Eating is an agricultural act - Wendell Berry

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

preserving vegetables

those who think work in pR is all about farming, trees and similar work, should certainly continue reading :-)

in days prior to hybrid seeds, fruits and vegetables used to be seasonal.
other than a few obvious fruits like mangoes, jackfruit, most knowledge of seasonaility has been eradicated from the memories of the populace.

but those like us who use mostly native seeds, seasonality is a real and an important factor in growing and eating.

till our parents' generation, one important skill that the women of the house had to master was the preservation of vegetables.
this is locally referred to as vathal making, i.e., sun-dried vegetables.

here is our experience with pavakkai/karela/bitter gourd.
as you would have guessed, we learnt this process from karpagam's mother.

fresh from the nearby farm - less than 24 hours since plucking from the field.

it is halved and then hollowed out (seeds removed).

sliced into thin discs and soaked in curd + manjal podi/haldi/turmeric + salt.

this soaking is done overnight and next morning, it is squeezed dry and laid out to dry in the sun.

it shrivels up in the heat for around 6-7 hours.

after the sun goes down, it is again soaked in the same curd mixture and kept overnight.
and laid out to dry the next morning.
this drying/soaking process is repeated for another two days/nights (with the same curd mixture) - this means a total of three days of drying.
you will notice how the discs swell up after the overnight soaking and shrivels up at the end of drying.

at the end, it will look like this.

this will store very simply for over a year.
they can be used after giving them a light sautee in all sambars/gravies or just deep fry and have it like crisps and have it with curd rice.

we did another vathal with kothavarai/cluster beans.
this is simpler.
boil the beans, lightly coat with the same curd mixture and dry.
if lucky, one drying day could suffice, else 2 days should be enough.
as a rule, the more the drying the surer you are about the shelf life.

for the hawkeyed, the final vathal shots are from batch 1 and the work-in-progress shots are from batch 2.

kisan swaraj yatra

our dear friend ananthu is onto a good thing for the next 2 months.
he joins a group of of individuals/farmers/NGOs and are embarking on the Kisan Swaraj Yatra.
the aim is to reach out to farmers on a variety of issues including danger of GM foods, sustainable farming, use/overuse of chemicals/fertilisers/pesticides, policies of the government and so on.

this yatra will cover 20 states and over 14000 kms in around 75 days, starting at the historic and appropriate Sabarmati Ashram in Ahemdabad and ending at Rajghat in Delhi.

Oct 2nd is the start date and appropriate as it is the jayanti divas of 2 remarkable people connected to farming and agriculture - MK Gandhi and Lal Bahadur Shastri.

the routes and times are here.

they have a website and will have updates/blogs/photos/routes/conferences and stuff in due course.

do join us in extending warm greetings to ananthu and the entire KSY group.
and do drop into a press conference in a city near you.

traditional wisdom - 1

this current month in the tamil calendar is purattasi (mid sept to mid oct).

it is known for its hot days as well as good showers from the late/retreating SW monsoon and early NE monsoon.

so the saying to describe puratassi is:
pon uruga kaayum, man uruga peyyum (பொன் உருக காயும், மண் உருக பெய்யும்)
it is hot enough to melt gold, and pours enough to melt the soil.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

alli thottam

we had planted lillies in our pond in july 2010.

and as of today, these little beauties have multiplied and are looking gorgeous.

point return is known locally as kathadi pannai/kathadi thottam (the windmill farm).

we are looking for an alternate moniker.
maybe alli thottam (lily farm) could be it.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

creating impact

in my job at akanksha - i was heading up impact measurement.
we were putting down some quantitative and qualitative measures to see and show how effective and efficient our methods were. largely in the time i spent in this role, i focussed on classroom related measures.

so it was all about numbers, measurements, check lists, spreadsheets, databases and suchlike.
my underlying hope and expectation from this process was for the teacher to be able to make use of this and help her reach out to her students.
it would eventually spiral outwards to cover the entire organisation.
i left well before the first spiral took off.

creating impact is latest fancy buzzword in business/corporate/NGO boardrooms.
from my own experiences and in my personal funda now, this buzzword has absolutely no place. i would go onto say that in case one is trying to 'impact the community/society' through their work - they are likely to fail; not only in making an impact, but also in doing a decent job of their core work (for e.g., education, health, etc).
here i do not cover government actions/policies and only apply this theorem to the non-government space.

i will re-engage the words of wendell berry here in his famous "in distrust of movements" as my support.
And so I must declare my dissatisfaction with movements to promote soil conservation or clean water or clean air or wilderness preservation or sustainable agriculture or community health or the welfare of children. Worthy as these and other goals may be, they cannot be achieved alone. I am dissatisfied with such efforts because they are too specialized, they are not comprehensive enough, they are not radical enough, they virtually predict their own failure by implying that we can remedy or control effects while leaving causes in place. Ultimately, I think, they are insincere; they propose that the trouble is caused by other people; they would like to change policy but not behaviour.
he goes onto lay a large part of the effort at the doorstep of each individual.

creating impact is directly associated with scaling and scaling is directly associated with creating movements.

kishore's comment on "milling around the corner", asks this (among many other things):
As the cause gains momentum, how do you then make it have more of an impact without losing the core beliefs and inspiration?

using the above passages as my detailed response, i will summarise my answer to this question - "it is not possible to expand the cause and make more impact without losing the core beliefs and inspiration."

or in a toned down version, "i am not at point return to create impact/change local behaviour/evangelise natural farming/organise, rather i am at pR to lead a simple and healthy and less exploitative life.

urban traffic chaos...

..."is seriously damaging health, increasing stress, decreasing productivity and the overall situation is getting worse", says the latest india today cover story - "jam session".

with automobile sales growing at upwards of 20% each year, there is no chance in hell that infrastructure growth can keep pace.

while china is getting into a deeper hole, india is begging to catch up.
i am told that the central parts of london do not have a single flyover - the ubiquitous traffic decongesting solution for urban india - which does beggar some thought on how we have mismanaged our urban infrastructure.

delighted that am out of it.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

ethiopia's takeover

sainath's "how to end famine" article had a note on india's strategy to access farmland overseas, especially in africa.
i still refer to this hare-brained idea 'imperialisitc'.

and quite expectedly, the locals have started to object.
tehelka reports that indian companies are being accused of land-grabbing.

but some of the information is quite staggering.

Karuturi Global Ltd runs a pilot project on 10,000 hectares now, but plans to increase its capacity to 5,00,000 hectares in the coming years. “This vast fertile land, leased to the company, would deprive local people of their livelihood and increase destitution, leading to higher crime rates in both rural and urban areas,” adds Ochalla.

Karuturi denies the charge, saying the land is leased from Ethiopia’s Agriculture and Rural Development Ministry. “There has been a reaffirmation by the government, and we have an offer of over three million hectares of additional land,” he told TEHELKA.
and this land is for growing roses for the european market.
which is an unpardonable sin - using fertile agricultural land for cash crops.

ethiopia has a farmland area of close to 32 million hectares (0.317 million square kms).
In recent months, the impoverished and chronically food-insecure nation has become one of the world’s leading agribusiness destinations after the government leased for 40-99 years one of its hottest commodities: farmland. As a result, a host of countries from South and Southeast Asia and Latin America rushed in to seize the opportunity. An estimated 50 million acres have been leased by them in the past two years, in a mad rush partly driven by last year’s global food crisis.
50 million acres = 20 million hectares = 62.5% of the total farmland.
even adjusting by a factor of 10 due to reporting error, these numbers are borderline insane.

in our 8 months here in rural TN, we have had to face this 'outsider' remark.
i can certainly understand why the ethiopian farmers are up in arms. this is 'selling out the country' lock-stock and barrel.

and of all thing ROSES - it is downright criminal.
ethiopia - situated in the horn of africa - is in the horns of a hippo-sized dilemma.

rice field - update

yes. this is update weekend.

we got a lot of excitement on this blog when we planted rice.
and then rains hit us and the rice was submerged.
there was hardly any let up and this state (submersion) continued till middle of last week.

an encouraging anon comment mentioned that rice would survive this.

and some of them did. check the photo of the field as of 18 sept.

a closer look shows that a few saplings have managed to survive the onslaught. it would be less than 5% of the planted area. but you can imagine how tough these seeds must be.

we had anticipated this flooding and had planted a mini nursery.

and we transplanted them onto the field and now we have a very small patch of rice growing and now are confident that these will be harvested.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

milling around the corner

every decent grain producing area will have a mill.
mostly in south india it is a rice mill.
these mills typically will have all the equipment to convert the harvested grain to its consumable form.
for rice processing, typical processes will be:
1. dehusking/hulling
2. de-stoning
3. polishing/milling
4. segregating whole grains from fines.

hence the finished products will be
1. whole grain rice (what we commonly buy)
2. rice fines (broken rice/noi arisi)
3. rice husk/paddy husk (ummi)
4. rice bran

for boiled rice (puzhungal arisi) there is an additional first step of boiling the paddy and then drying it.
farmers arrive with their produce and take back the finished products usually at a per kg cost paid to the mill.

the beauty of this process is the 'zero-waste' system.

while we were looking to get rice husk for our coconut planting, we ended up locating the local rice mill, at the corner of Zamin Endathur's main street.
the proprietor is a kind soft spoken man, Mr Mannaperumal, was more than happy to sell us the rice husk at a nominal cost. he either sells it as cow-feed or uses it as fuel to boil the 'boiled rice'.
we arrived (siddarth, karpagam, chellama and myself) and he asks, "where are the labourers?"
karpagam points at sid and myself. he shrugs and shows us in.
we shovel 11 sacks of around 20 kgs each. that is a lot of husk. remember that husk is very light and has a low density.
our coconuts will just love this.

as a bonus in this transaction, we also collect 2 big sacks of ash for our toilet.

a classic example of how a local economy works.

millets - updates

we had planted varagu/kodo millet and thinai/foxtail millet around mid august.

we had tons of rains the day after each sowing. since we did not plough the field after broadcasting them, we feared that they may have got washed away.
but of course - rookie farmer fears.

this is the varagu field. it took nearly 14 days to sprout and is a slow grower (150 days+ crop) and made us sweat it out.
we took the opportunity of the sporadicity to plant chozham/sorghum in rows along one part of the patch. think that there is some 'friendly interaction' that is likely here.

this is the thinai field. is just an amazing blaze of lush green. in 3 months, we should be harvesting this field.

we are quite certain that these 2 millets will become part of our regular agriculture and thence our diet.
and here is the best part. both will be entirely rain fed this year and if we crack the 'no-tilling code', rain fed agriculture will be our mantra.

ragi - update

we planted the nursery in late april.
we transplanted in mid may.
read the planting story here.

we had inter-planted with karamani/cow pea and had a blast with it.

as on date we are almost 150 days from the start.
and here is the field as of date. it is lusher with weeds than it is with ragi. and that is because we transplanted with a 9 inch spacing. nevertheless the field is lush and beautiful.

close ups of the 'ears'.

while harvesting, we shall only cut these ears.
then we shall broadcast some green manure seeds (see point 5 in this post)
once they sprout, we are planning to sickle down the entire field and lay the grass/stalks/weeds right there as mulch. this will ensure that the field is fully covered and regains its fertility over the 2 months leading upto the next planting season.

we expect to harvest in 3-4 installments - we do not have an uniformity in grain maturing on the stalks.
in another month you should read our harvest and post-harvest processing.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

china is getting into a deeper hole

annual car sales in china is expected to be over 15 million in 2010.
and this is in a slow down year for the industry.
this is more masochism than macho as the drivers on the 10 day jam near beijing will confirm.

how can any city cope with this?
i consider this as a clear portender of china's slide. economically and environmentally.

the poor road infrastrucutre (level and quality) in india is certainly welcome. this is welcome inefficiency.

why our PM is bad news

as i read his latest comments on "meet the editors", i shudder that this man is leading our country.
his blind aping of the western model of development through industrialisation shows me that he has stopped learning since he got his economics degree.
a few samples:
1. As per Tendulkar committee's estimates, 37 per cent of the population is below the poverty line. "How are you going to give free food to such a large segment of the population?"

and confirming the 37% figure itself should be treated as a confession of the UPA's ineptitude. and how can he even flaunt this rhetorical question. tragic...
maybe if we could avoid crappy stuff like CWG,we could feed the poor.
and who is asking for free food?

2. The only way we can raise our heads above poverty is for more people to be taken out of agriculture.
and where will you accommodate over 60% of the population? in industry?

am aghast at our PM.

Monday, September 06, 2010

the week that was packed

aug 30th to sept 5th.
if we claim to have done a lot of work, we are understating.

1. planted exactly 178 trees. and readied another 90 odd pits for the next planting session (when it rains).
2. dug over 300 feet of trench for the underground water pipeline for watering these trees.
3. set up above piping for around 275 feet.
4. planted a variety of vegetables/greens after de-weeding and clearing up a few vegetable beds.
5. covered an area of around 200 feet long x 15 feet wide (swale mound) with 6 different varieties of green manure (karamani/cow pea, chozham/sorghum, gilki/rattle bean, velvet beans, auwri, thakka poondu/daincha)

we were joined by ananthu and sumathi over the later part of the week.
extremely enjoyable.