Frans and Ami with Dr Vandana Shiva
A significant birthday this year was the driving factor in Frans and I taking off to India for a few weeks. I had wanted to celebrate this birthday by doing something adventurous and significant. Cue a bunch of family and friends who surprised me with tickets to visit Navdanya, an organic farm practicing biodiversity, run by Dr Vandana Shiva. I’ve been an admirer of Dr Shiva for a long time. Her work in raising awareness of the negative impact of farming with chemicals and using GMO crops has been significant.
So these two small time organic vegetable growers packed our bags, (including our own sheets and towels, and a serious collection of travel medicines should we need them!) and off we went. Once a year an intensive course called The A-Z of Organic Farming is held on Navdanya, in the Doon Valley close to Dehradun. World-renowned soil scientists, biologists, nutritionists and Dr Vandan Shiva herself gave intensive lectures on a variety of subjects. It was a bit like being back at school. We took copious notes and regretted not paying more attention in our high school biology lessons!
Breakfast was at 8am, followed by a morning circle where a small devotion and a little chanting were held. Notices were read and a team building game was played. It was then time for Shramdaan. This was one hour where teams offered their time in service to work in the kitchen preparing the meals (rustic outdoor kitchen with dodgy knives and questionable hygiene), or working in the field or the vegetable gardens. After morning tea, the first lecture of the day took place. Usually the afternoon classes involved a practical aspect of the lessons learned in the morning. There were compost making sessions using copious amounts of cow dung and urine, worm farm demonstrations, making building materials with clay and cow dung (again!) and classes on fermentation and nutrition.
We have come away from this experience with a renewed commitment to farming without chemicals. In some ways, our time in India has been life changing. Our biggest attitude shift has been towards the food we produce ourselves and of the food we buy.
We met ordinary folk like ourselves from countries around the world who are much more aware of the dangers of herbicides and pesticides being used in food production. Our labeling laws here are totally inadequate. It seems ridiculous that a farmer who grows food without chemical inputs needs to pay and adhere to so many regulations to be called ‘Organic’, while a farmer who uses chemical sprays on the food we eat does not have to label his produce as such. The chemical sprays used on crops around the world are now being identified as major contributors to many illnesses and diseases.
The ‘good life’ can only be good if we’re healthy. The health of our soil is the starting point. There is a strong world wide shift towards knowing where your food comes from. This is a good thing! I’d encourage anyone who is reading this column to actively seek out chemical free, local and seasonal produce. It is so much better for you and our community. Plant a veggie garden or pot up some herbs to start. Swap your excess with a neigbour or friend or join a food swap. Everyone can make a difference.
1. Ami sorting seeds
2 Frans doing kitchen duty
3. Ami doing kitchen duty with a fellow student and the organic chef
5. Ami baking bread with Sandor Katz, Fermentation Guru!