natural farming

Community Circle Garden

People Food Music: The Genesis and Gratitude!

It seems like no better a way to approach life than through this – connecting people, food and music.

At Solitude farm, Permaculture is a reason for us to connect with people from various communities and help them understand that growing the food one eats is the most sustainable. People Food Music as an initiative stemmed out of this thought. This led us to looking around, not to very far, but at the villages around Auroville, in Tamil Nadu. We realized that sadly, even at this basic community structure, where food is grown, people are disconnected. They seem to have forgotten the methods of growing food organically and are influenced by the commercialization web of growing industrial crops.

How about if we could reach out the villages around us and help them reconnect with their methods, their food, and their music? Through the People Food Music Project, we intend to do this. Work with groups of people, various communities, reintroduce them to farming through Permaculture, farm with them, learn their traditional methods of cooking, introduce them to the methods we know, cook with them, eat with them and celebrate through music and art.

As we began interacting with groups of people from the villages around, we also thought we’d reach out to the larger community of people who can support us with this. That was by way of a fund raising campaign on Indiegogo. We were aspiring to raise $12K and we raised $9684 through a campaign that ended on January 1, 2016. We’d like to thank all of you who contributed to this campaign by supporting us with your money, by spreading the word or even making references.

We are now geared to taking the People Food Music Project to the villages around in Tamil Nadu and perhaps start making an impact to change amongst the communities there. The first will be the Third Circle Garden at Chinna Muddler Chavadi, a quaint tiny village near Auroville. More updates on that will follow, until then – Grow your own food, Cook local recipes and Celebrate life through the Kuthu Song…

 

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March rice harvest!

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 day before the harvest, everyone is excited. After reading Fukuoka’s One Straw Revolution we discovered that with a specific variety of rice, Fukuoka was able to attain a yield that came up to 1650 pounds per quarter acre. According to him, each seed had produced an average of 12 stalks with about 250 grains per head. Krishna runs into the field. He counts the stalks and he has 13 of them in his hand! The harvest was already looking promising.

But all that said, we are farmers, and farmers don’t like to speculate about their upcoming yields. So we settled down and went back to our work, preparing and waiting for the harvest.
There were peanuts growing in this field before the rice. We broadcasted the rice seed directly into the field when the peanuts were ready to be harvested, so that when they would be pulled out of the ground, the seeds would be gently, naturally covered with soil. After we harvested the peanuts, the organic matter that was leftover was laid across the field. This has decomposed into a rich humus that has made way for richer rice.
We use no machines and no chemicals. But look at this field. With this method it is possible to attain a harvest equal to or greater than that of the average farm.
One of the biggest headaches for farmers is weeds, and one of the most time consuming jobs is weeding. By spreading the rice seeds while the peanuts are still ripening, we are virtually eliminating the need to weed. Another method to cope with weeds, called Mulching, is to lay organic matter over the field. This layer on top of the soil suppresses the growth of any weeds. Of course, some weeds come up here and there, but by then the rice is already growing strong. There was a little weeding that was done in our fields, but not much was necessary. The usual way of dealing with weeds is to dig up the earth, turn the soil around. But this only gives a boost to the weeds whose seeds are lying deep in the soil, whose seeds wouldn’t have sprouted otherwise. It also ensures that little parts of weed roots are tucked away safely into the soil, from where they will grow again and again.
An interesting thing about this rice field is that it’s not flooded. The main reason for flooding a rice field is to control the weeds. Only a limited variety can survive in an environment like this. Normally, the survivors have to be pulled out by hand several times in each growing season. With our method of coping with weeds we save ourselves from this time-consuming and backbreaking jobs. Of course we let water go into the field some days but we never really let it stand. It is just for irrigation.
Most farmers agree on one thing: ploughing the land is essential for growing crops.  However, inspired by Masanobu Fukuoka, we haven’t ploughed our rice fields for many years. We discovered that the field cultivates itself naturally. Plant roots penetrate the soil, and in just a handful of soil, one can be assured that there will be several worms and insects. Those are our ploughmen.
Friday the second of March was the day of days. The day on which we harvested the rice.  After breakfast we all got a sickle and started in the far left corner of the field. We got in line next to each other and began with cutting the rice plants at the bottom of the stalks. As we followed our line and cut the rice, we put the plants in piles behind us. This we continued until we cut all the rice.
Piles became bigger and the sun became stronger as the day went by. We were all working hard and sweating lots, but to see all the rice, from which we could soon make delicious meals, was a great motivator. We started with 10 people but more people joined in to help soon after.
At lunchtime the rice cutting was finished. We took a rewarding jump in the well to cool off and enjoyed the-own-grown organic food.
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After lunch we started to make bundles out of the rice plants and shifted them onto a big plastic sheet next to the field. 
All the rice made a big heap. After shifting all the piles, we went through the field again to check for rice that fell out of the bundle or had been forgotten during the harvest.  A few plants we left standing, because when the rice became bigger, we noticed that we mixed up some seeds while broadcasting them over the field. Some different varieties were growing next to each other. The other variety was not ready to harvest yet, so we left those plants standing.
At four o’clock we collected all the rice and covered it with the plastic sheet and called it a day.
The next day the threshing began. We uncovered the rice, laid two barrels on the sheet, and began to beat the rice on them.
Nagamuthu showed us how to make rope out of the straw, which we used to keep the plants together while threshing the rice out of them.
After threshing all the rice, we spread the straw out and picked up a stick each and started to beat the straw to get the last remaining rice out of it.
 
We shook up the straw well so we could be sure that no rice was left in it. And in the end, to complete the whole harvest we put the straw back into the field.
We ended up with quite an amount of rice, which we still need to weigh. With this we showed for ourselves that having done everything by hand and without using any fertilizers or chemicals too, it’s possible to be happy rice farmer.
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Welcome to Solitude Farm

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.

 

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We’re onto something!

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

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