Our farm sits curled deep inside nature, we are one with hundreds of trees, with billions of bacteria, fungus, virus and a world of other living beings. No insect is a pest, no plant is a weed, no tree is unwanted. Farming in nature enables harmony with oneself, with all other living beings and the cosmos. Our farming flows into a union with Prakriti, learning constantly from others and our own practices. We realise there is no teacher greater than doing.
Commerce comes in the way, our farming is undertaken for its own joy. All our cultivation of food is for home and for the peasants who work here. We hold on dearly to the peasant’s traditional view of farming in our ecology while absorbing new ways of looking, thinking and doing from natural farmers like Howard and Fukuoka. We have learnt and implemented many farming techniques, our natural gaze enables us apply methods to develop healthy soil, produce healthy food, healthy animals and humans.
Aman Bagh reclaims a new-old time when land and work are not monetised, they are a foundation of an integrated way of living. We learn from rural India of 1947, a far cry from the production obsessed economy of 2020. It was subsistence living for the self-cultivating peasant family, exchange-based within the village community and some miles around. The peasant grew food in exchange for which the weaver, carpenter, potter, blacksmith, trader, barber and priest provided their services. There were no machines, chemical fertilisers, pesticides or herbicides. Hard labor was a way of life. Pests were controlled by a growing bio-diversity of crops, by crop rotation and multi-cropping. Nature kept insects harmful to cultivated crops in balance, and Desi methods were used to control those insects that did end up harming crops. Mostly, the peasant was less acquisitive and shared his produce with other living beings. Intercropping and keeping land fallow for intermittent periods kept the soil fertility high. Cattle were fed wholesome farm produce, and their dung was a source of manuring the soil to keep it rich and teeming with hundreds of billions of microorganisms in species and quantity.
Rural relationships were close-knit and inter-dependent; and the settled-agricultural village was a self-sufficient socio-economic unit where man, animal lived a fine balance with nature. The market was not the defining paradigm it has become today, and subsistence was the rule with its attendant benefits.
Village life remains unequal, feudal, caste-ridden, sexist and communal and India’s rural social structure demands a revolution – unlikely, isn’t it? To these issues of inequality and bondage, we have added the annihilation of nature. Humans have been engaged in this destruction for millennia – the wet, tropical forests that covered the Ganga Jamuna Doab 2000 years ago have long disappeared as also have the much later dry, deciduous forests of Sal and Dhak. Mughals hunted tigers, lions and elephants in the Doab till the 16-17th Centuries, these forests and wild life no longer exist even in name. Our massive and growing population cleared forests for agriculture, grazing, construction of homes and palaces and for firewood. Forest-less living and tree-less agriculture became an accepted norm under the relentless pressure of this human population. Now, in our industrial blindness, we bring to bear on this tree-less horizon the unbearable pressure of machines of the most sophisticated kinds to cut, dig and move what is above and below the earth. Of course, we also poison the soil and the food we grow with chemicals of the most unbelievable variety.
Due to the monetisation of living by a powerful alliance of the state and corporations, the consumer paradise beckons all of us. Village India has given up the rhythms of well-established natural farming traditions and has not developed any new ones in harmony with nature. Urban India provides no alternative. A civilisation that famously embraced life in the forests is paying a terrible ecological price, the Aranya of Indic myth holds no attraction for the modern Indian.
Isn’t it time we did something about ourselves?
“The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.”
Aman Bagh does away with hand wringing and seeks a balance in relationships between humans and nature that are neither discriminatory nor dominating. Our common human Prakriti binds us to Prakriti and to each other through a new understanding of our inter-dependence. While we re-learn and build on our traditional peasant farming practices, we eliminate barriers of caste and religion. We unlearn what we know to be harmful and destructive to relationships in the natural world including humans.
Aman Bagh is a little less than 1 hectare – about 2.5 acres – (80% of India’s peasant tilled farms are smaller than 5 acres), on soil that has been pesticide and chemical fertiliser free for ever. The location – in a valley surrounded by the low hills of the Aravali range 14 kilometres from Gurgaon – is especially bountiful each year from the onset of monsoon in July till the start of summer in April. The ancient Mangar Bani, the rare 200 hectare forest of indigenous Dhau trees, is 10 minutes away; as are the Dhauj rocks. Our land is undulating and is on multiple levels, ideal for ploughing by our two bullocks.
Our one room home and kitchen, the adjoining cow shed, the bonga hay shed and the staff room for the farm hands are architecturally local in design and manufactured by local artisans, as ecologically friendly as construction materials allow. When you visit in mid-summer, you will be struck by the 8 degree difference of temperature between the outdoors and our rooms protected by a roof of stone-mud-earthern-pots.
“I decided that I could not do better than watch the operations of these peasants, and acquire their traditional knowledge as rapidly as possible. For the time being, therefore, I regarded them as my professors of agriculture.”
An Agricultural Testament, Albert Howard (1873-1947)
Howard lived in India from 1905 to 1931 and is considered to be founder of the organic farming movement in the West.
We have 2 desi Hariana cows who lead a peaceful life under the shade of trees and are fed on farm produce; the ghee we produce is extracted by hand from dahi set in baked mud utensils. Our land is ploughed by two healthy bullocks born to our land. Our grains, lentils, oils and vegetables are grown from desi, open-pollinated seeds and are free of pesticides and fertiliser. Our bio-pesticides (which we rarely use as our natural predator-pest balance doesn’t need us to) are based on garlic, ginger, chilies, neem oil and cow urine; our bio-fertiliser (Amrit) is rich with micro-organisms created from fermenting cow dung, urine, and lentils. Our gobar gas plant provides a steady source of manure slurry and methane gas for our cooking. Our free ranging desi hens add to the ecology and ambience; and course our desi टाईगर.
We have planted a rich biodiversity of fruit, flowering and shade trees. One quarter of an acre is a dedicated Kudrati Forest, named after Japanese natural farmer Fukuoka. Not all of our fruit trees are local to the Aravali, we continue to experiment joyfully. Some trees grow in groves; some along the farm periphery; and others randomly (carefully thought out) on the crop land. Guava, Kinnow and Nimbu are imports that do well in our sandy soil and alternating weather extremes of hot, wet and cold. Our other fruit trees are chakotra, narangi, Aam, Shahtoot, Anjeer, Jamun, Shareefa, Kathal, Bel, Ber, Kela, Papita. In addition to fruit, we have hundreds of trees of Shisham, Kikar, Neem, Jamun, Papri, Semal, Khatta, Bargad, Goolar, Sagwan, Dhak & Dhau and many more, all local to our ecology. Then there are the dry, sandy soil friendly varieties like ronjh, jhinjheri, kareel, barna, bistendu, kankera, kadam, pilu and urban flowering varieties like kachnar, amaltash, gulmohar, jacaranda, alistonia, casuarina and maulseri.
We have a network of drip & sprinkler irrigation to serve our sandy and semi-arid environment as I haven’t figured out a way to farm without exploiting (yes) underground water. We plant local varieties of all crops that grow in the infrequent rains, and which take far fewer irrigation cycles than the high-yielding green revolution hybrids demand. Hybrid seeds not allowed. The farm runs on a solar system, though we fully understand the need to reduce our demand for electricity guzzling goods at the same time as we address the supply. There are no air conditioners.
There is effort in manual labor, but there is also much good health. I’ve been educated by my hardy peasant traditions that there is little in life without the sweat of one’s brow.
The uncounted species of insects, butterflies, worms, bees, birds and other animals have multiplied manifold since we commenced farming in 2012. They have been drawn by the food and shelter they find in abundance. The welcoming peace is accentuated by the chirping of innumerable birds at dusk, the occasional call of the peacocks, the rooster, the the sounds of the bells as cows chew the cud. The welcoming sounds of a peaceful village home at work and in repose.
Here is our story till today: Five Years of Natural Systems Farming at Aman Bagh: 2012-2017. Here is a presentation on our natural farming practices in the spirit of sharing for organic farmers, aspiring farmers and mindful consumers: A presentation on Practices of Natural Systems Farming at Aman Bagh, 2017.
Here is a perspective on Aman Bagh, in someone else’s words – http://www.isayorganic.com/blog/aman-bagh/