Unusual Occupations

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Unusual Occupations - Weekend farmers from Whitefield



Weekend farmers from Whitefield

On any given weekday Sujoy is a globe-trotting, number-crunching CFO of the Indian arm of a Multinational company set-up in a huge campus in the IT corridor in Whitefield.  He works 12-14 hours a day in a job that is extremely demanding and stressful.  

Come weekends, he is dressed in a cow boy hat, muddied track pants and a sweat shirt, hunched in a muddy swamp, pulling out the weeds and deciding on whether to harvest the spinach and lettuce today or the week after. 


Amidst pulling out the weeds from the spinach and cauliflower saplings he has planted, he observes the bitter gourd creeper that he has planted to demarcate his plot from the next have flowered in abundance. Honey bees are humming around the bright yellow flowers.  Soon they will be pollinated and before he knows, they would have bitter gourd ‘bhaja’ for Sunday lunch at home.

A wave of nostalgia hits him. He smiles unto himself with a feeling of gratification in the fond hope that he would relive his childhood days relishing that bitter-spicy-sweet and crispy  Bengali  delicacy that was so much a part of his childhood in Kolkata, many years ago.         

The fertilizer laden, artificially grown vegetables that they would buy from the local supermarket chain never tasted anywhere close to the vegetables that he now harvests.

The weekend farmers from Whitefield are a small community that have leased small plots of land in the Kannamangala Community garden, about 10 kilometers from the Suburb of Whitefield.


 Kannamangala Community Garden( KCG) is a Do-it-yourself and assisted kitchen garden for the urban population. It is a real life farmville in a real agricultural field. 


KCG is  the brain child of Anantharaman ( Ananthu)  who partnered along with Munne Gowda (MG), the man that owns the agricultural land around this place.  A hundred meters away from KCG are developers constructing huge multistoried residential apartment complexes in anticipation of further development in this IT corridor.

The land earmarked for residential development ends right over there. The adjoining land that is owned by MG is still an agricultural land, which implies that there is no sanction for residential construction from there on. 

With the city closing in on them MG along with other farmers in the area found cultivation of maize and corn, the local staples to be economically unviable. The labour required to work in the fields was soon discovering that the greener pastures were to be found not in the greens but in the glass buildings of multinational companies where they went to work as menial labourers.


Ananthu had seen the success of Community gardens working when he lived and worked in Europe. It was called the Allotment Garden where the local town council allocated plots to the locals to do their kitchen garden during the summer. 

             
Thus was born, Kannamangala Community Garden (KCG) a community initiative conceptualized by Ananthu, a resident of Kannamangala, who brought together the farmer and the organic farming enthusiasts.

Munnegowda (MG) and Ananthu teamed up in the winter of 2015 and conceptualized the business model behind KCG. Skeptical as to whether they would find takers, they piloted the idea with a few expatriates who wanted to grow some vegetables like bock Choy, celery, basil, lettuce and ice berg that were not part of the normal Indian cuisine.  They saw no reason why these could not be grown in these weather conditions.
    
KCG started in November 1st, 2015 in less than half acre land with 14 small plots.  Within about six months it has grown to 3+ acres with more than 200 amateurs getting their hands dirty in their quest to get back to the roots and be the weekend farmers. 

Ananthu explains the business model of KCG in words that his IT savvy customers would easily comprehend. ‘Today in the IT Industry, everyone is talking about cloud and “As a Service” model, where you are given the underlying infrastructure + software + platform.   Now imagine “Garden as a Service”.  Yes, you got it’.  (Although GAAS isn’t exactly how he would want it abbreviated )
 

At KCG you can rent a 25’ X 25’ plot in the ‘professional’ agriculture field. The rent that you pay includes all the necessary infrastructure and assistance such as water, labour, seeds, manure and saplings. You can bring your own seeds and saplings and grow your own vegetables, greens and flowers.

A Whatsapp group of KCG members is strumming with messages. It is a Saturday morning. Sashi and family let the group know  that they are driving down to the farm.   

Clement who will not be visiting the farm over this weekend messages from Singapore asking someone to take a picture of his farm and send across on Whatsapp.  He wants to check if his red amaranthus and ridge gourd would be ready for harvest by next week.  

Soon Nitya sends in a message saying there are guests expected at home and she would not be visiting but is happy for others to take a few tomatoes and Radish that would be overripe in her garden by next week if no one harvests them.She requests them to leave out the Gongura and the cauliflower that she plans to harvest next week.   

SA, Brian and Unnikrishnan are messaging that they are on their way to the farm as well. 

Vasu and Preetha who have already arrived at the farm are disappointed that their capsicums look very small and unhealthy and some are withering away.  


Another message arrives from Prasad saying his runner beans have been infested with white pests.

Ananthu replies back saying this is no season to plant capsicum and beans.

The white pests that have infested  these plants are called aphids and can be controlled with the liquid spray that would be generated from the manure that they would be preparing today. 

However as in most things in nature, pests attack the weaklings.  In this season when the sun is scorching away, winter plants like capsicum and runner beans have to put up a tough fight to survive. The pests take advantage of their weakness.  

Soon a decision is reached and a motion is passed whatsapp not to plant anything out of the season because an aphid attack on beans can very well spill over to other seasonal plants in the adjoining vegetable plots even if they have enough immunity to withstand the pests.        

Three more messages arrive on Whatsapp from other members that they are stuck in the Saturday morning traffic at the junction. They would be running late.  Two of them who live in the same apartment complex have discovered over Whatsapp that they could have carpooled  if only they had planned it well.  Next week they would carpool when visiting the farm.  These are environment conscious urban dwellers who are acutely aware of the carbon footprint that they are leaving behind. 

At the farm, a couple of farm hands are overseeing the drip irrigation system that supplies the ground water pumped out from the bore well to the vegetable plots. It is a weekend and they will be in high demand today.   Not as farm hands, but as consultants

In about an hour about 30-40 'labourers' are expected to come down to help them to collect  the farm waste, along with the cow dung and  fill up a huge pit that will be dug out.  The cow dung will be fermented after it is mixed with all the other farm waste collected from the plots and filled up in the pit. The resulting manure will be sprayed and spread all over the farm by another couple of weeks when it is ready.

The two farm hands pick up the spades, containers and other  tools required to accomplish at hand and lay them out on the ground near to where the pit is going to be dug out. 

The labour force that they would command today to accomplish the project, are all inexperienced amateurs. Unlike the weekdays where they work for top salaries and pull off state of the art projects that make a global impact, this afternoon, they would be at their command dirtying their hands doing the small errands required to generate two barrels of organic manure. 

'I was told I can harvest some Tomatoes and Radish from plot number E9,  by Nitya who is not coming down this weekend. I have picked up some tomatoes, but where is the Radish for me to harvest’ asks SA with a confused look on his face. The elderly woman picking up the cow dung at the cattle shed adjacent to the plot sees the puzzled look on SA’s face and walks up to the plot. She squats down, loosens up the soil and uproots a lush green sapling. 

 ‘Radish is a root vegetable. It grows underground, you need to pluck it from deep down after loosening the soil a little bit’, she demonstrates and explains in a matter of factly manner, hands him over the muddied Radish,  and walks back to the cattle shed to collect the cow dung.


SA on weekdays is a Business Consultant whose 'per-hour' billing rates run into hundreds of dollars.

                                   Click on this short video to watch the real-world Farmville in action.   




       

10 comments:

  1. More and more people are turning to small-scale gardening to provide vegetables and fruit, and this venture looks like one that deserves to succeed.
    It is unfortunate that there are just too many people on the planet, aand large-scale, intensive farming is the only way so far found to supply enough for everyone (and even that is difficult in many areas, due to water etc shortages).

    Keith Channing A-Zing from http://keithkreates.com

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  2. I think this is brilliant!

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  3. Simply brilliant post. It's an education in not just farming but efficient management. Jayanthi! Your theme is one of the best and is awesome to read it early morning:)

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  4. Jayanthi I was brought up in Whitefield and did my schooling there in Ujjval Vidyalaya, when it was a picturesque hamlet at the back of the beyond. So the mention of Whitefield always draws me and drawn I was to this post and so glad to have read it :) Way to go weekend farmers :)Superb initiative by Ananth and MG, I have read about them earlier too and hope this catches up all over :) Also I have a sizeable unused backyard and I am trying to push myself into growing veggies there.
    My twitter handle @whitefielder

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  5. Can you please provide the contact details of the person In charge

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  6. hi vineeth you can contact ananthu - anantharaman ramaswamy @ 9902915006

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  7. Nice Post Jayanthi... Brilliant explanation on how KCG works...

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  8. Excellent initiative Mr Anantharaman. we also started Farm sharing concept recently on Hoskote to Chikka Thirupathi Road. It is 8 kms from whitefield railway station. We are growing vegetables naturally here and it was started with the intention of promoting farming in natural methods and also to encourage community get together . I don't see it as competition and hope it is doing well . I would like to visit your farm while you are present at the farm.
    I really appreciate your initiative.

    -Ravi Varma K.
    +91 99000 98468

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  9. Sorry Jayanthi if i posted in wrong blog.

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    1. never mind ravi varma

      you are welcome to visit the farm. Ananthu is out of town and Leo and MG would be there.
      You can also come when i am going to the farm this weekend.

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