Natural farming (beyond academics)

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It has always been felt that lifeskill needs to be an integral part of the childrens’ growth in the school’s environment. To a great extent it gets taken care upto the middle school years as part of the curriculum and natural farming being one of the essential components of lifeskill programme.

It started as  a parallel programme with class 7 excursion; one group would attend the excursion at Wayanad and the other group would engage in a designed lifeskill programme here at the school; one of the activities used to be farming. Since then the farming activity has evolved over the years going through different formats and experimentation.

For some years, class 7 children worked during morning PT in small groups by rotation. Now for the last 3-4 years, farming for class 7 has become part of the regular schedule once a week. Being the middle school group, children work with the soil with lot of zeal and there is curiosity to learn more while working on the farm plots.

Though it is introductory, childrens’ participation in this programme opens a whole new world of farming as a way of life to them. It provides them with the opportunity to experience the hard work of a farmer in growing of food that otherwise seems to come on their dining tables easily. They also get familiarized with certain nuances of farming such as the variety of seeds, process of preparing the farm plots, preparing seedlings or saplings from the seeds, nurturing the soil with jivamrith, protecting the soil with mulching, insects that visit the plants, some helpful and some harmful. They also prepare Jivamrith and Dashaparni arka (insect repellant) which is then used in the farm as and when required.

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There are some interesting discoveries that we make while working on the farm; some strange looking insect never seen before, the activities of grasshoppers, ladybird beetles, ants, bees, garden lizards etc.; even the way a plant grows, the appearance of a flower and fruit. There is great learning even in handling of small and big tools in the right way, knowing how to sow which kind of seed, waiting and watching the plants grow from their seed stage until the time of harvest. Harvesting time is one of the favourites of the children and one can see their lit up faces expressing the joy of reaping the reward of their hardwork. Children also enjoy eating various kinds of leaves, fuits etc. on the farm, as and when things start to grow.

In the past, we were fortunate have had renowed farmers such as Dr. Nammalvar and others visiting the school, working with children and sharing interesting aspects of farming such as mulching, composting, making natural fertilisers,  role of wild plants on the farm, biodynamic method etc. .

Over the course of farming period children realise the value of growing chemical free crops.

Even the simplest of the questions asked by children keeps this activity alive and engaging for their peers. It is also a platform to draw children into the discussion on GM food, conventional farming that started with green revolution and the need of practising natural farming and preserving the native seeds.  In the last few years, campus farming that happens under the rural outreach has given opportunity for children to get engaged in various farm acitivities in different seasons including rice cultivation. Children also visit the rural outreach office to appreciate the collection of variety of seeds of grains, pulses, vegetables, spices etc..

This kind of hands-on learning stays with children life long. It is nice to learn from some of our alumini who have continued growing certain vegetables in the space available back at home.

It is a delight to have some of our class 9 girls to take initiative to rejoin the farm activity after their  excursions at Mojo farm and Auroville in different years. The concept of gangamma mandal(a form of kitchen garden) was being discussed as a project that could be taken up and it took shape with these girls. This kind of plot can feed at least 10 families with a variety of vegetables, spices/herbs, oil seeds etc. with a different variety available each day of the week. Children worked hard starting from measuring and plotting the Gangamma mandal (renamed as Pariporrna mandal) which is a circular plot divided into 22 sectors. It was followed by preparing the beds, making and adding jeevamrith to it, sowing seeds or transplanting saplings on the beds and tending the juvenile plants. These children have loved spending their time working and learning on the farm. It was nice to see children from other grades voluntarily joining them at different point of time.

When one looks closely, a farm is a dynamic outdoor classroom for children to learn the interactions between plants and insects and also between the biotic (living) and abiotic (soil, water, sunlight) factors. It was an interesting discovery for children to be able to see some concepts coming alive that they would have read in their biology textbook.

Over the years the younger ones in the primary school (class 4 & 5) have also been connecting with the soil, growing veggies, herbs and a few ornamental plants in the backyard of their classroom. Their eagerness to prepare the soil, water the plants and to see the seeds germinate, their plant growing bigger, flowering & fruiting is a joyful experience. For this age group, working with the soil is quite enagaging and it also gives them a platform to experiment with how things grow under different conditions. They have also been studying and recording the growth of the plants from the seed stage till it attains maturity during their Enviornmental studies (EVS) classes.

During their EVS/science classes, children of classes 4,5 & 6 have also been participating in preparing sapling trays, sowing, mulching, harvesting activities on the different farm plots on the campus that is being managed by the rural outreach.

The senior most Environment science students of classes 11 & 12 have been also involved in various farm activities during their academic sessions. Some of them worked on projects based on rice varieties cultivated on campus.

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