I farm like what my grandmother did 50 years ago. Not too far back in time, really, but light years away from the soil-and-soul destroying methods of contemporary chemical-industrial agriculture that has led to the rapid destruction of India’s millennia-old indigenous farming traditions. We apply the North Indian peasants’ 2000 year-old artisanal methods – along with knowledge gained from modern science and appropriate technology – to develop healthy soil, produce healthy food, build healthy animals and human beings, while being deeply mindful of the environment we inhabit.
Here is our story till today: Five Years of Natural Systems Farming at Aman Bagh: 2012-2017. And 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, work and life were one and were not monetised, and were fiercely protected as the foundation of a way of living. For, what was a peasant without land to till in the village he and his family had lived in for generations? This was a time when cattle manure was the only one and there were no chemical fertilisers, pesticides or herbicides; when pests were controlled by bio-diversity of crops, by crop rotation and multi-cropping; when desi methods were used to control those pests that did end up destroying crops; when intercropping and keeping land fallow for intermittent periods kept the soil fertility high for millennia. This was when cattle were fed wholesome farm produce, and their dung was the most powerful source of manuring the soil to keep it rich, healthy 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 in a fine balance with nature. The ‘market’ was not the defining paradigm it has become today, and subsistence was the rule with all its attendant benefits. Simultaneously, though, village life was unequal, feudal, caste-ridden, and communal. India’s rural social structure always demanded a revolution, some of which is perhaps underway though too incrementally. 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 will pay the terrible price, and so will 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. We increasingly practice the artisanal methods our ancestors did, and our peasants are quite 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 is considered to be founder of the organic farming movement in the West, that ironically is coming back to India (the original home of abundant natural agriculture for thousands of years) in our times. He was in India from 1905 to 1931, was President of the Indian Science Congress in 1926, and always readily admitted he learnt more than he taught the Indian peasant. His many books are truly worth reading, and will engender in the reader a deep respect for the Indian peasant, and in the extraordinary capability of individual Englishmen – though they clearly laboured for the benefit of British colonialism.
Aman Bagh is a little less than 2 hectares – 5.5 acres – (80% of India’s peasant tilled farms are this size or smaller), on soil that has been pesticide and chemical fertiliser free for ever. The location is spectacular, in a mostly-undiscovered valley surrounded by the low hills of the Aravali range 14 kilometres from Gurgaon, 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 bullocks: we retired the tractor in 2012 in favour of our own hali.
Our mud-gobar walled and thatched roof one room home, the adjoining cow shed, the gobar shed and the room for the farm hands on the farm are as authentically 50 -year rustic as current local construction capability allowed. When you visit, you will be struck by the 10 degree difference of temperature between the outdoors and our one room, protected as it is by roof and walls covered by the Saccharum Bengalens grass.
“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 rear desi Hariana cows who lead a peaceful life under the deep shade of Bargad, Goolar & Jamun trees and are fed on farm produce; the ghee we produce is extracted by hand from wholesome 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 (appropriately named Amrit) is rich with micro-organisms created from fermenting cow dung, urine, and lentils; and our gobar gas plant provides a steady source of organic manure and methane gas for all our cooking.
Limited quantities of our natural (and Organic Certified – see certificate here) produce – ghee, mustard oil, whole wheat and other whole cereal flour, many kinds of lentils, Indian spices, some fruits, jams, pickles – are available for direct sale to consumers preferably those living in Gurgaon. We do not deliver. Once you join our e-mail group, you will be informed of the availability of produce and you can then pickup from Laburnum in Sector 28, Gurgaon. Please write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our free ranging desi hens – Punjab Brown – add to the ecology and ambience; and are often chased around silly by our desi dog (named – what else – टाईगर).
We have planted 1,500 plus trees – a rich biodiversity of fruit, flowering and shade. Not all are local to the Aravali ranges, some of the flowering and shade trees have adapted to Delhi and its environs over the past century while fruit like Guava and Citrus are a more recent commercial import that do well in our sandy and quick drying soil – and extremes of hot and cold. Of our ~350 fruit trees, 250 are citrus (नींम्बू, चकोतरा, किन्नू); 45 Guava (अमरूद); 45 Mango, 15 Anaar, 5 Shahtoot, 5 Anjeer, Jamun, शरीफा, कटहल, बेल, बेर, केला, पपीता । In addition to fruit, we have over 1,150 trees of Shisham, Kikar, Neem, Jamun, Papri, Semal, Khatta, Bargad, Goolar, Sagwan & Dhau and more, all local to our ecology – that grow in groves; along the farm periphery; as well as randomly on the farmland; dry, sandy soil varieties like ronjh, jhinjheri, kareel, barna, bistendu, kankera, kadam, pilu and urban flowering varieties like kachnar, amaltash, gulmohar, jacaranda, alistonia, casuarina, maulseri.
Aman Bagh has an extensive network of drip & sprinkler irrigation to balance the groundwater wells, and we have a water harvesting borewell. We use appropriate technology and machines (automated feed cutting machine, curd churning motor) where we can to reduce the drudgery in repetitive labor. There is no romance in hard labor, though there is much good health.
The uncounted of species of insects, butterflies, worms, bees, birds and other animals have multiplied manifold since we commenced farming in 2012; drawn by the food and shelter they find in abundance. The sense of peace of Aman Bagh is accentuated by the continuous chirping of birds, the occasional call of the peacocks and the crowing of the rooster, by the mooing of the cows and their bells as they gently eat, and all the other warm sounds of a village home at work and in repose. Or then the occasional rumbling of the tractor or motor vehicle on the adjoining village road, reminding us it is indeed today.
Here is a perspective on Aman Bagh, in someone else’s words – http://www.isayorganic.com/blog/aman-bagh/