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Fodder for tourism

From journalism to farming to hospitality industry. Vijay Bhat, who started out as a sub-editor, grew cardamom, coffee, and is now venturing into farm tourism

— Photos: Murali Kumar K.

Vijay Bhat: cardamom and spice and all things nice

GENTLEMEN FARMERS don't have it easy. Ask Vijay Bhat. He lives in a huge bungalow right in the epicentre of the city, owns his own farmland and has a sprawling farmhouse. He has the rare distinction of having grown coffee and cardamom in Bangalore (yes, Bangalore!) but admits that although "it's not a bad life" farming is not at all paying. Although he wasn't raised in a family of farmers, he decided to invest in land and make it a fulltime profession.

Journalist farmer

Vijay grew up in Mangalore and then moved to Bangalore to study Maths, after which he took a course in journalism and began working with The City Tab, Southern Speaker, and then Deccan Herald. After an initial career as a reporter, he found himself most comfortable working on the State Desk, where the anonymity of the work suited his reserved temperament. "It's the least glam place to be," he explains, "but I liked that. I don't like meeting new people and I liked a desk job."

After about 13 years, the attractiveness of even a desk job began to pall, and Vijay found himself looking for other alternatives. Tenants in his rambling bungalow on Ali Asker Road began to occupy and leave with alarming frequency and so Vijay moved into the house with his family and took a serious look at farming. He fell back on 10 acres of land that he had been able to afford after his father granted him a third of their ancestral property way back in '93. After adding one acre to it, Vijay set about planting. "I always had a fancy to farming," he says, and that's what spurred him on to battle the water scarcity and high temperatures, and still continue farming.

"In Bangalore, the temperature touches 38 degrees Celsius, which is very high for cardamom, but with sprinkler irrigation, the temperature can be brought down," says Vijay and that's how his cardamom survived last year's arid summer, despite traditionally being a crop which needs temperatures of less than 32 degrees.

Vijay has grown what he calls "difficult crops" on his farm, cardamom and coffee, which are "hard to grow since they are not endemic to Bangalore" but he prefers to have such plants which last a couple of decades rather than those which need to be rotated annually. Both crops need shade and so Vijay planted a silver oak, "it's about 35 feet tall with a two-foot girth". He also has medicinal plants and all kind of fruits for home use.

Vijay now has two farms fairly close by each other, with nine helpers on his old farm and five on his new one, but confesses that it is "tough to make ends meet... since farming is a poor man's livelihood and a rich man's hobby". Poor people live on their farm, consume much of what they plant and have very little overheads, he explains, but he's not tailored for that kind of life.

Farm tourism

After reading an article on farm tourism in Haryana, Vijay and a friend of his are looking at getting into the same type of project here in Bangalore. It helps that his farm, the Spice Valley Farm, is only 50 minutes away from the Bangalore city centre even in peak-hour traffic, says Vijay, making it a viable unwind spot for city slickers looking for a peek into rural life and farm activities. Visitors to Spice Valley Farm "can observe the working of a commercial farm from close quarters". They can watch the cultivation of spices, which involve yearlong operations including irrigation, application of manure, use of bio-insecticides, some cycles of harvesting, and heat drying of cardamom. The actual farmhouse is fully furnished and has an irrigation pond built to swimming pool specifications, says Vijay, so the weekend city guest needn't rough it out entirely.

Vijay can be contacted on 98451-77375.


Daily Bread is a weekly column that features people who've chosen offbeat professions. Our guest list has included the likes of scuba divers, potters, perfume makers and suave farmers.

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