Your blogger was featured in Business Standard June 7, 2014 issue. Following is the word file. You can also check it in at http://www.business-standard.com/article/specials/at-their-sunday-best-114060500665_1.html
At their sunday best
Mumbaikars are adding a new dimension to their humdrum lives by becoming farmers over the weekend
Surekha Kadapa Bose
June 7, 2014 Last Updated at 00:27 IST
“Those who haven’t smelt turmeric in their lives get ecstatic when I open the masala container in my kitchen,” says Pudukote R Seshan, a resident of Mulund in Mumbai. Seshan recently bought an apartment in Badlapur, a suburb on the outskirts of the city and drives with his wife from home to his farm in his ochre Nano. He is one of Mumbai’s new gentleman farmers, or more accurately, a hobbyist agriculturist.
Like Seshan, there are other people in the group, most of whom are over 50 years old. “We may be hobby farmers but we take our hobby very seriously,” they say. Because they are engineers, marketing executives, chartered accountants, media and IT professionals, entrepreneurs, even an astronomer, most of them can assume the farmer’s avatar only on Sundays.
Having planned on Saturday evening to congregate at the designated rendezvous at eight the next morning, they come armed with seeds, cans of organic fertilisers and notes for a new experiment. Then they take an early local train to Badlapur. From the station there, it is a further eight kilometres to their farm in Chon village. They jostle for seats on the state transport bus with villagers or take a ride in a jam-packed autorickshaw to reach their destination.
“I play with dirt, collect the fallen leaves or do a jig for my mango trees,” laughs lifestyle magazine editor Hiren Bose, a weekend farmer who goes by the name of Hiraman on sundayfarmer.wordpress.com, a blog which has built a dedicated following over the years.
Owner of an orchard beside the Barvi river in Chon, Bose says, “After reading my posts, people often approach me with queries related to sourcing of heirloom seeds, soil fertility, what to grow when and so on. I try to reply to them, and when I am unable to do so, I approach the research institutions, universities, farming groups or portals and seasoned farmers for a solution.”
The Sunday farmers toil on their land for a day in a week, but that day is dearer to them than a near 200 per cent appreciation of their property. All they want is to be surrounded by plants, birds, rodents and the occasional snake.
The neo-farmers aren’t restricted only to Badlapur. There are a few in Karjat, Vangani, Panvel, Kasara and other places on the outskirts of Mumbai where agricultural land hasn’t yet been gobbled up by the builder lobby. Fourteen farmers in Chon have even formed a cooperative, the Gajanan Organic Farmers Cooperative, which is registered with Maharashtra’s Department of Agriculture. Every third Sunday, members meet to discuss issues relating to organic farming, sourcing of seeds, collective buying of growth promoters and to organise talks by experts or visits to nearby farms.
They are into organic and experimental farming and happily travel to meet other experienced farmers from whom they can learn new techniques and ways to improve their produce. Take, for example, Khar resident Kamal M, wife of a businessman. She grows seasonal vegetables and fruits besides raising a crop of paddy and groundnuts on her farm in Kusur village in the Maval district. Visiting her farm when her paddy field is lush green is an olfactory experience. There she has planted Ambemohur, a highly fragrant rice that usually grows only in the Konkan area. “As with vegetables and fruits, my paddy is also totally free of chemical fertiliser and toxic pesticides,” she says. She uses amrutjal (a mixture of cow dung, jaggery and urine), an organic alternative.
These occasional farmers are more experimental in their farming, for they aren’t economically dependent on their produce. Praveen Dhuri, a reinsurance executive, and Bose, both Thane residents, recently undertook a six-Sunday-long bee-keeping course at Maharashtra Nature Park in Mahim. “Bees are excellent pollinators and help in doubling the produce,’’ says Dhuri who is now preparing to set up a bee hive at his farm in Kutswara village in Vangani.
Often, it is a problem of plenty for the farmers. “How much can you consume or gift to your friends and relatives?” asks Kamlakar Gharkhedkar who harvested over 400 Alphonso mangoes this year from his farm in Chon. Pratapchand Varma has a similar problem with his harvest of jackfruits and Kamal with her quintals of Ambemohur rice. Every alternate week, Bose’s banana tree yields nearly 120 fruits per bunch. Looking proudly at one such bunch, he admits, “My wife is tired of googling for new banana recipes!”
A major bugbear is the lack of reliable farmhands to manage their farms in their absence. Bharat Adur, who till recently worked as a senior scientist with the Nehru Planetarium in Worli, has a farm-cum-observatory at Ambeship village in Badlapur. He now works on his farm single-handedly after the couple he had hired to look after the place left. “Most young men prefer to work in malls which have mushroomed in Mumbai and Thane where they toil for 12 hours, commute three hours and still earn what we offer them. But there is glamour in malls,” says Adur.
The farmers also share stories of fruits being stolen, especially mangoes and jackfruits. Complaints to gram sevaks and police and letters to local papers have not helped matters. But they have learnt to take things in their stride. “We enjoy farming and believe in sharing, so what if some of our harvest gets stolen,” say one of them.
These are irritants that the weekend farmers willingly suffer for being able to pick mulberries, collect earthworms after rains for the vermicompost pit, watch birds and hear them chirping in the trees, see the butterflies hovering over rattlepod flowers or have packed lunch under a mango tree heavy with fruit.