Maruti Gardens, located at Elappully village in Palakkad, Kerala, is a paradise sprawling over 24 acres of land, filled with golden paddy fields, fruit orchards, vegetable farms, and more. No less than the Garden of Eden, this organic farm was the result of decades of hard work by 62-year-old P Bhuvaneswari, a homemaker turned organic farmer.
Her journey began with 4 acres of barren land in the 90s, which she was confident would bear her bountiful fortune one day. With determination, she transformed the land into a verdant one, and eventually expanded it to the 24 acres that it is today.
“In the beginning, the dry land was filled with stones and was infertile. I had to put in a lot of effort to transform it into what it is today. So, I cleared some land that was left without any stones and started farming there. I never used any chemical fertilisers or pesticides. All that we reap today is the outcome of natural organic farming,” Bhuvaneshwari, who studied till Class 10, tells The Better India.
From wasteland to flourishing fields
Born and brought up in a traditional agricultural family, Bhuvaneswari considers farming as the foundation of her education. “I learnt farming by shadowing my father, Kunjikannan Mannadiyar, who was always devoted to agriculture. So, the love for farming has always been there in my genes. Perhaps that gave me the confidence to dive into agriculture,” she says.
She took up farming in 1995, after her husband Venkatachalapathy, a school teacher, retired from his job. “We had to find a way to make a living, and I decided to take up what I love the most. It wasn’t easy to farm on our land, which was very dry, stony and had just a Ph value of 4.8,” she says.
Bhuvaneshwari then started her efforts to revive the land. “I cleared the weeds and bushes and then planted sheema konna (Gliricidia). The leaves of the tree, as well as limestone, were added to the land, which helped in its revival to an extent,” she explains.
She also attended a workshop by Subhash Palekar, a pioneer of natural organic farming. Here, she learnt about chemical-free farming, and decided to try her hand at it. “I learnt about using natural manures to nourish the soil. For that, I started making natural fertilisers like jeevamrutham and panchagavyam, made mainly using cow dung and urine. This helped a lot in improving the soil quality, thereby promoting growth of crops,” she says, adding that 20 cows she bought with a bank loan also helped in her efforts while reviving the land
It took her around five years to transform the land. “Till then, we depended on the cows and made a living out of selling their milk,” adds Bhuvaneshwari, who recently won the Karshakasree Award by Malayala Manorama for reaping success through organic farming.
Farming, a way of life
A day in Bhuvaneshwari’s life starts by waking up before dawn breaks, and taking up multiple roles in the farm — from ploughing to sowing seedlings. Even at the age of 60, she is as energetic as ever. “I love working on the field rather than just supervising. It gives me immense pleasure,” she says.
Besides farming, she is also an expert in operating tillers and tractors. “I learnt to drive the tiller from my father who was one of the first in Palakkad to own one. A few years ago, I learnt how to drive a tractor as well. Now I can manage on my own when it is difficult to find labourers,” she smiles.
Bhuvaneshwari has been growing paddy on 10 acres of land using sustainable and natural methods. “While cultivating paddy twice in rotation every year, I cultivate sesame, horse gram and urad dal in between. By nurturing it with organic manure and green leaves, we produce up to 25 quintals,” she says, adding that with an initial investment of just Rs 2 lakh, she earned a profit of around 18 lakh from rice and rice products alone.
Apart from paddy, the farm also nurtures orchards of fruit trees such as mango, jackfruit, plantain, and so on. “We also grow fruits like dragon fruit, sapota, rambutan, and papaya. also I cultivate turmeric in between the jackfruit trees,” she adds.
Bhuvaneshwari says she has adapted high density farming techniques to increase the yield, “I haven’t left a single spot on this land without planting anything.”
The farmer also owns around 10 cows of native varieties like vechur, kasaragod kullan, gir etc, as well as 20 goats, three dogs, and several birds like hens, ducks, goose, turkeys, pigeons and love birds. There is also a huge fish farm set on around two acres. “Tilapia, rohu, catla are some of the varieties that I rear at my farm. All these are sold to people directly,” she adds.
Bhuvaneshwari says she never sells her produce through intermediaries but directly to the buyers. “Most of the produce like rice, coconuts, sesame etc are sold as value added products through our website (Ammachi’s Organic Farm), or to buyers who approach us directly. Since we put in so much effort to cultivate them organically, I wanted to sell them in its pure form directly to customers,” she explains.
Mango varieties found on her land include mallika, neelam, alphonsa, banganapalli, sindooram, malgoa, and moovandan. “The mangoes are sold directly to nearby local shops, or sent to people via courier. We also make pickles out of them and sell them,” she says.
According to Bhuvaneshwari, the support from her family, including her husband and four children, as well as the cooperation of her farm workers, has been immense. “My workers are like family to me, and we always work together on the fields like a team. My family has also always been there for me.”
Maruti Gardens also host tourists as guests in two of her old houses, and well as on the upper floor of her new house. “These days, we always have guests on our farm. We run the farm stay through Airbnb and have been hosting tourists including foreigners,” she says.
Even while being a busy farmer and host, Bhuvaneshwari always finds some time for social work. She has been an active volunteer at the Snehatheeram Palliative care unit and has been helping poor families with food and medical assistance.
(Edited by Divya Sethu)