As a guy living in an apartment, I had always aspired to have my own veggie garden. I dreamt I’d toil in the hot sun for an hour a week and then bear the fruits of my labour. Transforming that dream into reality took a bit of time and lots of experimentation.
As someone who didn’t know anything about gardening, knowing where to start was the most difficult part. I was clueless about the kind of plants I could grow, the kind of soil I had to use, etc., but it all worked out in the end. While it may seem a little intimidating at first, building your own organic vegetable garden isn’t that difficult.
It’s quite simple, as I went through the process. All you need is a handful of pots, some good soil, some seeds/seedlings, and you’re good to go. The moment you see the first leaf of your first plant, you will be hooked from then on.
You can’t go wrong with most veggies in containers: green chillies, tomatoes, brinjal, beans, ladies finger, capsicum (just make sure in summer, there is a shade net as pots can get really dried out in peak sun in summer. If you can’t put in a shade net, just move them where they can get a few hours of shade in the mid morning sun)
Vasant Panchami, or Basant Panchami is being celebrated on 10 February 2019. It marks the arrival of spring in the Indian subcontinent.
One of my earliest childhood memories relates to Vasant Panchami – my mother singing the beautiful Saraswati Vandana – Goddess Saraswati is also worshipped on this day. Here is another rendition of the same.
Another legend pre-dating Saraswati is that of the Lord of Love: Kamadeva. Basant Panchami celebrates love. Folklore has it that it was at this time that Parvati implored Kamadeva to shoot arrows of love at Lord Shiva, to wake him from his penance, to pay attention to his yearning wife.What’s in a Name?
The name, ‘Vasant Panchami’ is quite indicative – ‘Vasant’ means Spring, while ‘Panchami’ signifies the fifth day of the Hindu month of Maagha. When translated to the Gregorian calendar, this falls somewhere during January-February.
India celebrates Vasant Panchami with much enthusiasm – with families going to temples and welcoming Spring – after all, the day marks the end of the cold and dry months of winter, and the beginning of new growth.
Yellow is the color of the day – as one notices a lot of people donning yellow clothing, serving yellow colored food, etc. This is probably because mustard fields in northern India are in full bloom at the time.
Bihar, celebrates Basant Panchami as the Sun God’s birthday. If one visits the Deo Sun Shrine in Aurangabad District of Bihar, one can see devotees thronging the place with yellow coloured clothing.
Punjab celebrates Basant Panchami a tad different. Though they worship the goddess Saraswati too, Vasant Panchami to Punjabis is all about the colour yellow.
Families across Punjab (both India and Pakistan) visit temples and gurudwaras, wearing yellow clothes, with yellow flowers. People also fly kites on this day (You will notice the kite flying mania continues from Sankranti ). We’re not done with the color yet – Punjabis also eat yellow rice on Basant Panchami!
Bengal, the land of literature, treats Basant Panchami with much respect. Since Hindus worship the goddess of knowledge, Saraswati, Bengalis take this opportunity to introduce toddlers to writing and reading. This custom is prevalent in Bangladesh as well.
A toddler’s first letters are considered a big deal – more so in Bengal. Excited parents and families call on their family priests or other respected elders to supervise the toddler’s first ever written words.
Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Chattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh, etc. have their own way of celebrating the spring festival. After having bathed early in the morning, devotees visit Shiva temples to worship Shiva & Parvati. They also give yellow coloured flowers and wheat ears as an offering to the deities.
Basant Panchami is also celebrated in one of India’s most revered Dargahs – Hazrat Nizamuddin. The thirteenth century sufi saint Nizamuddin Auliya was devastated at the untimely death of his nephew. His disciple Amir Khusro, saw some village women carrying flowers of the mustard plant, “sarson” to a nearby temple, dancing and celebrating spring. He composed this qawwali “Phool rahi sarson sakal ban” to make his guru smile. Nizamuddin Auliya overcame his grief and smiled, and ever since, Basant Panchami is celebrated at his hermitage every year with lots and lots of sarson ke phool (mustard flowers). Here’s a YouTube video of the song, Phool Rahi Sarson Sakal Ban.
Score high on eco-friendly, and achieve better health.
Our article earlier in January focused on how we can reduce our plastic consumption. This article takes that intent further, and focuses on our food related shopping, and how we can make it more planet friendly. Why food?
Consider this: We all eat 3 times a day. With a global population of 7 billion (700 Crores), food is the single largest purchase we human beings make.
If we can make even the slightest shift to a more sustainable option in our food, the payoffs are huge.
The American writer Margaret Mead once said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”. This idea is most appropriate in the context of each one of us choosing what we buy for our families.
We have a few suggestions that you can try out for your groceries/food shopping. As you read through them, you will find that not only are they more eco-friendly, they are undoubtedly healthier. Which goes to prove that what is good for the planet, is good for us (and vice versa).
Switch to Organic Food Today
Organic food is grown without the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides. Fertilisers and pesticides are petrochemicals that need tremendous amounts of energy and investment to manufacture, and apply on farms. (Such as the extraction of petroleum, refining, manufacturing, and then in storage and transportation)
The agrichemicals industry has a huge environmental footprint, and we don’t need it at all.
Organic farming also nourishes and preserves soil fertility, which is why organic farms produce regular yields year after year, whereas conventional farms need increasing inputs each year as their fertility reduces.
The added benefit is that organic food is loaded with nutrients and bereft of harmful chemicals. This means our own long-term health improves with consuming organic food.
Read the 2013 UN report that categorically explains how small-scale organic farming is the only sustainable way to feed the world.
Cut Down on Meat Consumption
Consuming dairy, eggs and meat is inherent in many cultures. However, consumption of animal based foods is inherently inefficient from the point of resources. This issue is multiplied many folds in today’s food system, also called factory farming.
Huge amounts of food are grown to feed cattle, hens, pigs and lamb. This food if grown for direct human consumption would require much less quantity.
Creating 1000 calories of food for humans from animals is much more draining on resources such as water and land, as compared to producing the exact same amount from plants.
All this food (except for organic meat) is again grown with the use of fertilisers and pesticides. In the USA (and then exported to other countries), animal food is predominantly genetically modified corn and soy.
To increase the efficiency of the factory, animals are kept in tightly packed lots, thus resulting in unsanitary conditions, and animals falling really sick. The industry addresses this by pumping them indiscriminately with antibiotics. (In the US alone 80% of antibiotics manufactured is used for livestock. India has no regulation on how much antibiotics can be given to animals). And we end up consuming food that was sick and full of antibiotics.
To increase the quality of the meat (i.e. to quickly grow muscle, to increase milk output etc.), the animals are fed growth hormones on a consistent basis, which ends up in our bodies when we consume them.
Look for meat and dairy that isn’t from a factory (your local butcher, a small vendor of eggs from free grazing chickens). If you cannot eliminate meat, or find good quality non mass produced meat, remember: even trimming it down to a couple of meals per week will go a long way. Not just on the impact on the environment, but also on your health. And don’t worry about the protein and calcium. Eating a good mixture of fruits, nuts, vegetables and whole grains (like brown rice, whole wheat aata and unpolished millets) delivers all the nutrition that our bodies need.
Choose Local Produce When Possible
The more distance food has to travel to your house, the more “food miles” it has. Choose foods that have fewer miles than more. When you buy food that was grown/manufactured far away, it requires energy to store, and transport to get to your home. If it is refrigerated/frozen food, even more.
Buy perishables such as fruits and vegetables in your local mandi. Why not the supermarket? A supermarket may look hygienic and clean, but vegetables there are invariably bought ahead of time and stored in refrigerated units. This means your local mandi not only avoids the refrigeration footprint, but also assures you fresh products.
Local produce also helps build more resilient and decentralized supply systems, from the farmer to the market. You also indirectly cut down on the packaging footprint also because these products now do not have to be packaged to travel and survive long distances.
Another advantage to buying local food is that you are supporting local biodiversity. You will end up buying produce that is grown because it is well suited to the local climate.
E.g.: Buying Sesame, Safflower or Groundnut Oil in south India is a breeze because they are very hardy and suited to the climate. The Safflower plant requires virtually no water, and grows all over the arid Deccan plateau.
Buy What’s in Season.
To explain why its better to buy in season, lets first look at what is sub-optimal about buying out of season.
Say you want to eat an Apple in Mumbai in June. The apple harvest in Kashmir happens September/October. To satisfy a year-long supply, apples are kept in cold storage. The apple you are eating in June, has been sitting inside a refrigerated unit for 8 months !!! Would you be able to enjoy its taste? What about its nutrition? And imagine having to waste all that electricity to run the refrigeration unit for 8 months.
Eating seasonal food gives us the benefit of maximum freshness and nutrition, and minimizes having to store it year-long. However, for grains like wheat, rice and millets, these are harvested only once a year, and need some storage that will keep them safe from pests. If we reduce our consumption of grains and increase our intake of seasonal fresh fruits, vegetables and nuts, we will improve our health, as well as reduce our own carbon footprint.
Avoid Processed Foods
Nature stores whole food in safe containers: the husk of the grain, the skin/peel of the fruit or vegetable, the kernel of the nut. Eating food that comes directly out of these natural containers has the most nutritional value.
Processed foods are stored in man-made containers: polythene, tin can, glass bottle, tetra pack… the list goes on.
It takes an immense manufacturing industry (read resources of energy, water, land, and leftover polluted air/land/water) to package the food in these containers and ship them to you.
The biggest consideration for any manufacturer while packaging a product, is its shelf life. The longer the shelf life, the greater the chance that the product will be purchased before its expiry date.
Other than grains, lentils, millets, oilseeds, spices and oils, no other food has a long shelf life in a natural form. Hence, to achieve longer shelf life, manufacturers will often strip the product of its nutrition, so that the product does not get damaged by insects/fungus as such. (e.g.: wheat based products widely use maida and not whole wheat, as maida doesn’t get affected by pests as much. On the other hand, maida is an incredibly unhealthy food item.)
To summarise, an eco-friendly shopping list, is foremost a healthy shopping list. And the 5 suggestions above roll into one simple maxim: Choose local, seasonal, whole, plant-based food.
Water is one of the very basic components that sustain human life on earth. It is used to grow the food we eat, wash, cook, produce electricity, etc. Whatever happens, the levels of usable water are ever decreasing.
Step into poor urban neighbourhoods, or drive twenty miles out, into rural neighbourhoods, a common sight is seeing women walking for miles on end to collect drinking water for their families.
Here is a good article that highlights the need for water conservation, and provides some tips on how to intervene:
A lot of these are not difficult at all to start. As with any new habit, it takes awareness and perseverance. Soon enough it will become a part of your routine, and you will then wonder how life could have been before it 🙂
Its January, and that time of year where we are still trying to pick up and stick to some new resolutions and habits: weight loss, healthy eating, more family time etc.
If you have been reading about the pressing issue of plastic pollution, and are concerned about it, we highly recommend adding a goal of reducing your personal plastic consumption this year.
National Geographic came up with a really compelling set of pictures that document the scale of plastic pollution in our world today. Check it out here.
Plastic isn’t biodegradable. Which means it cannot break down (or takes forever and a day) into natural materials in the environment without causing harm. While a plastic free life isn’t for everyone, we all can do our bit in reducing our overall dependence on it.
Daunting as it may seem from the outside, it is truly a simple beginning. All it takes is awareness, and some prior planning.
Click here to learn about simple ways in which we all can cut down our own daily plastic consumption.
Please add your own suggestions in the comments box.
Makar Sankranti – India’s Favorite Harvest Festival
Makar Sankranti is one of India’s most popular harvest festivals. Farmers all over India wait till the months of January-February to harvest their crop and express gratitude to god for the year’s harvest.
The name, “Makar Sankranti” is loosely translated to mean “Capricorn Transition”. Thus, Makar Sankranti is celebrated on the day the sun reaches its southernmost dip and then starts moving northwards.
Makar Sankranti is celebrated all over India, and each region has its own unique celebration. For example, the world’s largest gathering of people, the Kumbh Mela, organized in Allahabad (now Prayagraj) is inaugurated with the first dip on Makar Sankranti. Here’s a good photo album on Kumbh Mela.
Punjab celebrates Sankranti as “Maghi”. Taking an early morning dip in the river is considered an essential part of the Maghi celebrations. The Hindus light Diyas or lamps with sesame seed oil, as it is known to invite prosperity and drive away all sin.
Since Maghi is celebrated during peak winter seasons, the food eaten is very rich and high in calories. Slow-cooked Kheer, Khichdi, Jaggery, etc. are main components of the menu during Maghi celebrations.
Rajasthan and Western Madhya Pradesh:
“Sankrant” is a big deal in Rajasthan and MP. Sankrant holds a lot of cultural significance in this region and is the main festival of the year.
A part of the traditional celebrations is to gift 13 married woman any household item. A married woman’s first Sankrant has much value – she is invited to her maternal home along with her husband for a huge feast. Sweets such as Til-Gud Laddu (Sesame-Jaggery Laddu) are prepared and distributed among family and friends.
Kite-flying is considered a part of the tradition in this region. The sky is filled with colorful kites, with people of all ages engaging in kite-cutting contests.
A good old kite store in Rajasthan
Tamil Nadu – 4 days of Pongal
Sankranti is celebrated as “Pongal” in Tamil Nadu. It is celebrated across four days, with each day dedicated to a different god associated with agriculture.
The first day is celebrated as Bhogi wherein farmers express their gratitude to Lord Indra. The other three days are Thai Pongal, Maattu Pongal and Kaanum Pongal.
Pongal is a delicacy prepared as Prasadam for the deities. It is incredibly simple to make and takes about 30 minutes. On Pongal day, women of each neighborhood come out and cook pongal on the streets, marking a celebration of hope, abundance, and sharing.
Women participating in a community pongal-cooking celebration in Dharavi, Mumbai.
Odisha celebrates Sankranti with much enthusiasm and faith. Deities are offered Prasadam prepared using uncooked newly harvested rice, jaggery, coconut, banana, sesame, rasagola, etc.
Apart from this, devotees at the Konark temple pray with much intensity as the sun starts its northward swing. Apart from the usual traditions, there are also a few unique traditions here. For example, people reaffirm their friendship with their best friends during Sankranti.
Assam – Bihu
Assam celebrates Bihu which signifies the end of the harvesting season for the year. The festivities of Bihu last up to a week and are adorned by bonfires and colorful Rangolis drawn everywhere.
Traditionally, the youth build huts made out of bamboo, leaves, etc., and then feast in those huts. Then, the next morning those huts would be burnt.
Gujarat sees a lot of vibrance for Sankranti. It is celebrated for two days in this region with the first day being called “Uttarayan”. Skies in major cities are filled with kites of various sizes and shapes. There is a fierce kite cutting competition, and the cord used to fly kites is usually strengthened.
A Common Sight in Gujarat Throughout the Month of January
Winters in Gujarat are cold as well, which means that a lot of cold weather food is prepared during Sankranti, ranging from simple snacks like Chikki, to complicated dishes like Undhiyu.
Makar Sankranti is celebrated in Maharashtra for two days. There is a lot of emphasis on community, hence Maharashtrians distribute Til-Gul Laddus, and wish for the other person to utter only sweet words for the year. Apart from these laddus, Maharashtrians also prepare another delicacy called Puran Poli. You can try the recipe for Puran Poli here.
Delhi & Haryana
This region views Sankranti as one of the main festivals of the year.
Married women are visited by one of their brothers who brings a gift of warm clothing for her family. She offers sweets to her brother, such as Churma.
For farmers in Karnataka, January-February bring about Suggi, which is the harvest festival celebrated here. In a ritual called Elle Burodhi, girls wear new clothes and visit the homes of friends, family and neighbors with an offering of a small plate of Sankranti offerings. The plate generally consists of white sesame seeds mixed with fried groundnuts, dry coconut and fine cut jaggery.
Among other rituals such as kite flying, one of the most important rituals involves the display of cows and bulls in colorful attire in open fields. The cows are dressed up for the occasion and are taken out for a procession. They are also made to jump over an open fire. This is quite common among farmer communities in rural Karnataka.
India’s little neighbor celebrates Sankranti as Maaghe Sankranti. Celebrations involve lots of pomp and show, along with a ton of food cooked as offerings to deities distributed among friends and family. Here’s a very good blog on an authentic Maaghe Sanranti experience in Nepal.
Do add comments about your own cultural practices of celebrating Pongal/Sankranti/Lohri/Bihu. Daana, and all our farmers wish you a very happy Makar Sankranti!
India has always held Christmas in high regard. Though the population of Christians is just around 2.5% of the total population, India has around 30 million Christians distributed over various states and territories.
Christmas Celebrations in Various Parts of India:
Goa has a Christian population of around 25%, which makes Christmas in Goa a sight to behold. It is a known fact that Goans love to celebrate Christmas with much fervour. People participate in midnight masses and gorge on traditional curries and Christmas pies. People also decorate and maintain traditional Christmas trees which helps in bringing the spirit of Christmas alive.
Goans prepare a traditional delicacy, called “Neureos”, which you could try at home today!
Let’s go from the Westernmost corner of India to the Easternmost corner. India’s North East also has a very high concentration of Christians who take pride in celebrating Christmas with much enthusiasm. In the Northeast, tribal Christians celebrate their Christmas week by going out every night, singing their traditional Christmas carols and telling the villagers the story of Christmas. The whole state is beautifully lit to welcome the arrival of their dear Santa Claus, and the air is alive with singing and merriment.
In Kerala, Christmas is an important festival, for about 20-23% of the population is Christian. The huge churches of Cochin are majestically decorated to get the town in the spirit of Christmas – not that it is required, though. Keralites hold Christmas close to their hearts, as is evident by their exalted celebrations. Syrian Catholics are known to fast from the 1st to the 24th of December, and will break their fast only on the Christmas Eve Midnight Mass. The midnight mass sees an atmosphere of exuberance and excitement – Christmas is finally here.
When talking about Christmas, one cannot ignore the decorous spirit of Mumbai in celebrating this festival. Mumbai’s public places are awash with Christmas lights and stores usually have a small Christmas tree up front. Christmas in Mumbai is much like Christmas in Australia – neither is it cold, nor is there any snow.
However, Mumbaikars celebrate Christmas with lots of enthusiasm. Here’s a list of a few Midnight Masses in Mumbai that you shouldn’t miss out on.
How Farmers Celebrate Christmas in India
India has a small number of Christian farmers. Most of them are marginal farmers who can barely make ends meet. However, this doesn’t stop most of them from getting into the spirit of Christmas. Sometimes, instead of a traditional Christmas tree, some people decorate Banyan or Mango trees, the reason being that they’re easily found and are significantly cheaper. For most Christian farmers, Christmas celebrations are all about affordability. Some will also use mango leaves to decorate their homes.
Fair Trade – How it Can Make Christmas Possible for Farmers, & What You Can Do:
‘Fair trade’ in agriculture simply means that the farmer gets sufficient monetary compensation for their efforts, rather than money being skimped off by middlemen and other intermediaries. Free trade involves a lot of local sourcing connections and can be difficult to establish in a system so fixated on middlemen.
It is a known fact that farmers are exploited six ways to Sunday by middlemen at every opportunity they get – and the opportunities are plenty. The result is that the farmer doesn’t get a fair compensation for all their hard work in tending to their crops.
Christmas is all about kindness and looking out for those around you. Farmers form a pretty significant part of our lives. Paying the farmers a fair price will only strengthen their resolve, helping you make their Christmas better.
Fair trade not only ensures the farmer a fair monetary compensation for their efforts, but also the respect that they so rightfully deserve.
What can you do to help farmers? For one, you could either start purchasing directly from local farmers without the added burden of middlemen, or buy from an organization that works closely with farmers to help these farmers make some money.
How You Can Go Organic This Christmas:
There are a quite a few things you could tweak this Christmas to go organic. Here are a few things you can readily implement this year:
1. Go for Seasonal, Organically Grown Veggies:
A lot of people host Christmas parties. The food you serve can be organic. Choose seasonal, organically grown vegetables to go into your menu as the bare minimum you can do to go organic.
2. Organic Cotton:
Cotton is regarded as one of the most polluting industries. Organic cotton, on the other hand is grown using sustainable farming practices. Indians use cotton for two purposes during Christmas – decorations and gifts.
Not all regions of India are blessed with snow during Christmas, resulting in widespread use of cotton to create the effect. The other use of cotton occurs in the form of gifts – a lot of people gift other people clothes during Christmas. Swapping for organically grown cotton will help reduce your carbon footprint, and help you go organic.
3. Identify Your Local Farmers:
This Christmas, ditch the supermarkets for your food-based needs. Identify your local farmers, locate their farms and try to spend at least a little time with them. This serves two purposes – one, you get to know the farmer and their hardships, and two, you get to help them by buying their produce directly.
The Bottom Line
Christmas has always been a big deal in India. Over the past few years, it has started gaining more popularity in terms of celebrations. You don’t necessarily have to be Christian to get into the Christmas spirit. It is rightfully said that Christmas isn’t just a festival – it’s a feeling.
Get into the Christmas spirit, take time off to be with your family and friends.
Daana wishes its customers a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year.