Dates: April 16-17, 2016
Venue: A Small Three Acre Farm (“Asta Farm”), Hosur-Thally Road, Krishnagiri District, Tamil Nadu
Land custodians: Gracy Elezebeth & Vijay Kundaji
“When the last tree has been cut down, the last fish caught, the last river poisoned, only then will we realize that one cannot eat money.” – Native American Saying
About Ecologise Camps
If you are concerned (perhaps even anxious) about the state of our world and the impact of human activity on it – the rapid degradation of the natural environment, the loss of forests, species, biodiversity and wild spaces, pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, energy and resource overuse, health risks and the contamination of our food and water supply chains, the negative effects of chemical farming, the degradation of soil – and alongside all the frenzied economic activity of our times, the deepening inequities in society despite promises of deliverance by ‘the system’ – we invite you to come and spend a weekend at this Ecologise Camp.
The camp will provide perspectives on energy and energetics, climate change, the finite nature of the world’s natural resources, how modern economics is premised on the fallacy of continuous exponential growth and will take a look at some of the biggest crises of our times, such as climate change and the civilizational threat they pose.
We will explore ways in which individuals, families or communities can organize and ‘ecologise’ their ways of life and lifestyles, as a response, and thereby go beyond what may seem to be futile and insignificant individual actions and choices. It will also provide opportunity to discuss and share experiences and practical ideas with others who have been attempting to change their ways of living.
The camp will provide pointers and share experiences, rather than provide final answers, and you are invited to share your own perspectives and lived experience to enrich the dialogue. Everyone at the camp is both a learner and a guide.
While all these issues may seem to concern primarily our impact on the natural world, the camp will remain open to examining, time permitting, the mindsets, conditioning and the system of education that builds and feeds the socio-economic system that we are part of, and that seems to force us into deeply unsatisfying and unfulfilling choices of lifestyle, location and career.
You will have opportunity to reflect, share, discuss, walk around the small piece of land/farm located in the penumbra of a huge urban-industrial agglomeration (Bangalore-Hosur), and participate in a demonstration, or two, of techniques for small-scale, low-impact farming that anyone can adopt and adapt.
When will it be?
The camp will start on Saturday 16th April at 1pm and run through Sunday, 17th April. Participants may plan to arrive on Saturday, 16th April in the morning (anytime before 12:30pm) and may leave on Sunday evening. If you have the leisure, you are welcome to stay over and leave anytime on Monday, 18th April. Those coming in from further afield may also come in on the Friday (15th April) before the camp formally begins.
Costs of participation
The camp is open & welcoming to family and children, although facilities are limited and simple. It is run on a ‘pay as you can’ basis. The facilitator or host farms receive no payments. Participants are invited to contribute what they can towards the cost of organizing the workshop which works out to approximately Rs.1000 per adult for food and material that will be distributed. If you can, your additional contributions will help to support other peoples’ participation. No one is refused participation due to money constraints.
The optimum number of participants including the hosts and resource persons is in the range of 25 adults and about 10 children. So please ‘book’ your places early. Preference will be given to the waiting list from earlier camps, then new participants, and finally those who are attending again.
April is the holiday season and trains and buses are likely to run full. Participants and resource persons can plan to arrive a day earlier and leave a day after. Longer stays may also be worked out with the host farm.
Farm Volunteer Programme
This camp, as others in the Ecologise series, provides you an opportunity to get introduced to our host farms. If you wish to, you may volunteer some of your time, from a few days to a month or more, to get involved and work on one of them to help out, implement a project or an idea or merely for the experience.
The longer duration farm volunteer programmes can be structured to allow you time each day to engage in reading, reflection, and engaging in discussions with the host mentors, besides working on the land, farm or project at hand.
The programme does not offer any fellowships nor does it expect participants to pay for their learning or stay. However, you will be expected to look after your own self-maintenance needs such as cooking, cleaning, washing, medical needs, etc.
About the Host Farm
Asta Farm is located on the increasingly busy Hosur-Thally road, about 22 kms from Hosur and 4 kms short of Thally. It is south-west of Hosur and a little east of due south with respect to central Bengaluru.
The nearest village is Dodda Ubbanur under Thally panchayat, Denkanikottai Taluk, in Krishnagiri District of Tamil Nadu. Other villages nearby are Chikka Ubbanur, Bellur and Oddarapalya. Languages spoken in the Thally area are Telugu, Tamil and Kannada, besides Dakhni.
The farm is on one side of a small ‘kere’ or man made lake, known locally as Siddegowdana Kere or Ubbanur Kere. This man-made and once community-maintained water body held water throughout the year until about ten years ago, serving agricultural and human needs of the local community, including paddy cultivation just below the bund. Excessive use of groundwater, changing rainfall patterns, the promotion and extensive adoption of unsustainable cropping practices based on groundwater exploitation (such as sugarcane) and the elimination of the local community from the maintenance of this (and similar) water bodies has resulted in the kere going dry. It has not held water for several years now.
Needless to say, traditional cropping and agriculture has declined precipitously in the area, and instead of paddy cultivation, below the bund of the kere, one today sees Eucalyptus plantations.
The Government of Tamil Nadu, recently implemented a controversial drinking water project for the villages in the district, that draws water from near the Hogenakkal water falls on the Kaveri and pumps it along the Hosur-Thally main road, supplying villages in the area. This has further reduced stakeholding of communities in maintaining local water sources and has rendered them dependent on the ‘centralized water ‘grid’. A ground level storage tank has been constructed just outside our property on one side of our entrance.
April is the hottest month of the year – with day temperatures in the high 30s centigrade – and you can expect the land to be “very” dry, almost parched. With very deficient rainfall over the last 5 years, trees and plants will have ‘distress shed’ their leaves to survive the heat and the fire hazard level is quite high.
What is on the land ?
One part of the land, perhaps about an acre, has turned into a forested patch, with various species of trees (all brought in as saplings or grown from seeds) and today is home, playground and feeding ground for many species of birds, raptors, rodents, reptiles and other creatures including visiting ‘toddy cats’ and, in the crop season, invading wild boar.
We crop about 3/4ths of an acre to 1 acre – using zero fertilizer or chemicals and mainly use leaf mulch or cow/goat gobbara (gobar). Our crops are entirely rain fed. We have grown – at different times and in different years – groundnut, dryland rice varieties, ragi, urad dal, moong dal, til and so on. We also grow a variety of vegetables (which we do water, manually) – but in small quantities including varieties of tomato, potato, yams and sweet potato, okra (ladies finger), brinjal, chillies, radish, soppus (greens), ginger, turmeric, gourds/squashes (hirekai, padvalkai, chow-chow, karela, tondekkai etc), pumpkins, drumstick and so on. Most often these are consumed by family, friends and neighbours (or the local bird and rodent life !) and we have not done anything ‘commercial’ with any of our produce so far. We also have mango, banana, sitaphal, ramphal, guava, sapota (chikoo), kamrak, lemon, surinam cherry, nellikai (amla) and other fruit trees, scattered across the land.
In short we have been ‘multi-cropping’, in a relatively small area, and leaving things to follow some sort of random and natural order. This means that nothing that you will see on the land suggests a ‘carefully managed’ or informed approach! Unfortunately, in order to keep our overheads (and labour needs) low we do not have any livestock – cows, poultry, etc – at this point.
Challenges in Recent Years
Given its location in the penumbra of the hyper consumptive urban Bengaluru area – and in the shadow of the industrial city of Hosur – we have seen the local environment deteriorate precipitously in many ways, especially over the last 7-8 years.
Most notably, industrialization in the immediate vicinity, unpredictable rainfall, the disappearance of water, literally ‘before our eyes’ from all the lakes, profound groundwater depletion, increased traffic and noise on the main road, the rapid conversion of parcels of family owned lands growing food crops (ragi varieties, groundnut, lentils, even paddy, etc.) into groundwater and chemical intensive ‘cash’ farming of vegetables for urban markets, food processing, and floriculture.
Because of notorious collapses and fluctuations in vegetable prices we used to witness tonnes of tomatoes (and other perishable vegetables) being dumped by the roadside in recent years– until the giant multinational, Del Monte, set up a plant to process ketchup and other products along the Hosur-Thally road – and now ships its sachets of ketchup and other products to fast food chains across the South.
Land prices that had remained completely static until about 2008 – have been slowly moving up, driven by demand from factories. This, coupled with the disappearance of water and the receding of rains are rendering earnings from small and family farms meaningless and highly unsustainable. While all this paints a somewhat bleak picture – the land around Asta still retains some of its beauty and the undulating terrain can still spring some pleasant surprises.
Thally area tidbits
The Thally area, at one time, we hear, used to be referred to as ‘Little England’ – a description that came from a colonial official posted in the area – because of its verdant, undulating hills, lakes and pleasant climate.
- Thorapalli, a few kilometers from Hosur was the birth place of Rajaji (C. Rajagopalachari), the first Governor General of Independent India
- Towns like Rayakottai (35 kms from Hosur) and Hosur were locations of forts built by Tippu Sultan and the region along an east-west axis, south of Bangalore, connecting Srirangapattana (near Mysore) to the Carnatic and this was the staging ground for many conflicts between Haidar Ali/Tippu Sultan and the British during the period of the Anglo-Mysore wars
- The Kaveri river flows eastward and crosses the Karnataka-TN border at a place called Biligundlu, the site of the interstate river water monitoring station, which, as a crow flies, is 40 kms due south of Thally – over hills and valleys. The Hogenakkal Falls on the Kaveri are only a few kilometers downstream from Biligundlu.
Contacts for Ecologise Camp Registration and Information
(“Asta Farm”), Hosur- Thally Road, Krishnagiri District, Tamil Nadu
Next to Sri Ramana Trust (formerly Atheetha Ashram) & Doddaubbanur Kere (Lake)
Doddaubbanur, Hosur- Thally Road, Krishnagiri District, Tamil Nadu – 635118
60 km. from central Bangalore via Attibele