Umaramanan from AuroOrchard is well-known for his gifted green hands. He spoke to us about his journey, his dedication to Regenerative Farming and his wish for Auroville to produce 100% of its food needs.
A Give and Take with Nature
Umaramanan – who most of us know as ‘Ramanan’ – has grown up around Auroville in the village of Edyanchavadi. He went to school in Udavi, an Auroville Outreach school. As opposed to many of his peers, he didn’t gravitate towards an office job. Instead, he wanted to work in the forests and farms. “I was interested in green work, and I am really inspired by Auroville since childhood – It’s the best place to explore yourself and live your life, in my opinion. I have been hearing and seeing what sustainability means here, and for me life should be sustainable, we should not be taking things. Life should be a two-way traffic with nature, a give and take. And that’s what I see in Auroville compared to other cities around. So for my first work experience in the community, I joined Pitchandikulam forest and stayed and worked there for about 6 years.”
Pitchandikulam was Ramanan’s nursery – here his love for green sprouted into a real dedication. Yet the forest was not the end of the line for him: “In 2016, I took an Ecovillage Design course, and that was the shift I would say. It triggered the question: What am I doing for the community? What is the basic need? I realised that the most important thing is food. And as Mother said, we need good food to achieve what we want in Auroville. For me, what I learned of the forest was enough, now it was time to focus on producing food for the community. I then came to AuroOrchard and started working here.”
AuroOrchard is the oldest farm of Auroville, founded by Mother in 1968, and the second largest in size. It reaches over 44 acres of fruit orchards and meadows, with about 5 acres dedicated to vegetables. “What we do here is Regenerative Agriculture, rather than calling it Organic Farming. It means we focus first on taking care of the whole biosystem. We have animals, cows and chickens, as their manure is important in the regeneration. We give more importance to local produce, rather than exotic produce and have about 80 to 90 species of vegetables.”
While there has been a real shift in this region with more Organic farmers coming up, Ramanan is looking for a deeper change. “The farming practices that you see around are all mostly conventional methods of farming, where all the inputs are from industries that make synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Now in the past 10 years, the practice of Organic Farming has grown. People converted from conventional farming to Organic, but the underlying concept didn’t change: They have switched to bio-fertilizers, but they still rely on industries to produce these inputs for them.”
In Regenerative Farming, the focus is on creating a system that sustains itself. “For this we have to produce 4 things: our own water, fertility, produce, and energy. If you’re not sustainable in each of these 4 aspects, then you can’t call yourself a Regenerative Farm. The ways in which we do this, for water for example, is trying to use water as efficiently as possible, and produce for the next generation too. This means harvesting rain water and recharging your aquifers. So we have percolation pits where we gather as much rainwater as possible to recharge the bore wells. So what we really try to do here is mimicking the forest. Forests take care of themselves and every living organism that is part of it, no one has to do anything. We try to use the smart ways of the forest here on the farm.”
A Deeper Nourishment
When asked what he enjoys most about working in AuroOrchard, Ramanan lights up. “It’s my life! That’s how I see it. I like the holistic management and hands-on work. It’s a pleasure working with the local community, and we learn a lot of great traditional practices from them. To see the transition from the traditional practices, taking the best from them and applying modern techniques, teaching them these new ways… It’s a really nice balance working with them. And producing food and feeding the community is such a pleasure that you already feel nourished just by the work itself. My life is for farming now, it is the main Karma for my life. My goal is for Auroville to be 100% sustainable, to make sure that all the farms together provide the food needed for Auroville. Right now we are at about 15%, but I would like to see it being 100%!”
AuroOrchard is also known for being one of the nicest places to volunteer. While the team has gone through its ups and downs, with quite some changes in team structure over the past year, Ramanan still feels they are managing to stay together as a community. “It is such a nice team to work with here, we have a dozen Aurovillians coming here and working as volunteers. And we have Newcomers and Volunteers also, there is always a wonderful energy. There is always a circle full of people every morning ready to work. After working for two hours we come together to have a break, we cook and eat whatever we get from the farm, and then we get back to the field. It’s really a beautiful thing to have part of my life.”
Inspired to volunteer at AuroOrchard? Check out the opportunities on the Savi website for volunteers or get in touch with them directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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