Babulal

When Yogesh Gandhi set up his medical store in Phaltan about 100 km from Pune in Satara district of Maharashtra, he invited his uncle, natural farmer Babulal Gandhi, to make an inauguration speech. “We should not be having medical stores in our cities – we should instead provide good food and a clean environment, one that fosters health and well-being. What use is a medical store except to make the already rich richer?” his uncle said in that speech.  Madhavi, Babulal Gandhi’s niece who works closely with him on the farm, said her cousin did not know where to look.

Lake

The 100-acre farm that the extended Gandhi family tends to lies on the leeward side of the Sahyadri mountain ranges – it gets little water from rainfall, and the soil in this land was not very fertile either. Gandhi dug a lake on 25 acres of the farm, and there are now cormorants and peacocks that visit the farm and the lakeside on a daily basis. Even though the lake spreads over a vast area and appears like an abundant source of water, it does not always serve all the needs of the 100-acre farm.

Banana

The Gandhi family has only about three people hired to help on the farm – all the rest of the work is done by the extended family of Gandhi and his nephews and nieces. There are different living units for the families on the farm, and even an area where visitors who wish to learn organic farming and observe the processes at the farm can stay for a few days.

There are over 20,000 trees, and when this reporter visited in early March, the chikoos were being harvested. “We still do not have local food processing units. Pune is about 100 km away, and a kg of chikoo might sell for Rs100 there, but back here is it hard to sell them for even Rs40 a kg,” says Shirish, who is married to one of Babulal Gandhi’s nieces.

Madhavi

Forty-five year old Madhavi, who leads many of the efforts on the farm, says she has learned from her uncle even to use labour power with economy. “He would tell us that if there are dried leaves or other things that could just decompose and serve to increase fertility, we should let it be. Not cart it from one place to another for nothing. Farming need not be about sweat and labour alone. We sit and we enjoy the sunset, we watch the birds by the lake. Come to think of it, farming is actually the most productive thing ever. We might put our savings in a bank and expect some bit of interest, but plant a small seed in the ground and given the right conditions what an abundance of fruit we get, in time! Nature gives so much, when we just let it do its own thing.”

Babulal Gandhi has also constructed a hall and an area for visiting students – there is space to house about 50 children at one time, and offer them meals and a tour of the farm. Students are encouraged to spend about three days on the farm seeing the work that happens there and helping with sowing or harvesting and observing the functioning of the gobar gas unit.

Corn

This farm functions with no inputs at all from the chemical fertilizer industry or the manufacturers of pesticides. This keeps input costs low, and the produce that is organically grown is also of superior quality. The chikoos that were being harvested were a bigger size than are normally seen in the market, and also much sweeter. Pune-based Geeta Deshmukh said, “The chikoos that grow on the Gandhi farm grow with very little water. That makes them sweeter than the fruit exposed to more abundant water.”  Deshmukh, who retired after over three decades of service with the Military Engineering Service, has been aiding organic farmers from across the state market their produce in Pune city.

When all the work on the farm is done, at sunset, one can just sit by the lakeside and observe the sun sinking behind the clouds.

To plan a visit, please call Madhavi Gandhi: 9850804940

Rosamma Thomas is an independent journalist


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One Comment

  1. Bharat Dogra says:

    Really nice to read about this family effort. –Bharat Dogra