A one-acre food forest of abundance that contains 20 different species of fruit trees, 8 different spice plants, more than 20 different species of vegetables and more than 50 different medicinal plants. Everywhere you looked from the ground right up to the top of the tallest trees there was greenery and new plant growth everywhere.
Ajith Kumar began practising and experimenting with organic farming 25 years ago learning many lessons the hard way. He managed to produce more than enough food for him and his wife but still felt his small farm could be improved. Then two years ago he heard about Subash Palekar’s zero-budget farming and attended one of his training courses.
“I was so excited after I finished Subhash Palekar’s training course, I came back home and straight away went looking for a local indigenous desi cow. Through a friend I was able to buy a traditional species of local indigenous Kerala species, a Kasurgod cow. For Zero budget farming we have to use a local indigenous desi cow. They produce a lot less milk in terms of quantity but it is much higher in its medicinal value. Indigenous desi cow dung and urine has a very high concentration of micro-organisms that help nurture healthy soil and therefore healthy plants. It helps to draw up worms from the lower layers of soil to the top which also helps to improve the soil. From just one single cow it is possible to produce all that a farmer needs to farm up to 30 acres! With zero external inputs, this completely changes the costs for a farmer.”
“Since we have started mulching and applying Jiwamrita our soil has greatly improved in depth, colour and smell. Keeping the soil constantly covered helps stop the harmful effects of sunlight on the micro-organisms living in the soil and also helps a lot with water retention.
We have also dug a number of trenches around the farm where the roots of nearby plants can access water and nutrients from the Jiwamrita.”
Walking around the farm we were instantly struck by the abundance of greenery and variety of plant species. Every single tree in the farm had a climbing plant growing up the main stem, a smaller fruit tree beneath it, a shrub beneath that and finally a ground cover layer. This multi layer planting makes maximum use of the sunlight and allows the farmer to get maximum output from a small space.
We asked Ajith Kumar why do you think it is it so important for Indian farmers to switch over to organic farming?
“It is so important for the health of the country, we are taught from a young age that the earth is our mother and we must take care of her. Using pesticides, fertilisers and herbicides is very harmful to the soil, plants and animals. This method of farming is killing mother earth. In almost every country in the world we can find an expression like “You are what you eat”. Do we really want to eating lots of unnatural and harmful chemicals? Conventional agriculture is also having a terrible effect on the health of farmers themselves; these chemicals cause greatly increased rates of cancer and many other diseases.”
In the 20 minutes we spent walking around the farm we picked and straight away eat fresh mangosteen, green pepper, cucumber and nutmeg fruits straight from the tree. As we made our way back to the house Ajith Kumar had one more surprise for us. Sat on the floor by the backdoor was a giant jackfruit, a common sight in Kerala, only with one small difference this was koozha jackfruit.
Ajith Kumar was keen to tell us about the difference:
“Throughout Kerala you will find many koozha jackfruits rotting on the floor. It is such a sad sight, this was the variety planted by our ancestors and has throughout histroy always been enjoyed by Keralites. Only in more reason times did people become more fussy and only want to eat varikka jackfruits. Varikka jackfruit is the one we can commonly find for sale in markets, containing a slightly hard inner flesh.
One bite of koozha jackfruit left us all wondering how anybody could leave such a delicious fruit on the ground to rot? It maybe a little more challenging to eat, or a little bit messier but it’s soft flesh oozes flavour!
It was an honour to see Ajith Kumar’s farm, a reminder how with careful planning, some knowledge, and the right climate a true abundance of food can be produced in an organic and sustainable way.