Buddha Garden in Auroville is a community farm in the true sense. The off-the-grid farm was started in 2000 by Priya Vincent in what was to become the vegetable garden of Siddhartha Farm. Over the past two decades, it has gone on to become an independent farm growing a wide range of organic food for Auroville.
When EatLocal visited the farm, we were thrilled to see that beyond the vision to produce healthy food for Auroville in a way that is environmentally, socially and economically sustainable, the farm’s focus area has shifted to knowledge sharing and experiential learning. As part of this, an audio farm walk guide is available, making the world of farming and the work done at Buddha Garden accessible to anyone and everyone.
Of humble beginnings
Priya, who moved to Auroville from UK in 2000 as a young woman, never left. “When we started, it was just me, my two kids and about an acre and a half of land. The red clay soil and was highly eroded and barely cultivable. Everything was full of bugs because the soil was so poor. So we used lots of compost to revive the soil. After a few years, the soil became usable and that’s when we started growing on it,” she shares.
Over time, more land was allotted to Buddha Garden, and today, the farm includes 12 acres of land, of which approximately 4.5 acres are used to raise vegetable beds where seasonal produce is grown. As a choice, they have not stuck to one specific agriculture techniques like permaculture or biodynamic farming.
“What we’ve done is to just look at the land, and see what needs to be done to grow vegetables on it sustainably. It’s not been a scientific approach per se,” adds Priya.
What’s being grown
The farm has a vegetable garden, four nurseries, a cashew plantation, and an area for field crop. At present, Priya and her team of farmers and helpers are growing basil, basella spinach, ladies finger, papaya, passion fruit and pineapple, and also cultivating red rice, varigu, kumbu and other field crops. They also have some chickens that help make their compost and produce eggs.
“A lot of what we grow here depends on the rains, which are very unreliable in these parts. We’ve split the farm according to different ways of cultivating. The very intense growing is done in the middle bit. In our orchard at the back, we’re growing cashews and fruit trees, which is not irrigated but rainfed,” notes Priya.
She says that one of the solutions to the water problem is to revive an open well on the farm, which has silted up. “The aquifer has gone down a lot. So what we’d like to do is run some tests to know whether it’s worthwhile to put a borewell and recharge well near the well. If that works, we’ll have water in that part of the farm, which at the moment is barren and uncultivable.” Priya hopes that if this experiment goes as planned, not only will the farm have water for six to eight months of the year; they can also share their experience with nearby farms to help them do the same. “It’s about giving a new life to something that already exists.”
Education and experiential learning at the farm
For Priya, even the idea of resuscitating the well is a learning opportunity. In fact, she sees the entire farm as an experiential learning place. “A lot of people don’t know what it involves to put food on your plate. It’s very important to know this because that way, at least people can appreciate the farmers who are doing that job,” she says, talking about how important it is for people to grow their own food.
In terms of education-related work, Buddha Garden works closely with schools and often invite groups to the farm so that children can experience growing food firsthand. They have also set up vegetable gardens in two schools.
Priya elaborates, “I want to make this knowledge accessible to everyone. So I plan to make videos to teach people how to set up vegetable gardens. I’ve also written several books about setting up this farm. At the moment, I’m working on a colouring book on farm life for school kids. I’ve noticed that children get much more interested if there’s activities like colouring while they’re reading. The book is currently in English, but I’d like to get it translated into other Indian languages and put it online, so that if any schools wants to use it, they can simply download it for free.” The book will also be available in print to raise funds for the farm’s functioning.
Running the farm
Most of what is grown at the farm goes to Food Links in Auroville, and sold at a standardised rate. For their personal consumption, the second quality stuff, which tastes great but doesn’t always look great is kept aside and used. “On that note, it’s so funny that we’ve had volunteers from America who have never seen a non-perfect tomato because all their tomatoes come from supermarkets. In the farm, we grow delicious country tomatoes which have a short shelf life, so they have to be consumed immediately. If you compare the taste of a country tomato and a supermarket tomato, ours wins hands down!” says a proud Priya.
Priya adds that since small farms just about cover their costs by selling fruits and vegetables, alternate sources of income are also crucial. For this reason, in 2009, Buddha Garden started Center for Sustainable Farming (CSF), their educational centre for sustainable farming courses, research student programs and the publication of books and internet material. It is an outreach programme for Auroville’s organic farmers community, to show them that farming can be a part of daily life, not a time-consuming venture.
“The aim is to generate interest in organic farming and get people to participate in Auroville’s food production. Currently, we’re running a course at the Buddha Garden Kitchen on cooking with locally produced food. We are also doing research on setting up a smart watering system for the farm,” says Priya.
The future of Buddha Garden
“We are working on figuring out alternate water sources like the recharge wells so that we can rely on rainwater for a large part of the year. We are working on creating educational material and books for children and youth. We hope to engage in more cutting-edge applied research and to share our knowledge with local farmers. We love sharing our experience of growing food with other people, in the hope that they will be inspired to try this on their own,” wraps up Priya.
The farm’s audio guide can be accessed by anyone between 10am to 11.30am from Monday to Friday. People can also come help on the farm in the mornings from 6.15am to 9am from Monday to Friday and 7am to 9am on Saturday, in exchange for breakfast.
To know more about the farm, visit their extensive website.