All for a green life
Organic practices have now become desirable and chic. GEETA PADMANABHAN takes a look at what goes into an organic lifestyle.
PHOTOS: P.V. SIVAKUMAR and K. ananthan
Stay close to Nature:Shift to organic products.
It is a reasonable wish. You want to eat food that doesn’t come soaked in dangerous chemicals, drink water whose ingredients will not poison and maim, wear clothes not made in factories that smothered farming livelihoods, breathe air that won’t choke the lungs. Simply, you hope for a life that will leave an environment for your kids to stay healthy. You want what is now labelled an “organic” life. Happily, it is becoming increasingly doable. That is, if you’re willing to learn its rules.
One who can rattle them off is Vellore Srinivasan, the green foot soldier of the Vellore fort. Turning his wedding into an eco-event, he’s DVD-ed it for public campaigns. “I was on auto-pilot during my wedding,” he laughs. “Can’t remember going through the rituals, I have to marry again,” he said.
For Srinivasan, an Ashoka awardee, this was one more successful campaign to prove that living with least damage to nature is not impossible. His bride wore ahimsa silk (“I checked!”). All the decoration including banana trees and thoranams went to feed local cattle. Garbage was segregated into organic and inorganic waste for disposal.
Guests were given a bundle of a jasmine sapling, vermi-compost, sachets of seeds and printed instructions for composting and rainwater harvesting.
This is probably obsessive, but green practices are now desirable chic. Speakers are given tulsi plants as gifts, shoppers carry purchases in paper or cloth bags, wedding invitations go online, children take a vow not to fire crackers, gas cylinders carry green labels. There’s a wobbly willingness to segregate garbage. Organic food and farming are everyday phrases. Celebrities talk of “doing their bit” on TV, anything organic gets column space. Together, these seem significant though small, steps out of a plastic-coated world.
“Our ancestors saw organic life as wholesome life,” said K. Vijayalakshmi and A.V. Balasubramaniam at the Centre for Indian Knowledge Systems, which advises farmers on organic practices and connects their products to consumers. “It’s living in peace with nature and other humans, giving back what you take from surroundings, not eating away the capital. This perception changed in the post-industrial society. We are all children of this phenomenon.”
A wholesome life
Living this “wholesome” life are the Cariappas: Vivek, Julie and kids on their 30-acre Krac-a-Dawna organic farm in HD Koda taluk, Mysore. “Without Malathion, lindane, DDT, or Roundup”, the Cariappa family profitably grows 30 different kinds of crops using principles of seed-saving, multiple cropping, integrated and inter-dependent animal and soil husbandry, optimal utilisation of animal and plant-waste, vermi-composting, small-scale food-preservation and storage. Going directly to the consumer, they sell grain as flour, fruit as jams and jellies, sugarcane as jaggery powder, coconuts as cold-pressed coconut oil soap. “This takes effort and imagination, but it has improved our economic viability and our sustainability in the market society,” said Vivek. Their organic cotton is spun separately, woven by traditional weavers, coloured by vegetable dyes extracted on the farm and stitched into dresses. Buyers are nearby families and eco-shops around India.
Aurobindo Ashram’s Gloria Land (GL) has replaced inorganic fertilizers and pesticides with mulch, cattle dung and a carefully chosen mix of crops. Plants like sesbania help with nitrogen fixation. Jenda Medu, a 100 per cent organic farming village near Udhagamandalam uses advice from experts and has built a check-dam and water storage tanks to combat water shortage.
“Interdependence, without disturbing the rhythms of nature,” Balasubramaniam defines the green philosophy. “We must preserve bio-diversity, build on local availability of resources. Buying readymade bio-products is not sustainable.”
AVB wants mass training for organic farming by the Directorates of Agriculture; financial help for farmers from banking and credit institutions; inclusion of organic methods in agricultural education. “Chemical fertilizers/pesticides are subsidised. Why not subsidy for those using green manure and in-house seeds? Are earth-enriching products like neem-seed cakes available freely? If we trust farmers, change will come,” says Vijayalakshmi.
Varun Gupta, of Pro-Nature Organic Foods, also sees organic life as being conscious of how closely we’re tied to our environment. He concedes we can’t all go the Julie-and-Vivek way, but if we “ensure that we consume less than what is our rightful share of nature’s bounty, we are leading an organic life.” He made the switch because he “fell in love with the “organic concept” while working for a food company. “Organic does not have any strong well-established brand, yet more and more are willing to consider it as an alternative. There is also increased awareness of environment issues.”
“An organic life is a mindset,” say Vivek and Julie who home-school their two boys. They liberate the phrase to mean “necessary social change” – through free thinking, sensible land-use, gender equality, equal opportunities, a diversity-based inclusive approach. “Organic practices are woven into our lives,” Julie says. “It’s about mental strength, making determined decisions,” agrees Srinivasan.
They fear commercial enterprise hi-jacking the concept. “Organic food cannot be a “boutique” affair adopted by affluent consumers,” says Balasubramaniam. Processes and practices must reach all retail shelves. “We need to link what we buy to the grower/maker,” emphasises Vivek. “The consumer has a vital responsibility to change the system.”
“Start small,” suggests Vijayalakshmi. “Go organic one day of the week.” Remember, the decisions you make at supermarket aisles could make a significant difference.
The first hurdle is the label mix-up. Are “all-natural” foods organic? No. Such food products may not have anything artificial in them, but their basic ingredients were probably grown by unsavoury methods. Terms such as “pesticide-free” and “residue-free” can also be misleading. Organic packaged foods contain no additives and must be processed in a clean, chemical-free environment. The best way to make sure you’re buying organic is to look for “certified organic”.
The next is the cost. “Organic is not expensive if we consider the indirect cost attached to “regular” food; health and nutrition, environment and social,” said Varun. “There will always be a cost attached to buying “pure and healthy”. However, the fast-growing market will help in bringing down the prices.”
To stay within your budget, buy locally-grown fruits and vegetables in season. It saves transportation costs. Buy lasting items in bulk. Walk when you can. Turn down lights, volume. And grow greens on the terrace. Go to bed without feeling guilty about the future of your kids.
Article excerpted from www.hindu.com