April 22, 2009
Amrita Sanjeevani, Amritapuri
Mealtimes may be the only times most university students and their faculty think about food. But not at Amrita. Here a new trend is being set; students and faculty are beginning to grow organic vegetables in the institution gardens. Typically gardens around a college campus are ornamental in nature. But at Amrita, with the help of the Green Friends (Harithamitra) wing of Amrita Sanjeevani, the campus seva organization, a new kind of garden is taking root. “Grow your own food,” Amma had told the students a few months ago. They have begun doing it.
Earlier in the semester, students had learned how to use agro-ecological methods to grow food plants. Meeting once a week, they had then started work on a bare spot of ground. Today that bare spot is a lush garden that celebrates bio-diversity and also serves as a laboratory for the development of sustainable food growing systems. As more and more agricultural land is being diverted globally to grow bio-fuels, this is particularly timely. Solutions need to be found as land available for food production decreases, boosting food prices and causing more and more hunger.
Shobana T. and Soma M.S., second-year MCA students, are only two of the several dozen students participating. “Before we would never have thought of touching waste,” observes Shobana. “But now we understand that waste is not really waste, it can be used to grow food.” Students have used elephant and cow dung (the ashram has two elephants and several cows) in addition to dry leaves and food waste in order to make rich, composted beds to sow in. No chemical fertilizers are used at all.
“After spending so much time everyday in the mechanical world of computer labs, we feel energized by the green energy of the garden,” shares Soma. After college hours, students help tend spinach, beans and amaranth, that have been planted. Alongside are rows of marigolds; this natural pest repellant makes the use of pesticides unnecessary. The garden has begun to flourish and so have new outlooks. “We are not just cultivating the garden, we are cultivating ourselves!” rejoins Shobana.
Teamwork has played an essential role as gardeners work together. Turns are taken to water the beds regularly. Initially the red clay soil was as hard as the bricks that come from it; things started looking up with the composted beds. Dharan P. Darsana and Gayathri T. are two other Amrita Sanjeevani student members who also regularly participate. “By working with each other and with nature, we have developed a new understanding of the meaning of synergy,” they share. Indeed gardening has provided them and the others, lessons that could never be learned within a classroom. On this ocassion of Earth Day 2009, we honor their dedicated efforts.