Brett Says Goodbye

March 9, 2012

It’s been awhile, dear readers! I could apologize for being away for so long, but… it’s my party and I’ll blog when I want to, blog when I want to…

After my parents left mid-January, my sister stayed to work with me at the organic garden of Matrikunj. Together we designed six display panels for the Matrikunj visitor center, explaining the natural farming practices for planting, fertilizing, harvesting and food preservation. I wrote the text and drew some diagrams; Brett did some wonderful collage designs. We used handmade paper from the ashram paper factory for all of the panels in shades of green, red orange and violet. Finally, we had them sealed in plastic to protect them from the humidity, mold, insects, etc. Baburam was very pleased. It was a perfect project for us to work on together, and I think it gave her visit a structure that complimented our sojourns to the beach and our nightly chapatti making.

Arielle and I just got back from a month-long tour filled with camels, palaces, palms, train rides, boating on the Ganges, and when we couldn’t eat another bite of vegetable curry, lots and lots of eggs on toast. Read on for the details!

 

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Return to the Garden!

I got so engaged in my armageddonesque eco-talk that I forgot to explain my project.

Vijay asked me, “how often do you want to go? 2-3 times a week?” I had been thinking maybe once a week, but okay sure! I’m happier and healthier when I stay busy, so I think it will be good for me. As of now I pretty much at the beach office all the time. It’s beautiful here, but I would more than welcome a chance to balance that time with meaningful excursions to the farm.

Vijay said that the Sri Aurobindo Society would like to start documenting the work of the organic farm, and would I like to help with that? Umm, YES! I’ll be developing content that will become a booklet and go on the website. I might revamp the current training they have too. The goal is to go over the specific techniques used, but to also convey the systems of natural farming. At the Sri Aurobindo Society, agriculture is spiritual. How cool is that?

Farm coordinator Bhavuram = documentation averse

Natural farming” is the new term used to define holistic farming practices, where all inputs matter. Organic farming connotes a response to inorganic farming. Natural farming stands alone. It asks where does the water and fertilizer come from? I believe it is similar to the values of permaculture.

Here the farm stores rainwater, mixing it with cow dung and urine to make a super-powered mixture for the crops. All inputs come from the farm itself.

Food gardens are very important to me.  When I took the Urban Farm class at UO, it was by far my favorite class. Whenever people from out of town visited, I always took them to see the beautiful two-acre farm, tucked behind the major thoroughfare by campus. Come to think of it, I took unacquainted UO students too. When I lived at the Campbell Club I loved helping out at our lovely community garden plot by the river.

My lovely friend Grace, with the Campbell Club tomatoes and strawberries

I have always been fascinated by the plant life cycle. Growth, pollination, fruiting, consumption, then the passing of food that returns to the soil to fertilize the next generation. What is a more beautifully perfect system than that?   Just like humans have a desire to sacrifice and serve others, plants also have an innate wish to give their produce.

The Mother writes about this. When she was in her garden she would never know witch flower to pluck, not wanting to cause harm to some while sparing the others. She sat and concentrated for a bit and started to hear which flowers were calling to be plucked. She went to the vegetable garden and the same thing happened. Some would say “no, no no”, and then a vegetable would call to her, “pick me! I am ready!” Animals do the same. When a cheetah catches a zebra, it struggles for a bit, but there is a moment when it knows it cannot escape and it relaxes and gives itself to the cheetah, to the cycle of the natural world.

Yesterday I had a revelation that food gardens are my sacred places. They have such pure intentions. When I go into temples or cathedrals, I appreciate the fine architecture but I do not feel anything deep inside that connects me to the walls or high ceilings. In a garden, I feel calm yet vibrant, alive and connected. Barefoot as much as possible.

On top of being a meaningful project for the society, I think the garden has many truths to teach me.

An Organic Paradise

July 22, 2011

Today was an epic day.  This morning a taxi ride took us to the jungle of the ashram’s organic farm, where they produce all the fruits and vegetables to feed 1,500 people a day. They even grow all of the rice for the ashram. The only exception is the wheat for baking bread, as wheat only grows in North India.

Bug spray is a must!

Dan, our guide Deberatu in the center, and the organic farm director, Bhavaram on the right

One of our guides is a tall, lanky gentleman named Debabrata, which his mother gave him because it means “divine mission.” He has lived at the ashram for 35 years. He used to be a follower of Vivekenanda, but when he was 21 he discovered the Mother. It’s a great story, I’ll post about it later.

The fragrant champa flower, which has over 200 varieties. The other day I bought some locally made champa soap and it smells up the whole bathroom. 

The farm is not like our mono-cultured crops, all the plants in perfect rows. The farm mirrors how plants grow in nature, all the plants mixed up. The farm workers know where all the plants are, they are clearly identifiable and cannot get misplaced. Some crops are grown alongside other plants that promote pollination. This model is much healthier for the plants, and less work for the humans. They use the in situ composting technique, which means that vegetable debris is thrown directly into the garden beds, instead of being left to decompose in a pile first. Soil is layered with vegetable matter, so it can fertilize directly in the beds.

 In situ composting: Potato plants with hibiscus flowers layered on beds

The farm also has a medicinal herb garden, for teaching about the healing  power of plants.

This herb’s leaves are used  to heal any mouth sores and also doubles as a mouth freshener! 

Cinnamon! Smells like Christmas…

Basil, which looks different than Oregon basil but tastes similar

Our tour only took us through a tiny bit of the 42 acres, yet we saw dozens of different crops. Keri and I took a million photos!

Henna! The root of the henna plant is used to cure jaundice, the leaves are used to treat kidney stones when combined with wild radish. The fruit is dried and ground up to make red hair dye. What a helpful plant…

This leaf is ground up to make black hair dye. I didn’t catch the name of it. 

The hibiscus flower is made into a syrup, which has a cooling effect. The flower is also combined with coconut oil and used as a hair conditioner treatment. 

Guavas are like apples here, I eat them everyday. It’s wonderful. 

The Callotropis flower. The milk is poisonous, but it is used to cure migraines. One must use a needle to prick the temple and release pressure, and then rub the milk on the temples. The plant is also rich in potassium, and so is used in the beds as compost to balance out the nitrogen in the soil. 

The pineapple plant. Most people think they grow on trees, when in fact they are actually a tiny shrub. 

Palm fruit, which has a high sugar content. The fruit is mixed with cow urine and used as a fertilizer.

At the end of our tour we were given a feast of raw coconut, mango, papaya.  The coconut water is delicious, which we drank through all natural straws made from papaya leaves. After we finished the liquid they machete’ed the coconuts open and we ate the soft meat with spoons. Fully grown coconuts soak up all their water inside and the meat gets thicker and tougher. We had juice all over everywhere. Delicieuse! Debabrata said they don’t get many visitors, so they love to show people around. Such nice people.