Planet Healers Life & Style

The making of good food

Ravi and Kavitha Mantha at the farm

Ravi and Kavitha Mantha at the farm   | Photo Credit: Sangeetha Devi Dundoo

Baby Elephant Farm follows regenerative farming principles to grow chemical-free produce that powers Hyderabad’s first farm-to-table café

Kavitha and Ravi Mantha use the term ‘food forest’ to describe the Baby Elephant Farm. It’s an indication to not expect a manicured farm. At a given time, different patches of land have fruit, vegetable, pulse and grain-producing plants and trees in various stages of growth. A few segments are dedicated to growing fodder for the farm’s chickens and buffaloes, a few pockets are left vacant to give sufficient time for soil nourishment after a seasonal crop.

The produce from Baby Elephant Farm in Shankarpally powers Kavitha and Ravi’s pet project, Sage Farm Café, Hyderabad’s first farm-to-table café.

Heirloom varieties

Kavitha and Ravi set up the farm in 2015, when they returned after living a few years in the US, UK and Singapore, and learnt that it helps to grow produce that’s in sync with the local environment. The farm grows many leafy vegetables. “Did you know that at one point, 104 varieties of greens were grown in Telangana?” asks Uday Kumar, an electronics engineer turned farmer, who looks after the operations. He wants to grow at least 30 leafy vegetables.

A day at Baby Elephant Farm
  • Check sageorganics.in to book field trips to the farm.
  • Soon, weekend yoga sessions will be introduced for small groups. Cottages have been built using eco-friendly hollow clay blocks to keep the premises naturally cool.
  • Sage’s new endeavour ‘Thrive by Sage’ will open shortly on road no.2, Banjara Hills, with focus on health food. Think of rajma salad with almonds or palak paneer where the greens aren’t mashed too much.

The penchant for native varieties holds good for grains and pulses as well. Kavita points out that it has increasingly become tough to source heirloom seeds, as the market is flooded with imported varieties.

The farm grows approximately 50 vegetables, eight fruits and eight pulses and grains — papaya, banana, guava, lemon, chikoo, pomegranate, badam, toor dal, jowar, peanuts, chickpeas, green moong, black eyed peas, and more. The couple also manages a mango orchard in Gandipet.

Walking through the farm, spotting butterflies, dragonflies, colonies of earthworms, ant hills and mycelial networks near the compost area, Kavitha comments that biodiversity is an indicator of a healthy ecosystem.

Truly chemical free?

“If you believe in the adage ‘you are what you eat’, it’s also true that ‘you are what you eat eats’,” says Ravi, quoting American author Michael Aaron Pollan. Ravi’s statement comes in the context of the need for chemical-free feed for chickens and buffaloes.

One of the indigenous Ongole breed of cows at the farm

One of the indigenous Ongole breed of cows at the farm  

The farm places emphasis on natural, chemical-free farming. Ravi and Kavitha state that nothing sold in the market can be trusted easily. They debunk the myth about eggs and meat labelled as chemical and antibiotic-free. They state that some of the ready-made feed for poultry comes laced with chemicals. Hence, they began growing fodder for their animals.

What is regenerative farming?

Baby Elephant Farm harnesses solar power, harvests rainwater and recycles grey water. Beyond that, it follows regenerative farming. By definition, it’s the process of creating the right micro and macro life systems to make both aerobic and anaerobic bacteria and bio enzymes thrive in the soil. Enriching the soil and improving water systems help enhance the ecosystem. This is done by following diligent steps of composting, using green manure and minimal tilling of soil.

Sage Farm Café divides its waste into nine portions — like separating sea food, meat, vegetable waste, cooked food waste, etc. Though the café doesn’t harp on being zero waste, they strive towards that each day. In addition, they also get ground coffee waste from Roastery Coffee House (approximately eight kilograms per day) and a preliminary compost from hotel Hyatt, which is again worked upon.

Uday Kumar oversees the farm operations

Uday Kumar oversees the farm operations   | Photo Credit: Sangeetha Devi Dundoo

Uday oversees the meticulous process of composting; he learnt permaculture from Aranya Agricultural Alternatives, and also incorporates a few Korean and other sustainable farming principles. To give an idea of different methods employed, he says that a small quantity of cooked rice when left underground is acted upon by bacteria and fungi and that in turn helps the quality of compost. ‘Waste Decomposer’ liquid sourced from National Centre of Organic Farming in Ghaziabad, is also used in some processes. Leftover fish, shrimp and even bananas are composted differently. All these generate a range of bio enzymes that enrich the soil. The farm also uses in-house bio-charcoal for soil health.

Minimal tilling

One of the guidelines of regenerative farming is to minimise soil tilling, which can disturb the balance of aerobic and anaerobic bacteria. How do they work around it? Kavitha shows a row of bamboo plants near which they’ve sown nine varieties of seeds — fenugreek, mustard, flax, coriander and others. Until the bamboo grows, there’s enough sunlight to nourish the greens. About 45 days later, the greens are cut and left on the spot; they become manure for the bamboo and nourish the soil.

The cottage complex at the farm

The cottage complex at the farm   | Photo Credit: Sangeetha Devi Dundoo

Solar drying

A solar dryer is used to process excess seasonal produce. One season they were left with excess chikoo, which was sliced, solar dried and used throughout the year as dry fruit, chips, for jams, kombucha, or made into chikoo flour and used for cakes. Sage Farm Café has its share of innovative recipes. “Why should the multinational pizza chains dictate what goes into a pizza?” asks Ravi. Their whole-wheat and ragi thin crust pizzas are topped with mozzarella made from buffalo milk from the farm, an assortment of seasonal vegetables and topped off with sprigs of amaranthus (thotakura) instead of basil. Ridge gourd or Beerakaya chips become the base for innovative bruschetta.

This column celebrates eco-conscious initiatives. If you know a Planet Healer, write in to hydmetroplus@thehindu.co.in

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Printable version | Feb 22, 2020 10:56:32 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/planet-healers-baby-elephant-farm-in-shankarpally-follows-regenerative-farming-to-grow-chemical-free-produce-that-powers-hyderabads-first-farm-to-table-caf/article29757724.ece

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