“Want organic? Grow your own food”: Chennai IT-professional-turned-farmer

URBAN FARMER

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Athher Ahmed carrying out deweeding at his paddy field in Acharapakkam. Pic: Asrar Ahmed

Let’s face it. There’s no way you can be sure that the organic food that you bought from the store was genuinely grown organically, unless and until you yourself have produced it. I say this because genuine organic food can only be produced by natural farming practices. Natural farming, again, isn’t possible without an  integrated farm and the very few integrated farms that we find cater mostly for self consumption by the producer.

When food is grown for commercial purposes, it is easier to produce, process and transport a single item in large quantities, than to manage 10 different items in smaller quantities. An integrated farm ends up offering a whole chain of goods, albeit in smaller quantities and that poses serious logistical challenges when the distance between the producer and consumer is beyond a couple of kilometres.

Logically, therefore, the only guaranteed way to go organic is to grow your own food. But, really, can each of us take to farming?

My story

An integrated farm drives the farmer to natural farming practices is what I have personally experienced. I live in Chennai and owned a plot of land about 96 km from my residence since 1986. Back then, however, it was neither my intent to get into farming nor did I strive to establish an integrated farm.

But here is the story of how I got drawn into natural farming without even realizing it, and what started off as a plot of land with a few fruit trees evolved into a full-fledged integrated farm.

In 2010, I had planted about 20 fruit trees in my plot and seven years down the line, this plot of land has become a farm comprising a complete ecosystem of paddy fields, fruit trees, vegetable and greens patch, cattle, goats and poultry. I obtain milk, ghee, rice, eggs, chicken, groundnut oil, vegetables and greens.

Except for electricity and cooking gas, nothing comes into my farm from beyond its borders, as everything that the farm produces — weeds, leaf litter, insects, animal excreta, earthworms — gets recycled within it. Hopefully this year with the installation of a solar power generation system and a biogas plant, I can boast that whatever happens, my food security is absolute.

Nature works best unplanned and has the necessary architecture in place. You decide what you need and leave the rest to nature’s plan. Water, soil, the sun, cattle, goats, hens, birds, insects, frogs, snakes, earthworms, leaves, seeds, weeds and a host of others conspire to fulfill your needs. Let me explain how one interwoven component led to another and I was compelled to fall in love with my farm.

A fascinating journey

To begin with, the yield consisted only of perennial coconuts and seasonal mangoes. A vegetable patch was added without much thought, but a lot of vegetable produce ended up getting wasted since our visits to the farm were irregular.

As rice can be stored for a long period of time and also forms our staple diet, I decided to grow a crop of paddy. There was no livestock in our farm and I had to procure vermicompost from about 60 km away and transport it. Post harvest and paddy pounding, I found that a lot of hay, husk and withered grains was generated as by-products of the paddy field produce. I obtained a pair of cows, four hens and a rooster to ensure that the grain, its husk and hay were accounted for.Cows in Athher’s farm.

In no time I found that the cows and chicken had multiplied. Milk, ghee, eggs and country chicken got added to the baggage that I was bringing back from my farm.

Now, what was I to do with the cow dung and urine? Thus we started producing vermicompost and Panchgavya for the crops. The tenure of paddy is six months and by the time the crop grows, the water table dips down. I had the option of growing watermelons or groundnuts since the water requirement for these crops is quite low. Since groundnuts have a longer storage time, I opted for it.

Groundnut kernels was used to extract oil for my family and it’s cake was mixed with paddy husk to be fed to the cows. The mixture of groundnut oil cakes and paddy husk increases the milk yielding capacity of the cows like no other.

Apart from kernels, the stems and leaves of the groundnut crop is an ideal fodder for goats. I obtained goats and they multiplied so fast that the two goats and a buck (A male goat) became 13 in two years. These goats take care of all the unwanted weeds in my farm.

If you find that the goats ignore some varieties of weeds and you need to manually remove them, don’t lose heart. What the goats don’t want, the insects don’t want either. Simply extract the juice from those weeds and spray them on your crops. It is one hell of a pest-repellent and totally free. Without the help of goats, there was no way I could have identified this free and abundant pest repellant offered by nature’s bounty.

The reward: Insights into the natural ecosystem

As a city-bred, what I have personally gathered from the entire experience is this: weeds, insects, worms, dragonflies, animal excreta, cows, goats, hens, birds work in tandem to generate organic food not only for themselves but also for the hapless human race that seems hellbent on destroying the ecosystem. Remove any one of these components from the scheme of things and you will find that natural farming collapses, and you will be forced to introduce external ingredients which eventually disturb and distort the established design.

From my personal experience, I can say with conviction that organic produce without natural farming practices is a farce. To reinforce this assertion, I can go even deeper into the role that each character in the ecosystem plays, but then that will deprive you of an opportunity to personally experience what I have experienced. But if you have any specific questions, I shall be happy to answer those.


About Athher Ahmed 1 Article
Athher Ahmed is a former IT professional. He helps the city-bred get into farming activities through cooperative farming, through Chennai Urban Farms. The author may be contacted at athher@gmail.com

3 Comments

  1. As a new farmer which hard issues you face financially and on farming ground ? Please answer so city boy like me can think of taking decision to adopt farming full time or weekends time. My land just 10 km away from city area

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