Bhoomi stall at the Seed Festival in Tiruvannamalai

Bhoomi stall at the Seed Festival in Tiruvannamalai

Partha shares …

We have travelled nearly 60 kms from our Bhoomi farm in Chengam, Tiruvannamalai. It is 10 AM and the sun is ferocious. Gusty winds blow, signaling the arrival of Aadi month. It is the 5th of July today. I look outside. We have reached the Kaatu Kaaliamman temple, an old, neglected and almost-in-ruins temple. We park the Bolero (four-wheeler) and all of us get down. I am accompanied by 3 members of the women’s Self Help Group and Yoganathan, the farm assistant. All of them are excited because this is the first time Bhoomi is putting up a stall in the Kalasapakkam Santhe (Farmers’ market). What I had not told them was that today was extra special because it was the day of the seed festival.

We carry a few tins and baskets with produce from the Bhoomi organic farm. We start walking towards the lake near the temple. There’s a small cloud of dust and a cacophony of human voices. The Seed Festival has begun.

Organized by Kalasapakkam farmers’ collective, the Seed Festival usually held in July, just before the Aadi masam (Tamil month for sowing seeds) and it draws farmers from all over Tiruvannamalai district. 

Stalls are put up on the bund bordering the lake. I look around and see several stalls selling millets, herbal soaps, beauty products, mountain honey, forest produce from Javvadhu hills and other value added products. When I say a stall, it is not a fancy set up.  A farmer-producer chooses a spot, lays a piece of cloth, spreads his products on it and sits cross legged on the floor. That becomes his stall. Some of them have banners. However in most cases, the product names are written on a piece of chart. That is what we did too.

We had taken with us some cuttings of the gliricidia plant, used for boundary plantation and nitrogen fixation in the soil. The women from the Bhoomi SHG had brought organic turmeric powder (from turmeric cultivated in the farm), Tapioca flour vadagam (fritters), idli powder, and herbal soup powders like Vallarai, Modakkathan, Avarampoovu, Agathi keerai.

Many people come to our stall and interact with us.  I take a backseat because I want the SHG women to handle the enquiries. I assure them that when my input is needed, I will step in. It is a new experience for them – learning to market their produce. Slowly they get the hang of it. Every time they make a sale, they are elated. There is a great demand for the gliricidia cuttings.

I walk around the Santhe, wanting to explore. I see that while some farmers sell their seeds there are some who are open to seed swapping (barter). But in either case, there is a process involved. It is not possible for a random person to walk up to a farmer and get seeds. Seeds are given only when the intentions are genuine. Money is never the motive. A farmer who buys the seeds commits that he will grow the crop, reap the harvest and save seeds to bring with him to the next seed festival. This practice ensures accessibility to traditional seeds and crop diversity is also maintained.

In the afternoon the organisers arrange for a small function to felicitate farmers who have been practising chemical free farming for the many years. There is a discussion on ‘climate change and resilience of traditional seeds’. Farmers share stories from the field. There are success stories and some flop stories too! There are discussions on what went wrong and what can be done. What is amazing is that, for any problem or issue shared by a farmer, a possible solution was available with another farmer.

Post lunch, I take a walk and engage in conversations with some stall owners. I meet Ilavarasan, a farmer who has collected seeds from the trees in his farm. He shares “If I had the space, I would plant every seed and grow a forest. But I cannot. I don’t have the heart to see  timber variety seeds go to waste. So I’ve collected, dried and brought it here for others”. It was really touching to see a man whose love for nature makes him do this selflessly and give seeds for free.

I spot a stall in the corner which has dozens of people gathered there, cheering out loud. It was a games stall that had the Atlas stone (Ilavattu kall in Tamil). This is a traditional sport where men would attempt to lift a heavy spherical stone (about 80 -100 kg) and place it on their shoulder/neck and roll it. In the olden days, in some villages, this sport would determine the masculinity of a potential groom.

The sport was also popularised in a popular Tamil Movie - Mudhal Mariyadhai where Sivaji Ganesan lifts the stone to impress the heroine. Though I have spent many years in a village, it was my first time seeing this sport. It was amusing to watch the young and slightly old give it a try but miserably fail at it. 

Kalasapakkam farmers’ collective has been working in the rural space with farmers, encouraging them to make a shift from chemical farming to organic farming. Today it has more than 250 farmers in its network. The Santhe had nearly 300 visitors from in and around the area.

Farmers had about 70 varieties of paddy, 100s of native vegetable seeds, various types of tubers. What was eye opening for me was the availability of rare varieties of paddy such as naavara (highly medicinal, used in kizhi treatment in Ayurveda) and it being cultivated in this region. I also saw thanga samba, rattha saali, kaatu yanam and many more varieties.

We bought few Kalayana murungai plants (Indian coral plant) for growing in Bhoomi farm. We also have seeds for Kaatu yanam, a drought resistant paddy variety which grows so tall that it can even hide wild elephants, thus drawing its name “Kattuyanam” (meaning wild elephant in Tamil).  

This one day exposure visit was a great experience to the team and we had the opportunity to learn what new things can be attempted in our farm. More than me, I was happy to hear from the SHG women that this visit has inspired them. It has filled them with so much hope that they are not alone in this journey.

-  Shared by Partha, Bhoomi Vivasayi Maiyam, Tiruvannamalai