When Shankar started Maple Tree farms, it was very difficult for him to find farmers to work with him on the farm, due to the hard labour and lack of decent monetary options. Slowly through education about organic farming methods, he has been able to have a trained set of dedicated farmers and farmworkers on his farm. Shankar says the root cause of the problem lies in the green revolution that India underwent.
India went through a green revolution to be able to have food security for our growing population. It seemed like everything was good with a decreased need to import food grains from abroad and increased production so much so that we were able to export surplus production.
However, a few years down the line, the farmers have discovered an increased need to depend on fertilizers, pesticides and the need to buy imported seeds. With climate change and unpredictable monsoons adding to the woes, farming is slowly becoming a backbreaking labour intensive profession with no secure future for their families as they cannot afford three square meals a day.
Added to all this, the seed companies and fertilizer companies have made the farmers dependent on their products while these chemicals are stripping off the land of its fertility, nutrition and leaving the land barren and parched slowly but surely. Government, in its vote bank politics, is not catering to the farmers or for larger good as they are only giving lip service, few subsidies here and few loan waivers there. Even agriculture B.Sc. students are not aware of organic farming, preserving the soil, making a seed bank etc. The irony of the whole situation is that all these were ancient farming practices in India.
Shankar spends one Saturday every month for education. It’s called the “Farm day” wherein farmers and students from various nearby districts and across the state come and spend time to understand organic farming practices such as making organic manure, herbal nutrition support for the plants, preserving the soil, growing plants without fertilizers, making a seed back etc.
Is Organic Food really organic?
Shankar opines that while the growing awareness on having organic food i.e. food without chemicals, and the number of brands increasingly catering to the demands of the people is heartening, organic food is not necessarily healthy or nutritious food. Food as medicine cannot be achieved through organic food crops, vegetables and fruits alone. We need to ensure that the health of the soil is maintained so that we can get the required freshness and micronutrients into the food we consume. He elucidated how at Maple Tree farms, there are numerous steps taken to maintain nutrition in the vegetables and fruits they grow.
Health of the soil not only ensures right nutrients into the food we consume but also contributes in several ways to farming as well as to the environment.
When the soil is healthy, we do not need to use chemical fertilizers to increase productivity, we do not need to add chemical supplements. We will see the return of the humble earthworms and other worms to the soil. These worms naturally enrich the soil without us having to put in excess nitrogenous products to the soil. We will see the return of birds which will feed on these worms.
- At Maple Tree, soil fertility is maintained by making sure any minerals or nutrients a crop has absorbed are replenished into the soil.
- Crop rotation is done to suppress diseases and support beneficial insects. Crops not only absorb nutrients from the soil but they also make sure they release some nutrients into the soil. These nutrients released by the previous crop will be helpful for the next crop if planned properly.
- Compost and vermicompost are an excellent source for increasing the microbial life in the soil. These microbes are very helpful as they help convert mineral in the soil to available form for the plants to absorb. In turn, the microbes feed off of the sugars released at the plant roots.
- At Maple Tree, Shankar has worked to use vermicompost from Indian earthworms.
- Shankar also practices cover cropping to fix nitrogen.
Apart from this, the earthworms tend to dig very deep into the soil which will contribute to an increase in the water table naturally when the fields get rains. We will see an increase in the pollinating insects and plants miles away from the farms as well due to the decrease in chemicals. How can you and I ensure that the food you and I consume is actually healthy and safe for the environment? The answer is that unless we know the farmer and his practices, we have no way of knowing that the food he/she is growing is healthy and safe. This is because the health of the food grains is directly dependent on the health of the soil. “Know your farmer to know the food you consume” is the refrain Mr Shankar keeps giving to all his customers from Maple Tree farms in Bangalore, India.
Shankar firmly believes, “healthy soil = healthy food + safe environment.” Healthy soil can be only achieved by sustainable farming methods such as the amount of tilling, type of tilling required to prevent soil erosion etc. Building a seed bank that is indigenous to India, taking care of the health of the soil, enriching it with jeevan amrutham, making high-quality compost are some of the practices Maple Tree is following. He is very keen on training many farmers and regularly provides free training to farmers across Tamil Nadu. He also routinely gets B.Sc. Agriculture students reaching out to him to understand sustainable organic farming practices. Shankar wants to work on educating and reaching as many farmers as possible and hence he travels to a lot of remote parts in the South of India.
All these endeavours are only possible due to unconditional support from his wife and daughter who live in California while Shankar works on his mission in India. The family has given Shankar the much needed emotional, financial and moral support for which Shankar is extremely grateful. We, at Efforts For Good, wish Shankar all the very best and hope that more and more farmers are able to switch to sustainable farming practices which also give them hope and confidence in themselves and their future.