So here I am at SOS Organics, in Almora. Elevation 1600m. It was a bit of an adventure to get here. I braved the 13 hour sit down bus along with my travelling buddies Remi and Peter, both from Guelph! The distance is only a few hundred kilometers but the speed that the bus goes is quite slow. We were lucky: for most of the trip we had lots of room to put our bags and stretch out. There are no bathrooms on the bus, they just stop periodically.
During one stop we pulled up to a curtain of towels and I found Winnie the Pooh staring back at me :-).
We arrived at Almora at around 5 or 6 in the morning. Remi took his own direction while Peter and I went on to SOS Organics, taking a taxi to Chitai. From there we asked around for SOS Organics and were pointed down the hill. It was a magical little walk down, through the terraced fields in the cool morning. Peter and I were both happy to be in such an interesting area, and one that seemed like it wouldn’t be so hot as Dehra Dun!
Here’s Peter, arriving at 6am to SOS Organics. At the time we didn’t know this but the house behind Peter is owned by Santosh. At the moment it is where Peter is living.
We were given a warm welcome by Santosh, the owner of the property and Sophie, a WWOOFer from England. Santosh is a very talkative guy, full of energy and he did his level best to give us an idea of the philosophy behind the farm and what is going on here. Some other places I’ve been could really take a cue from Santosh. His proper introduction to the farm made us feel at home fairly quickly. Moreover, for the first few days he paid close attention to what we were interested in and we quickly settled on some interesting and useful projects for each of us to work on. This is something that was severely missing at Navdanya; coordination of volunteers. Peter has mostly been building a greywater system to handle the waste from the sinks around the property. I’ve mostly been working as a chemist in the soap making factory. Fortunately we have have lots of other things to do to break up our day too, planting the garden, turning the compost, making a tree nursery, planting natural fencing (spikey plants that the goats don’t eat).
We’ve also done a fair bit of thinking about and making seed balls; seeds encased in clay. The idea is that once encased in clay the seeds are protected from being eaten by animals or attacked by fungi. Also, the seed appears to be buried so it is not necessary to form a furrow and plant the seeds in the normal fashion. Instead, the pellets can be distributed freely onto the ground. This lends itself to no-till agriculture as well as potentially the ability to re-vegetate large areas of land through large scale seed broadcasting. Santosh is applying for a $20 000 grant to start up a longer term project to work with seed balls. Seedballs themselves cost next to nothing but the money would be useful to set up a library and little research center that visitors could use while the work on the project. At the moment we’re hopping on and off the factory computer, with many people sharing a slow connection and able to use it only outside the hours of 9-5 (only when the factory is closed). So it’s hard to do any substantial research on the net and although there is an interesting book shelf there aren’t many books relevant to the specific projects we’re doing.
SOS Organics is a very interesting project. To have a factory here in a rural area in the mountains is very strange. Most factories are of course in large cities where all the facilities are provided. Here, the factory runs entirely off of rainwater. It has a backup generator and battery bank for when the power goes out, which it frequently does sometimes for days at a time. They arrange the work schedule to fit around power outages. Using gas stoves, written records and scales with batteries helps I’m sure. All the materials are transported down this little concrete path, barely big enough for one small car. And of course when finished all the products are carried up again! So in some ways the factory is situated in rather a difficult and contorted situation. But this is exactly what India could use right now; decentralized production, outside of the cities and in the rural areas. Having low input, low polluting, fairly low capital and necessary basic industries like soapmaking in rural areas is totally key. The people who work in this factory live in the nearby village, and have only a short walk to work in the morning. Having employment in the country helps fight the mass migration to the cities and curbs the whole disgusting trend of people leaving the country because they are miserable only to go to the cities and swell the slums. E.F. Schumacher would have thoroughly approved of this project I think.
When I stop to think about my life here it is quite strange indeed. Half the day I spend being an industrial chemist in a soap making factory. The other half I spend building a permanent agriculture project based on the ideas of natural farming and sylviculture. It’s good though, I basically am getting to do what I want with my life; to learn about natural farming and do some good work.
The past few days I’ve spent making a seed ball rolling machine. My experience making fireworks makes the whole process fairly familiar. It’s a great big rolling drum, the clay, seeds and compost mix is put inside and sprayed with water which rolls the mix into balls, just like making round stars for fireworks. These seedballs can then be distributed over land and provide the seed with protection and some nutrients. Seedballs lend themselves well to planting seeds on large tracts of land that is becoming desertified, and also in agriculture to plant without tilling or using any of the fancy no-till machinery.
Right now I’m thinking about staying here until June 20, then returning to Navdanya for a week before heading off to a different farm for a month. Once August rolls around I’ll start heading South again to visit friends in Nashik, Udaipur, one other place and then get to Sevagram to stay for a while there.
Until next time,
Good Night and Good Luck.
P.S. Here’s a photo of George the smiling seedball :-)