Our farm sits within a nature-anchored view of life. It has been a long journey to understand that farming is about a visceral human desire for living in proximity to trees, plants, animals, birds and the clear open sky. We farm in harmony with nature, perhaps beyond what my peasant grandmother and ancestors did over centuries in nearby Meerut district.
All our cultivation of food is for home, for the peasants who farm there, and friends. It took time to realise that money and customers come in the way, and farming is best undertaken for its own sake. Of course, the farm is not a source of income which enables us freedom from the market. We hold on to a North Indian peasant’s artisanal view of farming, and have absorbed many ideas from natural farmers from many different civilisations who reached out to me through their writing and practices. There are many natural farming techniques we have learnt and implemented, and our natural gaze enables us apply methods to develop healthy soil, produce healthy food, and build healthy animals and humans.
This is light years away from the soil-and-soul destroying methods of contemporary chemical-industrial agriculture for the market which have led to the loss of India’s millennia-old indigenous farming and community traditions.
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.
Aman Bagh reclaims a time when land and work were not monetised, they were a foundation of an integrated way of living. Rural India in 1947 CE was a far cry from the market-driven economy of 2020 CE. It was subsistence living for the self-cultivating peasant family, almost totally exchange based within the village and a few miles around. The peasant grew food, in exchange for which the weaver, carpenter, potter, blacksmith, trader, barber and priest provided their services. This was a time when cattle dung was the only manure and there were no chemical fertilisers, pesticides or herbicides. Pests were controlled by a growing bio-diversity of crops, by crop rotation and multi-cropping. Nature mostly kept insects harmful to cultivated crops in balance, and Desi methods were used to control those insects that did end up harming crops. 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 which some of us now realise. Yes, village life was unequal, feudal, caste-ridden, sexist and communal. India’s rural social structure demanded a revolution, none of which has come about till today. Nonetheless, village India has too-easily given up the rhythms of our well-established natural farming traditions, and has not mindfully developed new ones in harmony with nature to take their place. Our civilisation is paying a terrible ecological price, and so are we.
Aman Bagh does away with hand wringing and attempts to find a balance in relationships between man, woman, animals and the ecology that are neither discriminatory nor dominating. Our common humanity binds us to nature and to each other through a new understanding of our mutual inter-dependence. While we re-learn and build on our traditional peasant farming practices, we have eliminated barriers of caste and community. Our peasants are willing to unlearn what they now know to be harmful and destructive.
“Artificial Manures lead inevitably to artificial nutrition, artificial food, artificial animals, and finally to artificial men and women”
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. President of the Indian Science Congress in 1926, he readily admitted he learnt more than he taught the Indian peasant.
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, a 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 10 degree difference of temperature between the outdoors and our rooms, protected by a stone-mud-earthern-pot roof.
“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. ”
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 grains, lentils, oils and vegetables are grown from desi, open-pollinated seeds and are free of chemical pesticide and fertiliser. Our bio-pesticides (which we increasingly 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 dog 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 trees are local to the Aravali, some of the flowering and shade trees are those that have adapted to Delhi and its environs over the past centuries. Some grow in groves; some along the farm periphery; and others randomly on the farmland. Fruit trees like Guava and Kinnow are recent imports that do well in our sandy soil and extremes of hot, wet and cold temperatures. Our other fruit trees are nimbu, 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 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, 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 underground water. We plant local varieties of crops (specially the cereals) that grow with the infrequent rains, and which take far fewer irrigation cycles than the high-yielding green revolution hybrids demand. So, no hybrid seeds. 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. Our land is ploughed by two healthy bullocks born to our land. 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 a perspective on Aman Bagh, in someone else’s words – http://www.isayorganic.com/blog/aman-bagh/