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Winter Gathering 2015

What a lovely end of 2015 with Winter gathering. It couldn’t have been better. A dozen strangers coming together to live in harmony with nature. Accepting differences within each other, celebrating individuality and cherishing togetherness.

You may read Shantanu’s blog on winter gathering here.

Here is a little video with pictures and videos of the gathering :-

The Madmans Farm : Winter Gathering 2015 from Shashi Bhushan Singh on Vimeo.

Once again thank you Binal, Deepti, Manvendra, Vineet, Pradeep Ji, Charnita, Ikrav, Priyamvada, Sandeep, Ritika and Gulrez for making the winter gathering  – an event that we will cherish for long.

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Food Forests

Over last few years of our work with land, few things are becoming clearer :-
1.) Agriculture as it is carried out today is becoming increasingly difficult with every year. Primarily, due to changing weather patterns and increase in Human greed.
2.) Trees are not only more tolerant to weather changes, they offer many additional benefits to human beings and environment.
3.) Fruits are more nutritious and healing that grains/cereals.
4.) Agriculture (crops) are labour intensive – and it is becoming a problem everywhere.(The only other way to go about is complete mechanization – which has it’s own implications). Trees on the other hand require care only for first few years.
5.) Generally, most of the fruits have more or less a stable market and market price whereas the crops market is heavily fluctuating.

Once we look at reasons above, the natural curiosity is “If it’s so simple and straightforward to grow trees, why don’t we all focus more on food forest and tree plantation* instead of grappling with crop issues ?”

(*Natural Forest like plantation with mix of fruit and native wild trees is what we are calling food forest while tree plantation is being referred to plantation of only useful trees arranged in rows and columns)

Broadly, here are few possible reasons –

1.) Trees require a gestation period of 3-5 years, thus farmer’s immediate needs are better met with 90-120 days crops.
2.) The patience, the vision / planning of tomorrow is a scarce quality in farmers.
3.) Lack of awareness, guidance, system support, living examples – discourages any move on that front.
4.) Mass scale crop farming encourages everyone to be safely part of majority and follow the rat race.
5.) While it’s true that trees are more tolerant but even their production can be damaged by changing weather patterns.
6.) Traditionally, in the psyche of Indian farmers – fruits were always fetched from forest or few trees commonly found in the village. The idea of growing forest is alien to most.

As we move forward, however trees are our only saviours. Most of the problems that we face today; be it global warming, food security or financial stability – can be all mitigated with help of trees. There is need to create to set up living examples and inspire farmers to set up food forests.

At Madman’s farm, this is the direction that we wish to move towards. We have already grown food forest in half an acre of land and done tree plantation in 4 plots but slowly we wish to expand it further and become a primarily a food forest. Nothing beats the company of a tree :-).

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How little do we know about Farming !

It comes as a surprise to me to know that we know so little about farming in spite of immense advancements in science and technology.

With absolutely no idea of farming, I started farming. All I knew was – we put a seed, it sprouts and if taken care of, it turns into a tree. It was not that simple. A lot of things need to be considered, I learnt as I experienced farming. The impact of soil, stars, time, rains, water, species, weather, location – all needs to be factored in.

As my hunger to learn more and more about farming increased, the more I found myself in grey zones. There were no authoritative texts on even the most fundamental questions of farming. For instance,

Why do we till ? Is it necessary ?  If no, how do we go about it. If yes, how much and how to do it ?

I Googled, I read books, I watched documentaries, I talked to local farmers and to old men of the villages. None of them could give a satisfactory answer. The old man, came closest to my satisfaction.

Why and how do pests/insects come up during a crop cycle ?

There is ample information on both chemical and organic treatments of pests and disease but no good reading on why do pests come up in the first place ? Vague answers do exists but they all have their exceptions right in the garden of the answerer.

Of-course we know a lot about a lot of things in farming but that information overload is perhaps what keeps us away from real questions. We might have technology to grow exotic varieties of rice, to grow crops without soil, to transfer a 100 year old tree. Yet, we know so little about what really happens when we grow paddy, what is life web in the soil and how an old tree communicates to cosmic energy !

There is need of sincere enquiry into farming and it’s practices. Perhaps each farmer has to carry out his/her own individual research. May be, we as community can find answers to some of the most important questions. For finding answers, or even simply pursuing fundamental questions such as these will open up a world before us.

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Embracing Agnihotra from Vedas

According to Vedas and Hindu Mythology, Yagya and Havan were two very essential rituals for every aspect of life. Marriage, Death Ceremony, Celebrations, Festival, Farming activities, Spiritual Ceremonies – they all revolved around some form of Yagya or Havan. According to Vedas, Yagya and Havan are vedic rituals to communicate with cosmic energy, to send messages to Gods. It usually involves a fire cermony where offerings are made to the fire. God is believed to have “Agnimukh” i.e. Fire as his mouth, so we make offerings to fire with the faith that it’ll go to God.

While a Yagya is more elaborate ritual, Havan can be a very simple and small ritual. Yagyas may go on for days, months, year and may involve various other aspects like Satsang, Dana, Bhoj etc..While Havans are usually simple. Further it can be said that Havans are primarily for personal and worldly benefits, a Yagya is often for world’s welfare.

Agnihotra is a very simple form of Havan prescribed to be done right at Sunrise and Sunset. The offering of Desi Cow’s ghee and unbroken rice (Akshat) is made to fire of cow dung cakes. It is suggested to do it in a pyramid shape container called Dasangula patra. It is believed to purify the environment, attract positive cosmic energy and ensure general well-being of all living beings in its vicinity.

Courtesy Homafarming.org

Courtesy Homatherapy.org

Personally, I had heard of this in my childhood when my mother used to perform it.I had vague memories of the calmness that I used to enjoy and the fun of racing with time of sunset and sunrise.

Recently, me and Priyamvada decided to start Agnihotra again at the farm. While there is an entire farming technique and philosophy called “Homafarming” that goes along with Agnihotra, – we were more interested in only Agnihotra. We were simply interested in starting something sacred together.

So, we started Agnihotra few months ago. We are in love with it now. The calm it induces, the fun of it, the simplicity of it, the mystery of it – we like it all. Whether it is because of Agnihotra or something else, that debate is quite meaningless for us.

We feel good performing Agnihotra and hence also believe that our crops, plants and fellow living beings will also benefit. We use it’s ash in various ways in our everyday life and natural farming. I think we have found a lovely companion for our natural farming and spiritual journey. It certainly introduces positivity and peacefulness in our lives and we would certainly recommend it.

Agnihotra need not be a life-long process and that’s the beauty of it. It’s really like a friend. No hard rigid rules, no punishments -it only shared whatever lovely things it has to offer. It’s just like a sacred moment of prayer where we get an opportunity to be grateful to nature’s elements, to earth, to sun, to soil, to God for everything that they bestow us with.

(For more details, please web-search “Agnihotra” or “Homafarming”.)

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Unnatural is a fake word

A question keeps growing the deeper one understand nature – what is nature , natural and thus what is unnatural ?

If everything that exists is part of nature, is born out of nature – what then is unnatural ?

Is polythene unnatural ? How do we decide ?

At a deeper level nothing appears unnatural and “unnatural” becomes a fake word.

Then more questions come up – if we accept this hypothesis. – What’s wrong in cutting a tree ?  What’s wrong with extracting water from tube-wells? What’s wrong with GM food ?

GM food might not be good for us, just as eating stones is not. But, is genetic modification unnatural ? If man is part of nature, can anything done by us be not a part of nature and thus – unnatural ?

If monkey’s eating a banana and throwing a banana peel is natural, how can man’s experiments to create something new  be unnatural ?

Similarly cutting a tree appears definitely to be something sinful and unnatural but how about wind or rains uprooting a tree or an elephant or cow stamping plants ?

Where do we draw the line ? Does man’s selfishness and desires make things unnatural ?

What is unnatural and what is natural ?

These questions needs some thoughts….

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Natural Soil Nourishment

Cows fertilizing the field

Cows Grazing Freely on the field , dunging and urinating

cow_graze2

Everyday some 40-50 cows from nearby villages cross the farm spending an hour or so grazing and fertilizing the Tuar field

Cow dung and urine (and the preparations derived from these two)  are  excellent for soil improvement. Infact they are the centre of most organic and natural farming methods like Bhaskar Save’s,  Natueco , Deshpande method, Palekar Method etc.

How do we actually inculcate this if the fields extend beyond few acres ? Smaller farms, hence have been more manageable and sustainable.  However, at the Madman’s farm – we had no choice but to take care of entire 25 acres of farm. So, in spite of various challenges that a big farm brings – we slowly began the process.

To improve soil, green manure appeared far easier a method than hosting numerous cows. Lack of labor, skills, management and time are various challenges that affect our decision.

However, we again happen to hit – what appears so far as jackpot. We did not plough the fields after harvesting tuar dal (Pigeon pea) because we wanted to see if the crop survives till next season so that we can avoid tilling and increase organic matter,nitrogen in soil. We also couldn’t fence our entire campus due to ethical dilemmas (like Is it right to cut off your farm from rest of the fields ? or How fencing will reduce playgrounds for wild animals from nearby jungle! ).

What happened as the summer began, people of nearby villages started loosening up their animals who were attracted to the greenery of tuar fields. So, everyday a lot of cows simply walk into the fields and graze on remaining tuar plants and some other grasses here and there. This is triple plus. One, cows get fodder, which is very scarce in summer here. Second, cows urinate and dung in the fields which is a natural manuring and soil improvement process. Third, the tuar plants are being pruned (unless heavily eaten which rarely happens) which improves it’s growth. Traditional wisdom also says that plants eaten by cows fall less into the attack of pests and disease. Ofcourse they end up damaging some plants but overall it appears to be have a net positive impact on the fields.

Natural cow dunging

There is lot of dung in the farm..dense at some places, spare at others.

Now, we are planning to also make some arrangements for cows to drink water so they can also drink water and rest at the farm.

While overgrazing remains a concern but we feel happy to share our fields and crop with cows. We feel happy if they can get some green food, some water because of our efforts and nourish the soil in the process.  We feel happy when they visit us and rest in fields, reminding us – that these are not “our personal” fields but a piece of land belonging to mother nature.

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Repeating the mistake of Green Revolution – New Organic Revolution

A common sentiment in air these days is that the green revolution has turned out more a bane than a boon. The failure of current agriculture and increase in use of pesticides and chemicals by farmers is largely attributed to the green revolution.

Recently at the 5th National Organic convention, a similar sentiment ruled. A book was distributed to all delegates on this topic of “Green Revolution: Was it really green?”.

Is it really so that a villain named “Green Revolution” is responsible for all the problems ? Or Are we shifting the blame from our farmers and leaders to an imaginary phenomenon?

A lot of thrust is being given now to “New Organic Revolution”. Organic farming is being promoted by all kinds of activists and leaders. It is seen as a panacea for most of our issues related to food, agriculture, health and economy.

It’ll make sense, to pause for a while and make sure that we are not repeating the mistake. To make sure that 40 years hence, people are not distributing books on “Organic Revolution: Was it really Organic? ”

Frankly, we are not addressing the key issues in agriculture. What is the core problem? Is it really excessive use of chemicals? or Is it the greed behind it ?

Human greed and Human Selfishness are key reasons for failure of green revolution and could again be the key reason for failure of Organic revolution.

We are simply replacing chemical pesticides with Organic Pesticides, chemical fertilizers with organic fertilizers. This sure will reduce the harmful impacts of chemicals but it’ll be naïve of us to assume this to be the solution of our current agro-economic situation.

Fundamentally, if the drive for “more” continues – we will reach the same destination by a different road. How much of Neem or cow urine is not harmful for us ? What is the impact of Neem overdose on soil, ecology?

If we are really serious about coming out of our current mess, we need really be very open minded, break free from past and think creatively. We need to let go of our old habits, change our existing modes of life.

We need to question every move we make and also find answers to our fears and insecurities. Let’s not repeat the same mistakes again, making new mistakes is often the way to evolution, while repeating old ones leads to insanity.