The day I became a farmer, I became less important in the eyes of other people and society–and the experience led me to understand the value of telling stories about agriculture as well as the importance of cultivating dignity for farmers.
This was the most challenging lesson of my life. I had gone from my home in India to the United States to study Food Science and Technology, studying at the University of California, Davis. My last job was to work on the prefabricated potato chips now recognized as the famous Pringles.
At that time, my roommate asked me a startling question: Why don’t more Indian students return to their native land? Is it too shabby and poor?
I couldn’t sleep that night, thinking about what he had said and knowing that my father had fought for India’s freedom and taught me to take pride in our country.
The next day, I resigned from my job. A couple of weeks later, I was back on the family farm, south of Mumbai in the Raigad district of Maharashtra. For the next ten years, I learned firsthand that Indian farmers don’t receive dignity.
We sometimes say that three things are necessary for survival: food, shelter, and clothing. But there’s a fourth thing: dignity.
Dignity is the appreciation by others. It can come from one person or from all of society. You can’t get it by asking for it. You have to earn it. For farmers in India, this is very difficult.
For me, dignity arrived through the business of agro-tourism. We took our working farm and opened it to the public, combining leisure learning with fun. By telling our story, we educated people about the challenges and opportunities of farming–and along the way, we gained back the dignity that we believe all farmers deserve.
Our farm is 55 acres. Our major crop is rice, but we also grow millets, pulses, sweetcorn, vegetables, peanuts, mango, coconut, and more. Other activities include horticulture, dairy, aquaculture, and agroforestry.
Everything is integrated, with one area supporting another. After we thresh our rice, for example, we take the straw and rather than burning it, as many farmers do, we feed it to our cattle. It becomes a resource. As the cattle produce dung, we put it in a biogas plant, creating fuel for cooking and manure for fertilizer.
People who visit our farm see all of this, often for the first time. Most of them live in the city. They have no idea what farmers do. And that means that they have no idea where their food comes from or the struggles farmers face to produce it. They take us for granted.
When they come here, however, they start to learn. They discover what it’s like to milk cows, pluck peanut plants from the ground, and build honeybee colonies for pollination. We show them things like drip irrigation and talk about water conservation as a tool to deal with climate change. We educate them on the need for crop-protection products as well as how our no-till methods conserve the soil, making it carbon rich. A carbon rich soil makes the farming climate smart and not dependent on fossil fuels.
Most people from the city never have witnessed or experienced any of this. They just know that when they want food, they buy it. They don’t know where it comes from.
The children are enthusiastic. They love to see farm animals and touch living fish. A big attraction is the “WB Ride,” which is riding water buffalo. Our farm is on a river and riding the water buffalo is a highlight of any trip to our farm.
Older guests also enjoy their time. Many of them grew up on farms in rural areas and although they’ve moved away, they want their children and grandchildren to understand their family’s heritage in agriculture.
By visiting our farm, our guests have a good time and gain knowledge.
In return, we gain the dignity that so many Indian farmers lack. It comes from the look in the eyes of the people who come here, with their newfound appreciation of what we do and the challenges we face to produce the food that our country needs.
Feeding a nation of more than 1 billion people is a big task, requiring the work of many farmers. We depend on everything from weather to technology. Yet our success depends even more on what may be the ultimate natural resource: dignity.
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