Raju, for instance had to go to Bangalore because his mother-in-law was seriously ill. And so on.
Still, we made a start. Five people came from Navadarshanam: Gopi, Padmini, Gopal Lama, and two volunteers, Uma and Janhavi. We dug, raked, planted and watered two beds of vegetable seeds and saplings (carrot, beetroot, dhania and cabbage). While all this was going on, Gopi also instructed us on the preparation and maintenance of the beds. I was a bit horrified at the precision: nine carrot seeds per square foot! I’m an andaaz sort of person, a slapdash cook and everything else. This is very hard for me to follow, and I’ve always had this rosy vision of just tossing in a variety of seeds, all mixed up, and getting a bountiful harvest. Ok, I know that might happen twenty years from now when I have a real food forest, so I will just bite the bullet.
Despite the sweltering day, it was so much fun. There was a lot of friendly ribbing. Mariappa (Gopakumar’s Man Friday, the eldest present and a Panchayat member, no less!) and his pile of really revolting, plastic-filled gobra (manure) came in for the brunt of it; but he took it like a sport. In the process I also gained a better understanding of why community is stressed so much in permaculture.
So, the CSA deal is this: You plant a bed (3′ by 40′) every week, with vegetables and quantities previously specified by Navadarshanam. (This takes a lot of planning, as you can imagine!) In three months, you begin harvesting the first bed. Each week, you get a yield, for the next 13 weeks. Then you start over with the first bed. So it’s a cycle of 13 weeks. Ideally, a farmer should have 20 plots going, so that there is some fallow time. Navadarshanam will pay a fixed amount per kilo of each vegetable, a fair rate intended to give the farmer a decent livelihood. This is disconnected from the vagaries of the market. They can do this because of the CSA: there are 100 families in Bangalore signed up to receive these vegetables, paying in advance; and more waiting in line to join up.
I’m hoping at least half a dozen of the farmers around us will join the CSA group over this year. It’s specially important to rope in the large chemical farms in the area. I see a lot of proselytisation ahead!