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Marudam Farm

Marudam farm consist of almost ten acres of land about 6km from Thiruvannamalai. We came to the land in 2009. It was agricultural land that had suffered many years of chemical farming, before passing into the hands of a property developer for a couple of years. Much of it had been bulldozed in anticipation of its conversion to building plots, compacting the soil and destroying the trees on the field boundaries. Now it is recovering. A poly-culture is evolving, of fruits and animals, people and plants, birds and bees. There are about five acres of agricultural fields and vegetable gardens. The rest of the land is a mosaic of left alone forest patches, playgrounds, access roads, and the school and residential buildings, all interspersed with fruit and forest trees.

What do we grow, and How?
Each day we provide breakfast to all the workers of the Forest way, as well as lunch for the children and teachers of the school. The aim of the farm is to be able to provide all of this food organically. This means we must grow a range of grains, pulses, oilseeds, fruit and vegetables throughout the year, and it is not as easy as one might think. The grains we grow are chiefly rice, followed by a variety of millets and sorghum. For oil we have coconuts, sesame and peanuts, whilst our pulses are moong and urad dhal, cowpea, and tur dhal. We have planted over 30 types of fruit trees and bushes. Vegetables are a challenge, particularly in the tropical summers, when only brinjal, ladies fingers and cluster beans are really happy. In the cooler months we are able to grow a wonderful variety of salads, pumpkins, beans, gourds, sweet potatoes, yams, amaranths, leaf vegetables, tomatoes and herbs. In all we grow, we try to play a role in preserving traditional varieties of crops that are fast disappearing.

Our aim on the farm is to operate without external inputs. We have not achieved this as yet. We still bring in cow manure for the fields, and some extra food for our own cows. But this is reducing each year as the fertility and structure of the soil rebuild. We help this process by rotating the crops with green manures, which are plowed back into the soil, and by stimulated the micro-fauna with preparations such as panchakavya.

Over the coming years we aim to work towards even more natural ways of farming, specifically to stop plowing the land for the crops. Turning the soil to remove weeds exposes the soil to sun and rain, which compact it. It also speeds the breakdown of organic matter, thus reducing the humus in the soil, and kills vital earthworms and other soil life. On the other hand, with natural farming, the topsoil builds year upon year, as does the life and fertility of the farm. Already the vegetable gardens are largely under a no-dig system and the texture of the soil has changed completely. In the coming year we will start to experiment slowly with the fields.

We are still a long way from our vision of full self-sufficiency, but yields are increasing year upon year as the fertility improves. Already this year the school will have no need to buy rice or oils, which is a great feeling. Fruit trees planted three years ago are starting to fruit, and our own understanding is growing.

Marudam Farm has two water sources. One is a bore-well, 40m deep, which supplies an overhead tank through a solar pump. From this tank all the houses, the school, the vegetable gardens and orchards are supplied. The crops are irrigated from an open well with a 3hp pump connected to the electric grid. This open well also doubles as the Marudam swimming hole.

In addition to the countless insects, the many birds, the snakes and lizards, the five human families, four dogs and two cats, the farm is home to seven cows. Four of these are oxen, who are used to plow the land and pull the bullock cart. Two are cows who refuse to get pregnant, and one is a young bull. Apart from the work they do on the farm, their urine is used in various plant medicines, natural pest repellents and growth promoters, and their dung powers our bio-gas plant before it goes back to the fields.

Finally, the connection of the children to the life of the farm is a crucial part of the picture. Each of the children spend regular gardening time throughout the year, as well as taking part in the big events like rice planting and harvest. It is our conviction that growing food is an empowering act. Doing it naturally is an enriching one, and eating that food is a joy.