Monday, July 20, 2009

Why we want to grow our own food

It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society - Jiddu Krishnamurti

We are shifting to the outskirts of Bangalore and plan to experiment with growing our own food. A friend who is accustomed to our weird behavior and sudden shifts of focus wanted to know why. He was very much in favor of the shift away from the city and a lifestyle closer to nature but his question really was why we wanted to take the livelihoods away from the poor farmers.

Well friend, the short answer is-

Our life as we live it now is fragmented and dysfunctional and reducing our dependence on a dysfunctional system in whatever way we possibly can seems to be the way to make it whole. Growing our own food and living in a semi-urban environment seems to be a way to reduce our dependence on the current, dominant, anachronistic, flawed economic/financial system of the world.

The long answer follows-

(Please remember that what follows is valid for people like you and me
working in 9 to 5 jobs in cities and not for the large majority in this country who work without an 'appointment letter' )

Examples of dysfunctionality in our current lifestyles
1. A working couple I know spends fifty thousand Rupees every month just on their cars. (EMI, drivers salary, maintenance, petrol etc). They also spend a lot of their time traveling in these cars in bad traffic. So they have to work to earn money to pay for their cars and a car is a basic requirement to go to work to earn money to pay for their cars.
2. We have no EMI, no car, I work from home and the activities of our children happens in our colony. We are together a lot and don't get stressed driving through traffic jams. But I am forced to work to earn money to pay the rent on our house and a house is a basic requirement to do work to earn the money that I have to pay as rent.
3. We came back from a trip to Agra and got off at Okhla station instead of the larger New Delhi station. This was at 10 in the morning- office time. We were in the AC chair car but hundreds of office-goers crowding into the two or three unreserved compartments also got off with us. This whole crowd carefully crossed the railway line which is one of the busiest in India. Then on the road outside where we thought we would get an auto to take us home we found this...

... A huge traffic jam. We walked till Nehru Place, a distance of 2 kilometers or so through the mud and garbage on the roadside before getting into an Auto on a relatively empty road. The scary thing I felt was that the people traveling by train were only doing so because they had not yet got a car. They too aspired to be stuck in the traffic with their AC's on.

Why do you and I tolerate it:

1. We are cut off from the consequences of our actions. The way we live our life doesn't seem to be directly creating any problem. (A person working in a tobacco company doesn't think that the salary he takes home causes cancer. Like you and me he is just doing a job)
2. We are cut off from the real meaning behind our monetary transactions. (
When we buy bread for 20 rupees we only record the money transaction and not the fact that behind all human food stands nature and ultimately the shining sun. We mistakenly assume that getting the 20 Rupees is what we need to do to get us food)
3. After working very hard for a long time we finally became qualified to easily do well in the dysfunctional system and we were given the tools and the strong latent desires to help perpetuate the dysfunctionality. As we begin to acquire what we have dreamed of it becomes very difficult to let go of the system even when we see things going horribly wrong. We cannot usually even admit that things ARE going wrong
4. We know of no other alternatives that are less dysfunctional. The only alternative appears to be to join Ramakrishna mission or other such missions and become a monk or to become a Nanga (pardon the pun) sadhu in the Himalayas

What can you and I do
1. Take our children out of school :-)
2. Grow our own food. Prof Dabholkar a pioneer of intensive natural farming had demonstrated how a quarter of an acre of land is enough to grow enough to fully feed a family of five. In his book 'Plenty for All' there were also photos of people who have done experiments in growing their food on their city terraces

3. Reduce our dependence on a salary. And if you say that you are not anymore dependent on a salary for your comfortable living then what are you doing still stuck in a traffic jam?
4. A friend who works for a software company grows most of his food on a 10000 sqft patch of land they have. His wife and son spend a lot of time on the farm and he joins in on the weekends. Farming is not a full time job so they also run an informal village school. He was telling me that except for his travel to and fro from office in his car, his living expense is 1500 Rupees per month.

Now, in my long educational journey I didn't spend even one hour learning how food (that I cannot live without!) grows and ripens. It is only recently that I noticed what miraculous things seeds are and how easy it is to sprout them into new life. If there is a way to remove the dysfunctionality of our lives, I think that falling back on mother nature and getting in touch with the miraculous mystery at the center of the living seed may not be a bad place to start searching.

Anyway, we are going to give it a shot. If it works, you can come and join us. And if it doesnt, it would be easy for me to find you in your traffic jam. :-)

References and resources:

1. Definancialisation, Deglobalisation, Relocalisation- A blog post by Dmitry Orlov the author of 'Reinventing Collapse' which talks about everything covered in this post (and much more)
2. Zeitgeist addendum- A low budget 2 hour underground movie that takes a look at the ills that plague society and suggests some radical solutions
3. The story of stuff- A very well made 20 minute animated film on the consumerist society
4. Natueco farming- A scientific and more efficient reapplication of natural farming techniques


  1. Hello Arun,

    Congrats on your decision to start growing your own food and the move to the outskirts. We have moved from Bangalore city too... but further away. The city has a way of catching up with you before you realise it. Good luck with the endeavour and hope you enjoy the fruits of your labour.

    George Varghese

  2. Hello George,

    We have earlier shifted from Kolkata to Thrissur and lived there for a year and a half and are reasonably confident of our ability to not get caught in the city's web. Where did you shift to and what do you do there?

    Thank you for your wishes,

  3. Oye, I was looking forward to seeing you all again in December in Delhi and now you're moving again??
    Love to the kids and Tanki. Look forward to your posts on the farming. Myself proud grower of kadipatta plant, but great ambitions for future, the last year having been spent in successfully recycling grey water for garden patch in Pune and growing enough green chilli to keep the family happy and gasping.

  4. Hey Arun ,
    How are you? this is harish from IWSB. I met you once regarding Elearning part, remember? From your facebook profile i landed on your blog today. And cant stop reading one post after another. Loved this post and passed to everybody i know as its very important to know somethings which u mentioned in this post about dysfunctionality of system. I have also seen Zeitgeist Addendum last month . I discussed on this a lot with friends. Will see what I can contribute towards this.
    Will return to posts now.
    Harish Lunani