“Education is not just lessons and books. A larger part of it is learning something new and that should be more of a holistic experience. Something you can actively involve yourself in, and grow as it grows,” says Dr Jennifer Clement, a research scholar, and parent to Trinity, a 10-year-old. So, when a friend told her about the online WhatsApp gardening sessions for children being conducted by Chennai-based E-zone, a company focused on environmental awareness and projects with and for school children, she was instantly captivated.
“Besides being an opportunity for wholesome learning, it was such a wonderful way of nurturing my daughter’s personality and growth through the process of sowing and growing food,” she mentions.
Today, Trinity is one among the 2000+ children from across the country and beyond who are a part of the 15-day ‘Become a little farmer’ online initiative, which was kickstarted by E-zone during the COVID-19 lockdown and is essentially a network of young farmers growing microgreens.
The programme was the brainchild of Hafiz Khan, the founder of E-Zone, and along with teammate, Edward Eltham, he guides children through the process of food production, while also inculcating various positive developmental and behavioural qualities.
“Children can grow microgreens in the balconies and windows, with whatever seeds they have at home. The objective of this initiative is to create an army of green ambassadors who take ownership of their environment. It is true that positive change when inculcated from a young age, has a more wholesome outcome and through these sessions we are trying to start that cycle,” says Hafiz.
Children Who Are Young Green Ambassadors
Started by Hafiz, an expert experiential learning facilitator, to create public awareness about the environment by actively involving citizens, especially children, E-zone has, for the past 14 years, conducted numerous training programs, team building and employment engagement events, awareness drives, etc.
In 2015, Hafiz started Communitree, an initiative under E-zone, where the team visited schools in Chennai to give them the much needed green exposure. However, the sessions at school had its own limitations, especially with respect to follow-ups with the student’s progress.
“We were still carrying on with that, but this year when the lockdown happened, we had the idea to convert the drive online into live WhatsApp video sessions with children from anywhere in the world. Till now we have conducted 18 batches, with each batch consisting of 80 to 120 children,” says Hafiz.
Each day, the students go online for an hour, once at 10.30 am and then at 4.30 pm. While the morning session mostly involves sharing images and videos of progress, the evening sessions are more elaborate with educational content on farming and the contribution of farmers to our environment and the society.
Hafiz adds that on the 13th day, each student creates a timelapse of their plants with all the photos clicked so far, and on the 15th day they graduate into seniors, who can continue to guide the next batch of young farmers if they want.
One Sapling at a Time
From every window sill to balcony corners and railings, the homes of these young farmers are filled with tiny pots, reused ice-cream boxes, recycled plastic bottles and delivery bowls with flouring produce of microgreens.
Jennifer points out that watching her daughter beam with sheer joy while growing, harvesting and bringing food to the table is quite remarkable.
“Everyday begins with her jumping around the house, celebrating the growth of her tiny saplings. Even while cooking, especially omelettes, she cuts a few herbs and adds it to the dish, as her contribution,” she says.
Talking about her experience in the sessions, Trinity says, “I grew onions, green grams, lime and fenugreek (methi) and watching them sprout and grow bit by bit every single day was so exciting. I thought it would be too hard but sir guided us everyday and it turned out to be quite easy.”
Bengaluru-based Kalyani BN, has enrolled her boys, aged seven (Karun) and four years (Arjun), into the programme with the hope that they will learn valuable lessons about life.
“Food is the most basic thing and the process of making it often resonates with life. One needs to be patient and responsible throughout the process, and my intention of enrolling both my kids in the programme was to see them learn and inculcate these values, and I am happy to have seen the change,” adds Kalyani.
Karun has grown coriander, fenugreek, onions, mustard and green gram in their balcony. The 7 year-old adds watching the balcony transform into a mini microgreen farm was an amazing experience.
“Each of the sessions are so interesting and what’s better is that I can continue to help other kids even after my 15-day session is over. While both Hafiz and Edward sir guide us and clear our doubts, activities like puzzles and quizzes really make these classes so much fun. Now, I am planning to grow more vegetables like cucumber and carrots and use them in my salad!” adds Karun.
He is also guiding Arjun through this journey. “My brother doesn’t seem to need my help but it’s fun to see him so excited about growing greens. I love to grow it with him. For both of us, the biggest learning so far has been understanding the efforts our farmers make to bring food on our table and its value,” he adds.
Hafiz adds that the realisation that most children had never even touched soil before, motivated him further to continue this drive. He claims that these sessions often translate into encouraging a more humble and grounded personality among the kids.
And Jennifer agrees.
“Although my daughter was never a fussy eater, when it came to vegetables I would always have to feed her. I was hoping the growing process would open her up to that, but that’s a long way. For now I am happy she is seeing the cycle of food through a newer lens and with this understanding comes a sense of respect, patience and responsibility, which is invaluable,” she concludes.
Available for kids of all ages, the 15-day session cost Rs 199 and if interested, you can contact Hafiz and his team at 9840254762.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)