Saturday, 21 January 2017

11

[This post can be read independently. But if you are interested, the story starts here: http://a-weekend-in-chicago.blogspot.in/2017/01/1.html]

Jim had come a long way from his days at the foster home when I met him. He had gone through high school while at the home (they had a provision for kids staying there to go through school). It did take him a couple of extra years to finish his schooling but by the time he left the home and took up his first full time job at a farm he had earned his high school certificate. The opportunity to work on the farm came from a gentleman by the name Bob who used to visit the home and had interacted with Jim regularly. Jim and a few of his brothers at the home used to visit the farm often and learnt a bit about farming practices as well as earned some pocket money by working over weekends. When Bob offered Jim the opportunity to work with him full time for a few years and learn farming in detail he was only too happy to accept. He had enjoyed his weekend stints and looked forward to this new phase of his life. This is what he had to say about these years:

“The years at the farm proved very useful Brij. For one I gained knowledge and skills that I have used to sustain a livelihood since. I also liked the work itself. There was a fair amount of physical work involved that kept me agile and fit and provided a channel for my physical energy to flow and get directed usefully. This kept me relaxed and grounded at an age in which youth often go astray and end up using that same energy to bring harm to themselves and others. Bob was a good person to work for. He gave me a place to stay at the farm, treated me well, paid me a respectable salary and gave me my holidays and time offs fair and square. But something else happened above and beyond all this that I basically feel really blessed about. I fell in love with nature. And I mean that. I fell in love with nature.

A big distance has set in now between most people and nature Brij. And this is a very unfortunate thing to happen. It’s like getting disconnected from a part of yourself. Many people don’t even notice nature around them. They don’t notice the trees they walk by, don’t appreciate the shade and freshness they provide. Many see flowers only after they have been plucked and arranged in bouquets to sell and buy at flower shops. They almost never see them blossoming in gardens or in the wild and just absorb their beauty and fragrance. Many buy frozen and canned vegetables instead of fresh vegetables coming in from farms, not to talk about growing a few themselves in their own gardens. So many people don’t spend quiet time just walking silently and being with nature now. And that’s so precious. Being with nature consolidates you, nourishes you, refreshes and rejuvenates you, makes you feel new and pristine yourself. On the contrary we are cutting trees recklessly and reducing the green cover on the planet at an alarming rate. Gardens are becoming dumping grounds in many places. They are not tended to regularly and have become dirty and unfit to spend time in. All this isn’t intelligent behaviour but we continue doing it despite knowing the pitfalls.

If you ever get an opportunity to have your own garden and grow vegetables, fruits and flowers, take it. If you have a gardener helping you, talk with him, learn from him. You’ll get a chance to see life itself thrive before you – from a seed to full blossoming. If you get a chance to go and work at a farm once in a while, just dig and shovel some earth, sweat a bit, and absorb how a farm has a life of its own, how it responds to different seasons, how people collectively nurture life itself, grab it. Connect with nature whenever you can Brij. I recommend this to everyone. It’s a precious thing.

We’re giving too much importance to machines and concrete now and too little to nature. Yes, everything has its place, there have been developments over decades and centuries that have helped improve the human condition and certainly not everything modern is wrong or bad. But there’s such a thing as balance. And I think we’ve gone far from it now, very far. We need to recover it, and recover it fast, else I’m afraid we might end up digging ourselves in a hole that we may not be able to get out of. We need to bring back respectability and economic health to activities such as planting trees and tending to them, farming, orchard rearing and gardening. And I have no doubt it can be done. Everyone has to come together for this. The people, their representatives in governments and administrations, policy makers, think tanks. And it all starts with us: me, you and the rest of humanity. If we want a certain way and quality of life why will it not manifest? It has to. It's our choice. We are in control. We decide. The planet can become nice and green again and we can get back to the simplicity of appreciating and enjoying the bounty the Earth showers upon us. We just have to want it and act accordingly. I hope I live to see this day Brij and these convictions and beliefs of mine are a large part of why I do what I do.”

After having worked at Bob’s farm for a few years, Jim had joined a “farmers’ collective”. They had started off by leasing a plot on which they grew seasonal vegetables and fruits which sold in the market themselves. It was a humble beginning but eventually they collected enough money to buy the plot and expanded their efforts and business. Jim and Soo Jung’s organic food mart was one of the stores that sourced a fair part of its produce from this cooperative society. They also sold other items such as grain, cereals, dairy products, poultry items, meats, etc. which they sourced from similar ventures. All organic and natural. No pumping of hormones for quick profits. As Jim once put it: “We chose to integrate our livelihoods with things that we care for, believe in and are passionate about. It hasn’t made us filthy rich but we have enough to live a good comfortable life. And that’s enough for me and my family.”

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Yes I have set up a garden myself once since (hope to do it again!) and I did get to do a little bit of farm work on a few occasions (will do more when I get the opportunity!). I can tell you from personal experience that Jim has a point in what he said. If you get such opportunities, I also recommend that you take them.

I am also happy to note that the culture of buying fresh produce persists in India and we haven’t gone too far with the frozen products paradigm.

But the heart breaks whenever I hear of a farmer committing suicide due to the burden of debt. I know there is some work being done to address this. But I think we need to do more. We need to find solutions to their problems. The food we eat has the farmer’s hard work and sweat as its soul. The farmer persists even when the elements of nature don’t favour him or her. We must do whatever it takes to ensure that their farms stay green and they are protected from drought and flood alike. What good is all our engineering knowledge if we cannot ensure that farmers don’t face water shortage? Likewise, can we not find a way to drain out excess water at a high rate when it rains more than necessary and maybe direct it to where it might be required? We must solve the farmers’ problems. And the first step is to actually find some time to understand what the problems are and take them seriously. I assure you we can find this time once the will is there. There is so much meaningless so called entertainment we have drowned ourselves in. There is so much pointless banter we engage in continuously. I think we need to take a step back and change the directions in which we allow our minds to flow a bit. Then a lot is possible.

And we must make our planet green and beautiful once again. More trees, more flowers, more orchards, more butterflies and more birds to chirp us a song or two. More early morning and quiet evening walks. Less cell phones, less TVs, less pollution, less noise.

It is our planet. It is our life. Why should we not live as beautifully as we can? To deny ourselves a good life for no good reason is a bit silly, isn’t it?
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You must be wondering about Soo Jung by now. I haven’t yet introduced her in detail. And we do need to finish our shopping and be back home in time for lunch. But there’s just so much to tell you about that it’s taking me a bit of time.

More soon…

Love…

(to be continued… Link)

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