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)
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.
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!
“Rural Sustainability is a Prerequisite for Urban Sustainability,” Dr Rajendra Singh
Dr. Rajendra Singh -the Water Man of India needs no introduction. Honoured with the Stockholm Prize in 2015, for reviving the ancient dam technology in the Alwar district of Rajasthan in the 1980s to bring water to 1200 parched villages, Dr. Rajendra Singh has dedicated his entire life to water conservation. Relying on traditional knowledge, local material and the science of common sense, he leveraged community help to rejuvenate nine rivers and restore groundwater levels in Rajasthan.
The Ramon Magsaysay award winner in Hyderabad for a conference, spoke to Sujata C for Daana on the topic of urban-rural linkages, rural reform, permaculture and threats to agriculture. The conversation got off with a few comments on negotiating the long, winding concrete vines of flyovers, metro lines and the chaotic Hyderabad traffic leading to the obvious question of urban sustainability. Here is the edited interview:
On urban sustainability:
“When the villagers are forced to migrate to cities due to helplessness and hopelessness then cities cannot be healthy. Cities depend on agriculture for their food. Their food comes from the villages. If our rural areas are not healthy, the city can’t be healthy. If the rural areas are not sustainable the Indian city can’t be sustainable. If we want our villages to be self reliant, we have to make them sustainable, the water in the village, the soil, the seeds, the hard work of the farmers, everything is included in this. Without the sustainability of our villages, urban sustainability is not possible.
The way our cities are growing with metros, high-rise buildings and heavy traffic, it is not at all sustainable. The basic necessities of a city come from villages and the cost of transporting to the cities these add to the burden of public health. And the pollution that we create in the process, these put a question mark on the way our cities are growing. The public health of the cities is linked to rural health. To correct all these we have to take the route of sustainable development.
On the link between rural reform and permaculture
The meaning of permaculture is to give respect and love for everything that exists in nature. Our love and respect for agriculture will come when we stop using chemical fertilisers, herbicides to cultivate our food. The name permaculture itself means giving respect to nature as it is while growing our food. The viability of permaculture depends on the fact that there is no contract farming done in our country. It should be a contract farming free country. The biggest threat to permaculture comes from contract farming. The trend of corporate farming will not allow permaculture to grow. They will use any term for their farming – chemical free farming, natural farming, zero budget farming, they will come up with a thousand names, but in reality they will be doing business. This will be very dangerous for our agriculture.
Agriculture is the foundation of Indian life. It is not a business. It is our cultural heritage, our ‘sanskriti’, it is not our business. Agriculture is the bridge between nature and the needs of human lives. Contract farming and corporate farming is going to break this bridge, because the stakeholders will only be interested in profits. They will not be interested in the culture that envelops agriculture. There will be no love for agriculture in contract farming. Those involved will want to grow stuff that brings in more money.
On the culture of agriculture:
It is my belief that if we are talking about agriculture, we have to examine its foundational principle. We have to examine our soil, our ‘bhoo sanskriti,’ its diversity and its potential to grow food that is good for us, good for the soil and the earth. When my soil health, my water health and the health of my land is good, then I will be good. To keep this chain of good health active, permaculture is the entry point, he concludes.
Viewed in the context of the farmers’ march, the intuitive advice from Dr. Rajendra Singh can tackle present day farmers’ woes and will continue to remain relevant in the times to come.
Daana supports the cause of sustainable development by supporting small and marginal farmers who grow food without pesticides.
A woman is like a tea bag. Put her in hot water and you will see how strong she is. We have all heard this one at some point. Time and again women have shown that they are adept at managing home, hearth and work with equal ease.
This year Nari Shakti Puraskar was given to 38 women. Notable among these are the All India Millet Sisters Network, Deepika Kundaji, Vanastree and Sabarmati Tiki. All of them are working in rural areas, with women in agriculture, promoting neglected grains and traditional seeds.
The Hyderabad based All India Millet Sisters Network (AIMS) is the first of its kind women millet farmers in the country that is dedicated to the cause of the neglected coarse grain. Millets are a traditional crop in the country and this network has brought together women farmers who are cultivating and conserving millets. It was set up eight years ago with 100 women. Today, it is a network of 5000 women across the country.
The story of Anjamma is an interesting one. She is a poor farmer from Telengana. She preserves seeds in a traditional way without using any chemicals. She stores seeds for next season in a cane basket, using easily available ash and neem leaves and seals them with cow dung and mud. Despite a drought spell and zero rainfall she reaped eight quintals millet and six quintals of toor dal from her bio diverse farm. Her work in keeping alive a traditional knowledge system in the preservation of seeds was recognised by Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers Rights Authority, India (PPVFRA).
There are many stories like this one and they are getting noticed by none other than the Minister for Women and Child Welfare, Maneka Gandhi who is an environmentalist herself and rooting for women farmers. Read about the rest here in her own words.
Daana salutes all the women engaged in farming and seed preservation.
I kid you not. Before you guffaw or roll your eyes. Here is the video proof. (There is more about betel dosa at the end of this post)
The Natural Food Festival in Hyderabad happened on Feb 17 and 18. I took the tribe along. Humera and Rayyan were motivated by the food, Rajaa was there to get nice pictures and I was curious. I swear that the millet and jaggery chocolate brownies takes the cake. Put it on your bucket list.
So, it turns out (you didn’t watch the video, did you?) the vegan fish curry was a vegan (fish-less) curry made with the same spices, and vegetables. Yes, I tried tasting it and I finished all of it. It was lip-smacking-ly goooood. But on to the main story, after all, isn’t all food natural? Valid point. Chew on a millet cracker while we explore this.
The natural food festival, should have really been called the Slow Food festival. As opposed to fast food…. food that is chemically laced, unhealthy and more often than not, unethically, factory produced. Food that is heavily promoted by multinational food conglomerates. Slow food is nutritiously tasty food cooked from traditional recipes from local, organically grown crops and grains and naturally raised animals.
It was a surprise in many ways. First, it is not very often that a government decides to promote Natural Foods. We sauntered in at the closing bell of the last day. I was fully expecting to see a deserted place. No, I was surprised !!
There were many familiar faces. Deccan Development Society was there. For those who came in late (and read Phantom comics), a documentary film maker, Sateesh decided to go native and returned to his village in Zaheerabad district a few decades ago. He started to work with the local farmer women and soon developed an amazing society of empowered women who grow, negotiate, think, make movies and generally give everyone a tough time. Here is one of them talking about their exhibits
There were quite a few participants from really far off places. There was this young woman from Siliguri (the pitstop for Darjeeling). She gave us a taste of Litti Choka. This is a dough ball made with whole wheat and stuffed with sattu and other spices and herbs. It is normally roasted over wood fire and served with Ghee . It is best eaten with aloo bharta or baingan bharta accompanied with a generous portion of curd.
And there was a phenomenal spread of Millet snacks. Remember the jaggery and millet chocolate brownie I mentioned?? This is the video I shot.
I will update this post later with more pictures from the festival. I hope to return next year with more of the gang and on both days. Don’t miss it the next year.
More than 30% of the world’s organic producers hail from India, according to the World of Organic Agriculture Report 2018published this month. Of the total 2.7 miliion organic producers in the world, 8,35,000 organic producers are Indians. This makes it the country with the largest number of organic producers. In terms of numbers, it is way ahead of other countries. Uganda comes second with 210,352 producers and Mexico is third with 210,000 organic producers.
On an average each organic farmer in India has a farm holding of less than two hectares. Most of these are marginal farmers. In India, the area under certified organic cultivation, is only 2.59 per cent (1.5 million hectares) of the total area (57.8 million hectares).
For once China is nowhere in the scene, rather it is battling with heavy pesticide pollution of its land and water resources. This year China ranked first in the list of world’s worst food safety violation offenders.
The 19th edition of the World of Organic Agriculture report claimed that organic agriculture area, and its products value has increased. The data was collected from 178 countries by the research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL), the State of Sustainability Initiative (SSI), and International Trade Center. The report was released during the 2018 edition of BIOFACH, world’s most well known organic agriculture show, held in Germany. Read more
Daana procures produce from small and marginal farmers and offers them a fair price.
Local, Seasonal, Organic: A Must Have for Debt-free and Chemical-free farming
Climate change is making it difficult to continue farming just a single crop with huge doses of fertilizers, genetically modified seeds and pesticides.
The tribal women in India rediscovering growing multiple crops together such that they need less water, and without and without any dangerous and expensive fertilizers, pesticides. It keeps the soil healthy, keeps them debt free.
What is their secret sauce?
Multicropping (growing multiple varieties of plants one after the other),
Intercropping (growing multiple varieties of plants together at the same time),
Using traditional seeds that have stood the test of time.
Growing hardy varieties that are disease and drought resistant.
Here is an article that talks about how tribal women in India are leading the way:
** Daana works with several such farmers and networks to bring their produce directly to online consumers across India. Support theses practices by buying their produce from Daana Network, Amazon or BigBasket.