Three urban professionals talk about their passion for farming

Imagine trading a secure job that ensures a five-digit or six-digit monthly salary for the experience of getting your hands dirty on fields. A few professionals have done this and their decision wasn’t taken overnight by a romantic notion of going back to nature.

Madhu Reddy’s days are characterised by long working hours in her farm ‘Aiyor Bai’ probably equivalent to the number of hours she clocked in during her 12-year corporate career in consulting business. She is involved hands-on in the running of her farm, 50 km away from the city, with her staff and is working towards making her farm 100 per cent eco-friendly. Her farm grows vegetables like tomatoes, brinjals, beans and gourds apart from jowar, bajra, safflower and red gram. “During the last harvest, I was so glad to see people from the area come and take jowar from our farm,” she mentions with a smile. At the same time, she rues not being able to figure out why chillies don’t grow on this soil. It’s all part of the learning process for Madhu and her like-minded friends learning the ropes of agriculture.

There’s a lesser known side to art curator and Iconart gallery owner Avani Rao Gandra. Twice a week, she drives to her ‘Narayana farms’ on the Nagarjuna Sagar road at the crack of dawn to oversee the work. The farm has a vegetable garden that supplies enough produce for her extended family and friends. “The land here isn’t as fertile as the coastal region. My first step was to understand the basics — soil fertility, climatic conditions — and cultivating suitable crops,” she says. Her farm also has mango, guava and chikoo trees and she is striving to make it completely chemical free.

Praveen Kumar, who found his calling in farming after a 17-year career in financial services, says there isn’t enough reading material on organic farming methods. The last three years that he’s been into serious farming, he’s kept a lookout for workshops and informative material on farming. Praveen’s farm near Domadugu grows paddy, chemical-free vegetables and he is working towards having a mixed fruit orchard.

Avani, Madhu and Praveen are only a few among the growing tribe of professionals who’ve taken to farming. They talk of the joy of not having to buy chemical-laden fruits, vegetables and grains sold in the market. Farming has also helped them understand the importance of reducing food miles, apart from becoming more conscious about food on their plate. “As I work with the soil, it makes me more aware of eco-friendly methods,” says Praveen.

Madhu is also a photographer and updates the Aiyor Bai Facebook page with photographs (see box) of crops in her farm, workshops conducted elsewhere, videos of learning to make ‘jowar rotis’ and informative pieces she chances upon — for instance, how to grow lettuce and other greens the organic way. Agriculture has helped these professionals connect with what their ancestors did. “My great-grandmother had a self-sufficient kitchen garden. Only salt, oil and a few grains were purchased from the market,” says Madhu. “It took me a while to get acclimatised to farming despite our family having an ancestral farm; it was a gradual process,” says Praveen.

Breaking even isn’t easy, they all insist. “I am scared to do the math,” laughs Madhu. Avani agrees, “I am hoping to expand what we do and also try growing bell peppers, broccoli and celery. It’s a passion-driven initiative. Anyone interested in farming should be prepared to not look for profits in the initial years,” she sums up.

Why farming?

* Farming helps them stay connected to their roots and dip into experiences of their ancestors.

* They understand local soil and food habits better, thereby reducing food miles and lowering carbon footprint.

* With time, these new-age agriculturists make at least a portion of their farm chemical free.

* Crops grown range from paddy to millets, fruit trees and vegetables conducive to grow in weather conditions in and around Hyderabad.

* It’s tough to break even, they point out, and suggest a step-by-step approach. One might just start by cultivating enough vegetables to feed a family.

* Social networking platforms help them interact with like-minded professionals-turned-agriculturists and attend workshops on organic farming.