“I, Aparna Rajagopal, live in Noida and farm in western Uttar Pradesh. I was born and brought up in Chennai. A lawyer by training, an artist by nature, a self-taught farmer and most importantly a nature lover, I founded Beejom accidentally in 2014 when I went to find land to board a horse. After leasing too much land it is, I found myself on a charpoy under a Jamun tree in the sweltering heat of August 2014 with Masanobu Fukuoka’s “One Straw Revolution”. I read it like an adventure novel. When I finished, I looked up at the land I had just leased and saw it in a different light altogether. I forgot about the vegetables and grains and fell in love with the soil instead. The last four and a half years on this land has been about me and the soil. Today, Beejom is an institution promoting sustainable organic farming practices, restoring the ancient relationship between animals and farmers while promoting soil & water conservation.
I also discovered Bill Mollison, Peter Proctor, Bhaskar Save, Subhash Palekar and innumerable other people, articles, documentaries, podcasts and youtube videos on organic agriculture and natural farming. Today I follow the best of these practices that are most practical and suitable to our circumstances, climate, resources, location and topography. Four and a half years ago this land was dry and sandy. There were no earthworms, bees and butterflies. The soil seemed to have no life at all. Today, the soil is full of earthworms. Innumerable farm animals including nine breeds of cow indigenous to India this have become part of this farm, and we collect all their manure even though it’s going out of fashion. The cows, goats, chicken and geese all contribute to the manure kitty.
At Beejom today we work with changing the soil. Organic does not mean to just grow without chemicals. To be organic is to work with nature and an understanding that soil health is what determines plant health and therefore building soil is the singular most important activity of every farmer.
So today, Beejom is an animal sanctuary and sustainable agricultural farm located in Noida. We use natural farming techniques and primarily permaculture to grow food. The agricultural practices at Beejom are animal-centric. All the products of the animals at the farm are used to manufacture organic fertilisers and pest repellants for the fields.
At the farm, we save our indigenous seeds too so that we can grow food year after year without buying any seed as far as possible. Therefore planting is mostly done with heirloom seeds. The farm hugely promotes Indian millets and traditional foods.
The farm uses solar power and biogas, uses rainwater harvesting techniques and practices vermiculture. We are completely off the grid. We grow food using traditional systems of intercropping, multi-cropping, companion planting and crop rotation. We mulch, compost and use nitrogen-fixing techniques too. Our team of farmers are from seven states across India.
It is not enough to tell farmers to grow clean food. To do that farmers have to be able to access basic facilities that in urban spaces we take for granted. Education, healthcare, sanitation and other conveniences have to be made available for them so that they can concentrate on growing food. Therefore at Beejom, we have started a school for farmer’s children and a free weekly medical clinic for the farming community around us. These projects are called ‘Beejom Shiksha’ and ‘Beejom Arogya’.
In the afternoon, farmers’ wives join us for special sessions on skill development. We teach them basic skills of tailoring clothes, lifestyle products like quilts, bags and herb pillows, sustainable alternatives like newspaper bags, bin liners, straws and pencils and many other things. Under this project, we also plan to give the women special skill training on natural farming. We have named this project as ‘Beejom Samudaay’.
We strive to be a model farm and share our learnings with farmers around us as much as possible. We have school children, environmental groups, nature clubs over so that they can effortlessly learn about the world of farm animals and the world of agriculture which are linked intrinsically. The farm also provides a natural platform for children to learn their classroom lessons. It’s much more fun for them and stress-free.
Beejom is a small project with big ideas. It’s about community living and homesteading, kindness and compassion. It’s about making organic a way of life in thought and make sustainability the keyword. It’s about inclusiveness and interactions, creating knowledge banks and sharing freely. It’s about all the many stories of the beautiful journey to sustainable living. This planet needs this now more than ever.”