Rewilding, Rediscovering nature

How scores in Kochi are reconnecting with the soil & taking to community farming
 A small plot of land unfolds to reveal verdant fields, all spruced for a total plant cover.
A small plot of land unfolds to reveal verdant fields, all spruced for a total plant cover.Photo | TP Sooraj

KOCHI: Who doesn’t enjoy unwinding in nature? I do. In seeking such a place, I found ‘Rewild’ in North Paravoor, a stone’s throw from Kochi. Here, behind an old house, a small plot of land unfolds to reveal verdant fields, all spruced for a total plant cover.

“The idea is to transform the place into a fruit forest, butterfly park and a herbal garden,” says Manoj Kumar I B, who spearheads the initiative. Open to all, this practice teaches the basics of farming, besides other things.

“The place is designed as an experiential learning environment, especially for children, who nowadays have little exposure to soil and nature,” Manoj adds. In doing so, he believes, children can learn to be self-sufficient.

On walking futher, I saw a mini pond waiting to be embraced by an array of lemon, cinnamon, curry leaf, elanjil, agathi, and other host and nectar plants planted on its edges. Soon, in a few months, this mini-ecosytem will be home to butterflies and insects. Already, some dragonflies are seen flying about.

“The concept isn’t to transform the place solely into a forest or farmland. Our goal is to integrate the natural growth of a forest with the practical benefits of farming. We aim to cultivate a green cover that requires minimal maintenance while planting vegetation that yields produce and supports self-sustainability,” says Manoj.

While farming typically involves removing non-productive plants, the team here retains them as these serve as host plants for insects and other organisms. “Our aim is to maintain biodiversity because all living beings deserve a place,” Manoj says.

Building a community

On World Environment Day, the team aims to plant around 300 saplings of varied kinds on the land. Sivani Shaji, who is the designer of the model plots, is busy arranging the pots inside the shed. The place has been hosting a five-day plant drive till June 5th.

Manoj Kumar I B speaks to volunteers at the community farm
Manoj Kumar I B speaks to volunteers at the community farmPhoto | TP Sooraj

“Planting saplings on one particular day shouldn’t be the purpose. Instead, people should be aware of the right way behind the process of planting,” Sivani says.

Sivani says the model plots also follow the concept of permaculture. “For example, the fruit forest needn’t be just fruit plants, there will be flowering trees, supporting trees, (nitrogen fixing plants), shrubs, and herbs. Also, we aim to live in harmony with nature by following the concept of ‘Earth Care, People Care, and Fair Share,’” she adds.

“When we dig the soil for planting the saplings, we unearth heaps of plastic and glass waste. The structure near to the land was once a hotel, we are expecting more such waste as we dig. The activity also serves as a poignant lesson for both children and adults, highlighting the perils nature faces and this is expected to ignite a collective drive to restore the area with lush greenery,” says Sivani.

The initiative which has been going on for the last five months has been seeing school students, college students, including international students from the US and Switzerland, teachers and corporate employees visiting the place.

Manoj and his team believe that environmental awareness should focus on practical knowledge rather than lectures and seminars. “Let’s stop preaching and start taking action,” he asserts.

Those who visit the place are taught how to make the potting mixture by combining soil, cow dung, cocopeat, rock phosphate, and pacha kakka podi, how to plant seeds on the tray, how to fill and transfer the sapling to a grow bag.

“Unfortunately, many are afraid to get their hands on soil, as they fear it is unhygienic. Such irrational fears are also passed down to children. People fail to realise that soil, the earth, is our health,” says Manoj. “It’s not just children; even adults lack fundamental farming knowledge. Alongside formal education, fostering an understanding of self-sustainability is paramount. Engaging in outdoor activities can inspire children to initiate farming activities in their household,” he adds.

Rightly, some students have been practising the activities at home. Jayadeep E U, a Class 9 student of SNV Sanskrit HSS in North Paravoor, says that he has continued the lessons received from the community farming at the back of his house.

“I’ve started farming spinach and lady’s finger in the limited space I have. Manoj never forces us to do any specific activity; we follow our interests. Many didn’t know about maintaining biodiversity while farming, but since then, I’ve been mindful of it while raising my greens,” says Jayadeep.

Anoop V P, a faculty member of SNV Sanskrit HSS, takes his students to the plot often.

“We do nature-related activities in schools, but a majority of the children would be just observing. Now since they are involved, many children’s approach to soil has changed and some even realised that leading such a lifestyle is also possible,” he says.

Savithriamma, 75, is another enthusiast. “I live nearby and I’ve known Manoj for some years now. At this age, it’s wonderful that I get to do my part for nature. I visit the plot often and the sheer dedication of the visitors keeps me happy,” she says.

Ananda Devassy, a first-year BSW student at Bharata Mata College of Commerce and Arts at Choondy, Aluva, says she was not very interested in farming initially, but the exposure to community farming has made her think differently.

“It is a collective effort and it is a good feeling to stand together while taking such small steps for a better future. I only attended one session but it has instilled an interest in me, earlier, such an idea never crossed my mind,” she says.

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