The monsoon rains, in this part of the world, are long and intense. Rarely, if ever, do we see the full sun during this three month period of “summer”, where the average seasonal rainfall is about three meters. Last July, I did a 10 day, solitary meditation retreat. Such periods of quiet reflection are perhaps the best solution to the seemingly endless cycles of torrential rain followed by fog and mist.
Surprisingly, on the last day of my meditation retreat, I was blessed with an hour of brilliant sunshine. I took this opportunity to wander though some of the terraced farmlands. Nestled against the steep rise of the Himalayan foothills, each small field displayed yet another shade of dazzling green. Quite suddenly, I had a vision of my neighborhood fields as a completely pure and natural place. I imagined that the pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers, currently used here, were forever gone, and that the land was restored to a natural harmony where people, animals and plants all co-existed in a mutually beneficial way.
From my work as a homeopath treating thousands of local people, I have been acutely aware of the health problems associated with herbicide and pesticide poisoning. From skin rashes, to chronic digestive disturbances, to permanent kidney, liver, and neurological damage and cancer, the local farmers and their families suffer tremendously. It is sad that most of the local farmers have no idea that these chemicals are poisoning their families. However, what is even more disturbing is that they believe these chemicals are necessary to produce enough food for their families. Thus, my aim is to expose the fallacy of this thinking, and to demonstrate effective methods for production of healthy, and more abundant, crops.
My vision was to create a demonstration model, organic farm right in the middle of our village. By showing, over an extended period of time, that organic agriculture is cheaper, healthier, less time consuming and, over the years, more productive than chemical agriculture, will we do our best to win the hearts and minds of the people. Only then will the visible and invisible health benefits of tasty and nutritious food naturally follow.
Today, our organic farm is well underway. We have leased 1.2 adjoining acres from four different landowners for a period of 7 years. Last November we planted chemical free winter wheat and, over the last five months, have prepared many hundreds of pounds of vermi (worm) compost, to be used in the upcoming May vegetable plantings.
Mata Sharan, a young man from our village, is our only hard working and dedicated full time employee. In early January, the experts from Palampur University came and demonstrated the proper method for making vermi compost, as well as various types of compost teas, which can be used as spray fertilizers and natural insecticides. These teas, one of which is made from cow urine, manure, and sugar cane, are full of soil enhancing bacteria and microbes.
I have been following my usual habit of throwing myself headlong into a new project, and learning all that I can about organic farming. Somewhere along the way, I have become like Saul, on the road to Damascus, a holy convert to the principles of Permaculture.
Last week we planted our first banana tree circle, followed by 20 other fruit and nut trees. We have also planted bamboo on the perimeter of the land. Spiny blackberry bushes will act as a natural fence, as well as provide fruit. I am designing a complex system of swayles and irrigation ditches to capture the precious water of the monsoon rains, allowing the land to remain fertile through the dry seasons that inevitably follow.
Our ambitious next step will be building a combination greenhouse, cow barn, and chicken coop for a part of the land that was used for many years as a waste dump. Perhaps we will even make Feta cheese. That would have made my Greek grandmother smile. The locals are all very curious and waiting to see what the result of all this strange activity will be. Our long term vision is to create a workers farm cooperative, in which the farm is financially self-sustainable. Our hope is to empower our employees to go home and recreate what they have learned through working for us.