Preserving the Local Crops: Krishna McKenzie from Solitude Farm

Krishna discovered Auroville through the eyes of his teacher Karthik, at the J. Krishnamurti School in England. It was there that he realized that living close to nature, growing his own food, and living in community would become his spiritual aim. He became conscious that one did not have to pursue a Masters Degree to live this very valid and feasible learning experience. Honoring Mother Nature would become the essential seed that moved him to Auroville and in the process, embrace the soil and roots of Tamil culture. This has become his yoga and way of life.

Solitude Farm, where he lives and works, is rooted in Auroville: “Inspiration came from the work done by Johnny in Fertile, and the natural farming practices and methods of Masanobu Fukuoaka. This came together with a vision of creating it [Solitude] within the context of “A Dream”, written by the Mother in 1954. For me, the underlying message is that everything is possible when you can recognize that Mother Nature is really quite extraordinary. She has so much to offer.” Even today, this reverence and devotional quality is the breath which moves Krishna in his work. 

Learning by Doing

“In the early 90’s, starting up a project in Auroville was not very linear and bureaucratic. If you had a plan, an idea, you just did it. It was pretty straightforward. Myself, Gemma and Muni started Solitude Farm in 1993. We built a hut, a kitchen, we were milking our cow… We didn’t know how to do these things at first, you had to learn by doing.” Krishna stayed on the farm as it grew with the help of volunteers and a permanent resident community.

This non-interventional way of farming developed organically on the farm. Today, Solitude has a great little restaurant which serves only local food grown in the bio-region. The food is a mixture between the local Tamil culinary tradition as it is embraced by creative travelling chefs. The Green Papaya Coconut Soup is an exquisite example.

For Krishna, the important message of his work is always about local foods. “They have very specific characteristics, they belong in this environment; if they grow in abundance they are easy to grow, making them economically viable and non-exclusive. Drumstick spinach for example is considered one of the best foods in the world and it is said that it was eaten locally by kings as well as beggars. Eating locally grown produce is a great way to consider the environmental impact we are having on our planet. Our mainstream agriculture has moved from growing local crops towards monoculture. These single crop fields require more pesticides to yield greater profit. This has a huge ecological cost.” Because of this, Solitude Farm is exploring alternatives to this industrialization of agriculture which has a large impact on our planet, hoping to inspire more people to connect to their local, naturally-grown foods. 

Looking Back to Move Forward

It may be that if we look back at what great civilizations have done, local solutions re-emerge. For Krishna, a the connection to tradition and food is clear: “The Indian culture and in particular the ancient Tamil culture, with its awe inspiring temples, Ayurveda and Siddha tradition, Tamil – a classical language still in use today, Bharatnatyam, Karnatic music, the Nadi palm leaves, are all part of a culture whose people had a direct relationship with their food source. Today, we are disconnected from our food source and thus disconnected from these local traditions.” 

The food grown in Solitude actually represents a “Renaissance” of well-being for our Auroville community, an example which can be replicated all over the world. When one goes in the fields of Solitude Farm one starts to see that every single plant has its benefits. “If we start being strategic and assume we can control nature, without considering the environmental impact of our choices, it will continue to lead us to empty water taps. It has led us to the global crisis that we have on the planet today which is now expressing itself on every single level; nutritional, medicinal, economic, social, cultural and even educational. We need to teach this non-intrusive method of agriculture for future generations to survive.”

Solitude tries to do just that through educational workshops and awareness campaigns, for example through the yearly Lively Up Your Earth (LUYE) eco-music festival. There are farm tours every Saturday starting at 11:30, Wednesday permaculture workshops from 9:30-12:30, and more intensive weekend workshops where everyone can learn to make their own garden and bring local food to their plate daily. If you live in the neighbourhood, you can also subscribe to their ‘basket’ ,where you can get locally grown food thrice weekly. 

The Fruits of Labour

In order to grow in abundance, it is just as crucial to understand the soil as divine matter.
Krishna explains that there are millions of microorganisms, molds, bacteria, insects, earthworms,
fungi, small animals, which are part of the mycelium, the communication network under the
earth. The intelligence in the soil and the fertility of the soil are real and physical. It’s the life in the soil that feeds us. Today, Solitude can produce over 150 edible plants regularly throughout the year. These sustain a restaurant, residents, weekly food baskets and local products for sale on just 6 acres of land.

Krishna proudly brings out this week’s harvest. It includes drumstick spinach, spring onions, plantain, bottle gourd, drumsticks, cucumber, green papaya, snake gourd, lady fingers (okra), chicken spinach, a juice kit (includes soursop, hibiscus and blue flowers) and a salad kit (potalaka), chilies and rosella. An Ayurvedic treasure chest!

Krishna finds that if we want to address the environmental crisis and the water crisis in the region, we need to consider moving away from supporting unsustainable farming and distribution methods. These methods include pumping water out of the aquifer at alarming rates and consuming non renewable resources in the process. What would happen if we decided, as a collective effort, to eat more locally-grown food? Krishna dreams of a culinary revolution that brings local farm produce to a plate in our homes, office canteens and community kitchens. If everyone would grow locally in their garden, in their neighbor’s garden, and eat from the land, a change could happen. “This is what we want to inspire and promote, so that we may all live off of local abundance.”

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