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Get your hands dirty

Arifa Rafee (in orange) with Swiss delegates at her farm  

Every year, Arifa Rafee informs registered customers when her farm, AR4mangoes, is open to guests. The farm invites visitors once or twice a year and those interested can book tickets online. There’s an understandable eagerness when the farm is open during its mango harvest in May. Many brave the heat and drive up to Yadagirigutta to get a closer look at this farm that follows organic, biodynamic farming methods.

The mango plucking event turns out to be a learning experience. It isn’t as simple as plucking mangoes that look ripe. Guests are taught how to the select the fruit. “European Union standards are followed for collecting and allowing the mangoes to ripen naturally. Some guests enthusiastically take part while a few others are wary that they will end up plucking fruits that aren’t ready. So they watch how we do things,” says Arifa.

Children feed bananas to desi cows at the farm and tractor rides add to the fun. AR4mangoes (ar4mangoes.com) is working towards developing a volunteering programme. Arifa recalls a Swiss delegation helping with preparing compost at the farm. “We get enquiries for volunteer work and training programmes,” she says.

There’s been a steady spurt in interest in organic farming. Curiosity makes people want to visit a farm, observe farming methods and maybe lend a helping hand. This bit about helping is easier said than done. Romantic notions of farming are put to rest as one realises how physically taxing the experience can be.

Praveen Abhishetty, who has had enquiries from friends and others interested in farming, observes, “Sowing, manuring and mulching are among the easier tasks. People eagerly try sowing but in half an hour, they feel exhausted and move to a shaded area to rest. It’s understandable. It took me three years to get used to working at a stretch on the farm,” he says, talking about his shift from the corporate sector to farming.

Volunteer programmes in farming are still in a nascent stage in the city, unlike farms in Spiti Ecosphere, Auroville and other farms in Himachal Pradesh and Sikkim that have structured programmes. Volunteering schedules are drawn according to crop cycles. “Normally, people think of visiting a farm when they have holidays. But that may not coincide with the crop cycle and what’s necessary for the farm at that time,” Praveen points out. He adds that the intention should be to provide a learning experience to guests than to cut back on the workforce that earns its regular wages through farming.

A few schools in the city look at farm visits as a means to introduce gardening and farming experience to primary school children. A group of students from Standard III visited Praveen’s farm, entered the slush-filled paddy field and tried their hand at transplanting. “Of course, once the children left, our staff quickly set right whatever they had transplanted,” he laughs.

Hyderabad Green Acres, started by Venky Talla, provides a farm-stay experience to guests. There are enquiries each week, he says, and Venky goes through a preliminary screening process. “I try to gauge if they are keen on learning farming or are looking at a luxury weekend getaway. If it’s the latter, I tell them that the farm may not meet their expectations,” he asserts.

The farm (hyderabad-greenacres.com) located at Kummarigudem near Yadagirigutta encourages camping from monsoon to March. The facilities are basic but families can look forward to rock climbing, hiking, nature trails where peacocks, monitor lizards and birds can be spotted. Away from the hustle and bustle of the city, one can also try star gazing.

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Printable version | Oct 23, 2020 7:02:05 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/volunteer-farming-in-nascent-stages-in-hyderabad/article8475598.ece

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