Krishna Mckenzie was only 19, fresh out of the J Krishnamurti School in the UK, when he came to India and settled in Auroville.
For the uninitiated, Auroville is an experimental township in Puducherry, which houses over 50,000 people from around the globe, practicing sustainable and eco-friendly living.
25 years ago, when this young teenager with no degree made the journey from England to Tamil Nadu, he hardly had an idea about how life-altering the decision would be.
Cut to 2018, Krishna in his 40s, is sort of a mini-celebrity in his town.
This isn’t solely because of the amazing music he composes for his YouTube channel or the band he belongs to (which has travelled the country and the UK for gigs) or even the fact that he is an England native who speaks fluent Tamil.
It is because of the revolution he has started with natural farming.
Krishna’s earliest exposure to farming was in college when he helped run the Victorian vegetable garden at Krishnamurti School.
He refers to himself as a Iyarkai vivasayi (organic farmer) who follows his guru, Masanobu Fukuoka. The man behind the ‘One Straw Revolution’, a zen master and farmer who is celebrated for being a proponent of ‘natural farming’ or ‘do-nothing farming’.
Krishna reiterates the words of the visionary saying, “Nature is perfect, you cannot do anything to improve it. And so, natural farming is non-interventional.”
Using the basic principles of this technique, today Krishna’s labour of love, ‘Solitude Farm’ has over 140 varieties of plants ranging from wild greens, flowers, fruits, vegetables, oilseeds, cereals, grains, grams and pulses, spread across six acres of land.
From custard apple, mangoes, papayas, guavas, sweet potatoes, carrots, wing beans, long beans, bitter gourd, bananas, pumpkin, palm fruit, varieties of spinach to medicinal plants like guduchi (Tinospora cordifolia), giloy (heart-leaved moonseed), nut grass, tapioca, turmeric, the natural farm is home to crops of all kinds.
100 per cent organic, pesticide-free and chemical-free food is also served in a cafe that honours nature from the farm and serves it straight on your plate.
Speaking about the motivation behind Solitude Farm, he asks, “Where does your food come from? Do you know where it was grown, who grew it, did they use chemicals, what kind of chemicals and in what proportion?”
He continues, “We eat food three times a day and yet we are completely divorced from the entire concept of where it originates, is stored and processed before it reaches our plate. At Solitude, we are moving against the tide of industrialised and high machinery agriculture, and increasing the nutritional profile of our society, while also conserving nature.”
The number of microorganisms and living beings in the soil are equal to its fertility, adds Krishna.
And so, even biomass like the leaves that fall off trees are never burned or swept away. They thrive on the soil and turn into manure by these microorganisms, thus enriching soil health.
He notes, “Today, in our cities, a coin decides what we eat. When you pay a coin for a banana, all you get is a single banana. But when you walk into a field untouched by chemicals, or unadulterated by genetically modified seeds, chemical pesticides, herbicides or fertilisers, you get a banana flower. Every part of this flower can be used to make something. It could be used to make vadas, curries, sabjis, salads.”
“Similarly,” he continues, “a juice of the banana stem could be highly effective for those suffering from kidney stones, the actual fruit can be consumed, made into chips, planted yet again or crushed into a flour and mixed with ragi to make delicious and healthy dosas. This is what we not only serve in our cafe but also teach those interested in learning how to utilise the diversity of the nutrition in workshops.”
Chicken spinach, which is usually considered a weed and grows in abundance, is used to make a smoothie, vegan sugar-free ice-cream, pesto sauce for salads, curries and soups, the green papaya is used to make chutneys, kimchi and their classic cordon bleu lemongrass coconut milk soup.
The leaves of the soursop tree, he says, are considered to be “10,000 times more effective than chemotherapy for cancer” whereas shankhpushpi and hibiscus juice are good for memory and uterus health.
“These plants are the shining lights of Ayurveda but we rely on medicines sold in brown bottles,” he smiles.
Apart from helping community members and all those who visit Auroville understand the marvels and benefits of natural farming, Krishna also holds several workshops and helps schools, colleges or groups set up their own garden circle.
The impact of this initiative reflects in how the method, combined with intercropping, helped a group of school students reclaim a wasteland and become self-sufficient for their food needs.
From having to build his own home from scratch to making a place which struggled with water and electricity, Krishna has come a long way. It is now a home with a loving Tamilian wife and kids and helps a community promote sustainable agriculture.
But the man is looking forward to getting more people and organisations on board to extend the concept of natural farming across Tamil Nadu.
“Let’s join our hands together, spread awareness about natural farming and begin a nutritional revolution. It is only when we change the concept of farming from economic gain to nutritional benefit, will we, in the truest sense, address people’s needs. You will not just be farming but also protecting the well-being of those you serve,” he signs off.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)