Nanjammal and her son, Bharathi Chinnasamy, are on a mission to make rural India self-reliant by growing vegetable gardens in every nook and corner of their neighbouring villages.
Nanjammal, an 85-year-old, living in Thoppampatti Poonga Nagar, Coimbatore, starts her day by checking the plants in her home garden. After her morning routine, she heads to several houses in her village to analyse the growth of the plants in each of their gardens.
She is in charge of more than 160 vegetable gardens in two villages in her locality.
She inspires people to plant more and provides guidance all through. And even though her health is worsening, she finds the time and energy to indulge in farming activities.
Since the age of seven, Nanjammal has worked in the fields with her family. She raised three children by farming on a one-acre land handed over to her by her in-laws.
She says she is proficient in all kinds of farming, including paddy. And for that reason, the villagers endearingly call her ‘kaigari paati’ (vegetable grandma). She says, “Farming is a great way to attain self-reliance, especially after retirement. It keeps the body and mind healthy.”
Nanjammal’s land around her house is filled with different types of trees, plants, vines of vegetables and fruits. Every day, she cooks food using the farm fresh vegetables from her garden. There are more than 17 vegetable varieties here, including chillies, tomatoes, brinjals, gourds, zucchinis and drumsticks, along with fruit trees like guavas, papayas and mangoes.
Additionally, from fertilisers to insect repellants, every farming product is prepared by this gritty senior citizen.
With the support of her son Bharathi Chinnasamy, Nanjammal helps two neighbouring villages with seedlings and guidance required for vegetable farming.
A kitchen garden in every home
Bharathi is a firm believer in Gandhi’s ideology and believes that all villages should be self-reliant. To attain this goal, he has been working with a self-help group for the past 12 years. Five years ago, Nanjammal also joined her son in the cause and her idea was to make villages self-sufficient in the matter of vegetable farming.
“Six years ago, my son started distributing free vegetable seeds to villagers to encourage them to farm. But only a few took the effort to grow them. Bharathi understood that the mission was a failure but he bought another set of seeds to distribute. I took all the seeds and turned them into saplings and these were given to 37 families in our village,” explains Nanjammal.
She didn’t stop there. Once in four days, she visited each house to check the growth of the saplings. “If I spot pests, a biopesticide is made from neem and jackfruit to be sprayed on them. I would provide the families with organic fertilisers too,” she adds. Initially, people were puzzled about her acts. But soon, they started coming in search of Bharathi to get seeds and saplings. After Thoppampatti, Nanjammal also started this initiative in her ancestral village, Anyapalayam in Erode district.
Bharathi says, “My mother believes that every family in India should grow their own vegetables. So she helps each family in the village to set up their kitchen gardens. Nothing will stop her.”
He adds, “Since we lost our father at a young age, it was her and her farming that sustained our livelihood. I have never seen her sitting idle even at this age. She is ever-ready to farm.”
Nanjammal used to visit Anyapalayam twice a week to check the plants and resolve the doubts of gardeners during the initial days. Now since her health is worsening, most of the activities are managed by Bharathi alone. “After gardens of individual houses, we started using the public spaces of the village to plant vegetables and fruit trees. We also explained to many families that they could do similar activities and make use of public spaces. Many families have already started this initiative,” says Bharathi, who conducts classes in schools and colleges about the importance of self-help groups and starting a kitchen garden.
Through a collective effort, the mother-son duo has been successful in implementing kitchen gardens in 10 villages of Coimbatore.
“Two years ago, with the self-help group we submitted a petition to the government to set up private and community vegetable gardens in every village under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGA) scheme. This would have provided employment to the labourer, along with promoting organic produce. But there was no reply from the government so we started doing it ourselves,” says Bharathi.
The duo is happy that more people, especially children, are willing to be part of their mission. They hope to continue gardening and farming to make rural India self-sufficient.
Read the story in Hindi here.
Edited by Yoshita Rao
Photo Credits: Bharathi Chinnaswamy