Where Water Flows Through the Cracks: A Visit to Aranya Farm, India

Today We Visited the Aranya Farm

It’s a beautiful example of food forests, inter-cropped annuals and biodiversity, a paradise on a plot of land that was a barren crust of thin soil over rock twenty years ago. Now it is rich with mangos, bananas, papayas, soursop, acacia, mulberry, pigeon pea, sorghum, tomatoes and hundreds of other edible and useful trees and plants. Narsanna and Padma Koppula designed it to be an educational center and an example for farmers in the region, so everything is done with a minimum of resources. 

Trees are dry-farmed, without irrigation. They have no electricity and use no fertilizers. 

“I believe permaculture in India has to support local communities and draw on their traditional farming methods and culture,” Narsanna tells us.


The Women of Aranya

The highlight of the day is meeting the women from the local community. Dressed in their beautiful, bright saris, they begin by singing a song they have made about permaculture and all it has brought them, all the different grains they grow, the lentils and pulses and vegetables—singing with such joy and glee! 

The Women Tell Us the Story

When Aranya Farm started, most of the villagers were landless laborers. Their diet was mostly rice—vegetables were an unobtainable luxury, and malnutrition was rampant. Narsanna worked with the local community to pressure the government to give them the land that was their legal due. He worked with the women to teach them permaculture farming techniques, and met with the men to encourage them to treat women with respect.

Now They Have Land 

They grow a great variety of food in abundance, and have a full and healthy diet. One of the women, Parama, tells us how she saves seeds and provides them for her neighbors to use. When they have grown enough food for their families’ needs, they have some to sell. They don’t spend money on chemicals or fertilizers—everything they need, they can now provide. And because of their work, they no longer depend on their husbands for food, and the men respect them. 

“Relationships are more equal now,” says the woman in the beautiful pink and green sari, with a wide smile.  “I sweep inside the house, and my husband sweeps outside.  They even help with the children!”

The women are glowing with pride and infectious happiness as they sing us a closing song that they create on the spot. 


Land, and the Knowledge and Tools to Make it Productive  

Food. Health. Respect. The things that genuinely make life better are simple, and in improving their own lives, these women also create healthy ecosystems and wildlife habitat, sequester carbon and cool their micro-climate. 

I Wish I Could Stay…

But our day is coming to an end. One last song, that the women make up on the spot. They create songs to teach about permaculture, and for the joy of singing together, and so we end with the rhythm of drums and finger cymbals and joyful voices.

One of our students in our social permaculture track asks me if I feel hopeful. He’s from Kashmir, where hope is hard to find.  I tell him I honestly don’t know. The situation is so dire, and those who hold power are inflicting so much destruction, and exhibit so much callousness and arrogance, that it’s hard to be optimistic. 


And yet, the world is rich with men like Narsanna, who uses his education and caste privilege to empower communities, with women like Padma, who teaches and educates and lifts up the women, like these women who have grasped this opportunity not just to farm but to share with others, to teach and train and take leadership. In this permaculture course, leading up to the International Permaculture Conference and Convergence, I am surrounded by people doing really good work.

So Maybe Hopeful Isn’t the Point

Trees can grow in this laterite rock. They sink their roots deep, find the cracks, make the soil that they need. 

We can create a world of empowered villagers and joyful song. 

Just find the cracks in the blocks, split them open, and let the water flow.

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