Look at this rice field. This field hasn’t been ploughed for 6-7 years. The field next to this one, for 3-4 years. And still the rice has germinated and grown beautifully.
The sweet potato has enormous nutritional value, being low in sodium, saturated fat and cholesterol, a good source of dietary fiber, vitamin B6 and potassium, and a very good source of vitamins A, C, and manganese. It is available from Auroville farms in the period from January to March which means there is minimal transport in getting the food from the field to your plate. This year in Solitude, starting in August, we grew four different fields of sweet potato. Two fields, which funny enough were the last two we planted, were fantastic in size and taste, while the other two had lots of smaller tubers but they were equally good in taste. We have been giving these small sweet potatoes in the CSA baskets and have heard how tasty they were from the participants. We have also been serving them daily to our guests and volunteers at Solitude organic restaurant. Sadhana Forest and Center Guest House also take regularly and again the verdict is that small is tasty! So far we have harvested around 300 kilos of big and small sweet potatoe and we have close to 100 kilos left to harvest.
We have a small problem however, the smaller sweet potatoes are very difficult to move in New Pour Tous, as the conception is that sweet potatoes are only good if they are big. This Saturday I gave the weekly tour of Solitude, and during a discussion on nutrition one guest asked me “why do the local villagers prefer white rice when brown is better for you?”
In the book The One Straw Revolution, Masanobu Fukuoka discusses weather it is permissible that man use chemicals in the fields. He describes the miracles of nature and thus fertility that are destroyed by chemical application. He suggests that philosophers and artists join the discussion to see weather man has the right to use chemicals.
The sweet potato is a small matter, just a farmer wanting people to understand that it tastes good and that we need to be educated about what is good for us – food that is grown locally, without transport, without chemicals. I brought Nagamuthu, a local farmer who works with us at Solitude, to help me with the delivery the other day and he was very angry that good food should be rejected because of size! But the consumer directs the market. We have all the crazy stuff on our shelves because we demand it. The irony is that humans choose foods that require chemicals and transportation with fossil fuels, but they are unhealthy for both us and the environment. Consider also the ever-diminishing gene pools due to use of hybrid seeds (needed to grow the perfect round, red tomato). All this is due to a lack of understanding about our food. We search for solutions for our broken ecology yet the answers are right in front of us. Please eat small sweet potatoes!
Solitude is a farming community aiming to integrate food and education within the context of a functioning natural farm. Solitude Farm is a part of Auroville, in Tamil Nadu, south India.
Over the years Solitude has become an example of natural farming in India, demonstrating the ideas of Masanobu Fukuoka, autor of The One Straw Revolution. We use non-tillage methods, mulching, intercropping and green manures, and other techniques associated with Permaculture. Food processing, cooking, natural building, discussion, silence, art, and music are components that make up our community life and work.
The soil in our rice fields is full of millions of micro organisms, mould, fungi, bacteria, earth worms, insects, small animals and a host of other forms of life. Ploughing these fields would exposes the soil to severe heat and light, thus compromising the fertility of this highly delicate soil eco- system. When we plough, fertility is reduced and the addition of prepared composts become necessary. We have found that by using green manures, returning all the organic matter back to the soil (including the rice straw), and not ploughing, we are using less and less compost. In some cases we are not using it at all. This year we grew peanuts in July, sowed rice directly into the peanuts, harvested the peanuts and after a small weeding we returned all the peanut waste to the field. We added no compost. It is not easy to get a homogonous germination like this, so invariably there was a little transplanting here and there. Then we did a weeding and now we are harvesting. Some years we use a very dense ground cover called black velvet bean as a ground cover prior to sowing the rice. It is so dense that there is no need for a pre- weeding and just a very brief weeding is needed while the rice is growing.
One variety of rice we are growing is called china pooni. Rice farmers talk about good yields of 30 to 35 bags (75kg) of this rice per acre. We have a quarter acre this year and it is looking very promising. And it tastes very good, maybe due to a more diverse nutrition. We had a funny mistake occur when we found that two varieties of rice got mixed up in the field. One was ready to harvest before the other. In permaculture, stacking crops based on their duration is a standard practice, but I never thought about it applying to rice. I am wondering if this stacking has helped with what looks like an impressive harvest? I have heard that tribals do this with up to twelve different crops in one field.
Anyway, farmers don’t like to talk about yields until the crop is in, so I will just say that if you would like to help with the harvest and be a part of this beautiful experiment that we have been working on in Solitude for the last 8 years please come at 8am on the 2nd of March and try and bring a sickle!
This naturally farmed rice will be offered in our CSA along with the other grains (i.e. ragi and varagu), peanuts, sesame, and black gram. Those who come for the harvest are invited to join us for lunch, and with the vegetable production in full swing, that is a reason enough to come! See you there! yours, krishna