Prakriya Students go on a field trip to Bhoomi Tiruvannamalai Farm
The ICSE board mandates an annual educational field trip for students who have opted for Environmental Science as a subject in high school. Though there is no such thing as a “typical” field trip, at Prakriya, the bottom line is to allow children to get a first-hand experience in an unfamiliar environment, an exposure to nature’s diversity and simple living thereby enabling them to learn various things.
In the 3rd week of December, 13 students accompanied by 3 teachers from Prakriya Green Wisdom School went on a 4-day field visit to Bhoomi Tiruvannamalai Farmers’ centre. ‘Walking in the shoes of a farmer’ and ‘exposure to employment opportunities’ being the theme, children got to experience what it means to work and live like a farmer, something that they could have only imagined until then.
As soon as the children arrived at Tiruvannamalai, they were greeted warmly by the Bhoomi team in the farm. After a brief round of introductions, they interacted with the womenfolk - Self Help Group (SHG) members who in addition to farming and harvesting also engage in value addition work like making soaps, herbal powders, juices, etc.,
Following this, children were taken on a farm tour. Partha (Bhoomi facilitator) spoke to them about how just 4 years ago the centre was just 80 Acres of dry uncultivated land, predominantly covered with stones and boulders and today, it has transformed into an organic farm that is growing millets, tapioca, paddy, banana, turmeric with lots of water harvesting structures like bunds, trenches, ponds, live-fences, dry land cropping with fruit orchards and livestock.
In the evening, children were oriented on how the next 3 days would be. They were to be split into 4 groups (farming families) and they would co-exist as a family. Each member would be engaged in some farm-work/chore so that they could earn and contribute to the family. Like in any household, not everyone does the same job or makes the same money. Here also, members had to decide amongst themselves if they wanted to be a skilled / unskilled / semi-skilled labour.
- Skilled labour meant those activities where the workforce is required to perform complex tasks that involve upgradation. Example: Making soap, Jam, Juices (involves plucking herbs/flowers, measuring ingredients, cooking)
- Semi-skilled labour meant those activities where there is some level of training and skill involved but no scope for upgrading. Example: Harvesting paddy, ragi, etc.,
- Unskilled labour meant activities that require relatively little or no training or experience. Example: Cleaning the floor, washing vessels, de-weeding in the garden etc.,
Whatever that they chose to go with, would be their role for the ensuing time in the farm.
Children were paid money either based on the output or the hours worked. With that money, they would buy vegetables and ingredients required to make dinner. On the first day, a slightly lazy family decided to make only mashed potatoes and soup while another family cooked a full-fledged meal involving dal, rice and vegetables. However, the next day, children came up with a very clever idea of ‘community cooking’ where all of them pooled in their resources to make dinner.
It was a lot of fun and hard work staying in the farm. Children got ample opportunities to be in silence, connect with nature, interact with the villagers when they went for an early morning walk, learn how tough it is to be a farmer-out in the sun and engaging in hard labour, understanding the composition of soil and soil types, introduction to farming and harvesting, being a family/team, making money (their first salary), budgeting and inventory, new skills like preparing jams and soaps, knack of cooking with firewood. Though the day was physically exhausting because of the hard work involved, children were mentally exhilarated and very happy that they got to experience and live the life of a farmer in an actual farm.
Partha shares, “We took children for an early morning walk to the nearby hamlet where they saw cows and goats being milked. We had conversations around how a farmer takes milk to an aggregation point in the village and from there it is taken to a cold storage unit, then transported to a huge diary unit where it undergoes processes, is packed in plastic packets and gets delivered at our doorstep as ‘fresh’ milk. How fresh is any food we eat was a food for thought.
Another incident that I’d like to highlight is that when we were walking through the village, an unknown farmer family saw us and were curious to know what we were upto, so early in the morning. When we told them, they invited us home and made everyone tea and coffee with the fresh milk from the farm. One of the students quipped “I can’t imagine how my mom would react if I show up unannounced with a bunch of my friends. Here we are, 18 of us and the villagers are receiving us with such warmth and love. I’m touched by their hospitality”.