We are planning to begin 2022 with a few interesting events. We will keep you updated with exact dates and registration process closer to the dates.
1. EXPERT SPEAK – Interactive Webinar with Award winning Barista and Coffee Consultant – Geetu Mohnani
Tentative Date: 16th January, 2022
2. FOLK TABLE: This is a ticketed limited seating event in Bangalore featuring a 5 course meal curated by Chef Sonakshi and inspired by everyday ingredients from the Poomale Collective.
Tentative Date: 29th January, 2022
Tentative Date: 13th February 2022
2. COFFEE HARVESTING: Beforest members are invited to participate in the harvesting activities of coffee cherries at the Poomaale Collective.
Tentative Date: 15th February, 2022 onwards
3. EXPERT SPEAK – Webinar with Dr. Noorunnisa Begum S – Associate Professor, Centre for Conservation of Natural Resources
Tentative Date: 27th February 2022
Tentative Date: 13th March 2022
2. EXPERT SPEAK – Interactive Webinar with International permaculture design consultants – Universal Designers
Tentative Date: 27th March 2022
The continuous rains meant a few weeks of delay in drying the harvested Arabica. Since it’s just a bag or two; that wasn’t much of a worry. Saplings in the veggie patches had to wait as well. Once the rains have dried out, all of these will come into full swing – veggie beds, the nurseries and our plans for the place.
The construction teams at the collectives were completely at the mercy of the rain gods, having to meticulously plan their working hours accordingly.
Set against the hills and the Kembuva Poley, The Blyton Bungalow; nearing completion is looking gorgeous. The bird calls, a constant background score are a validation of our principles during the last year of responsible construction practices.
Private housing clusters plots have been marked and allocated, the water and electric systems designed. Construction for Private Estates is to commence by mid-December. We can’t wait to get these going and begin handovers to our members who have been supportive through COVID and unseasonal rains.
December is going to be a race to plan harvesting (starting January), drying, post-harvest processing, while pruning, road repairs and other maintenance activities will occupy us through the next few months.
Let’s begin with a little introspection on Dharma. What does Dharma mean to us? Is it just a set of rules laid out to worship God and to congregate people socially and politically or is there more to it beyond that?
Dharma has been loosely translated into religion as we know today. But if you look closely, every dharma originated as a set of practices created by people dwelling in a particular area so they could sustain the test of time.
The root of the Sanskrit word Dharma is ‘to sustain’ (as in Dhyana, ‘sustained awareness’). In ancient times, religious codes of conduct had special places for plants and trees which help us sustain the way we live. Dharma is about designing a system where the well-being of people is achieved as a natural outcome of the process rather than by special attention and intervention. For instance, whenever we are ill, we can visit the Doctor and pop some pills to recover, but the illness itself can be avoided to a certain extent by the right exercise and food. Many religions (dharmas) prescribe fasting and exercise to its followers precisely for living sustainability.
In the Shanti Parva of the Mahabharata, there is a conversation between Bhishma and Yudhishthira where Bhishma outlines how good governance leads to abundance. Bhishma says: ‘When governance is done as per Dharma (sustainably), then we call it the Golden Age, and the earth yields crops without being tilled, and herbs and plants grow in luxuriance. Barks, leaves, fruits and roots become vigorous and abundant’. A well-designed agri-practice can have an ecological everlasting impact!
When we refer to what we offer at Beforest as a lifestyle solution. It is not just about buying a part of a collective, but inculcating a lifestyle which is based on sustainable principles. Our endeavour is to create good governance practices at our community level so that abundance is created not by effort but by design itself.
When I open the newspapers every morning, I see at least half a dozen ads for ‘green ventures’ using buzzwords like eco-friendly, sustainable, water harvesting etc. An example of this was a resort near Ramnagar, Corbett National Park, whose idea of sustainability was to build the entire resort inside a giant, brown synthetic cave.
When we started Beforest, a simple description of what we wanted to do was create a food, water and power secure sustainable landscape. This was before we realised we were participating in the jargon wars taking place in the real estate sector (we hate identifying ourselves with this space but unfortunately, are often generalized into it). Obviously, our audience also kept comparing us to real estate and other ‘farm-plot’ projects, which made this post necessary.
Sustainability to us is not a buzz word. Its measurable to a great extent. How much you impact your surroundings can boil down to a few numbers. Whether our farming method is degrading the soil or not can be expressed as soil carbon content. Whether our activities are disturbing local wildlife or not can be expressed by a simple bird count. For us, sustainability is a concept we closely monitor using metrics. Based on those we adapt our processes, considering ourselves as students and nature, our teacher. We tweak and adapt our approach, based on the responses we see.
We use quantitative methods to monitor our growth as a forest. According to us, a forest system needs to be completely self-sustaining i.e. we don’t even supply water or organic manure to the system. If it manages to thrive despite that, then it’s a forest system. Among many factors that allow a forest system to survive is the high amounts of soil carbon content – typically around 3-4% by weight. A farm land, even the ‘fertile’ ones, would be somewhere close to 0.3%. That’s a 10x degradation over time. Our target is to get to 4% soil carbon before we can call ourselves a food forest. By identifying measurable goals like this, our journey is checkpointed and benchmarked, enabling us to clearly identify the methods that are working for us.
While it is tough to communicate the uniqueness of our approach in a one-liner, the audience that has bought into our vision and backed us has been a huge inspiration for us. Validation always helps. It’s time to get to work now
To be able to move India’s oldest coffee estate towards sustainability and restoration was a cherished dream project for us at Beforest. However, we think of ourselves as enablers of intent and not sellers of an idea. Although there was tremendous interest, it didn’t translate into a seed community that cut a cheque based on an idea. As indicated in the last newsletter, we are calling this project off and going back to the drawing board to explore other options.
We are in the process of evaluating a few estates that are comparable in size and quality of produce and would have the same (if not more) impact on the ecosystem. So we are back to the seed community exercise and are looking at estates in the range of 200 – 300 acres, in Chikmagalur area to create a wilderness collective. If the idea of going natural, especially on an intensive crop like coffee, interests you, then reach out to us.
On a side note, we have embarked on some really ambitious ideas, which can be game changing in the sustainable development space. Watch this space for more.
We are very happy to let you know that the design phase of the collective has kicked off and the economic, mixed and nature zones have been identified. We are undertaking an elaborate stream bed registry exercise, the metrics will help us understand the water flow and harvesting capacity of the landscape. This will quantitatively help us choose the harvesting mechanism for different areas of the collective. The housing clusters in the economic zones will be marked in cluster 1 and 2, accounting for 40 homes. The approval process will begin, post this.
Earlier, in September we had planned to use the receding lake waters as a potential rice cultivation plot and this has worked brilliantly. We now have about 45 rice bags which will easily cater to the staff at the collective. We should be left with plenty of excess as well. A herb patch, mixed with pest repellent plants like marigold is also being experimented with.
We are now at a stage where the only things coming from outside the farm for the staff are onions, flour and spices. The rest, like veggies and grains are all grown within the farm. We are on our way to self-sufficiency.
The seed community is shaping up well. The last 6 open slots in the seed community are expected to close by the end of December. Post that, we would undertake a detailed land survey and eco system mapping (as we have done with all the other collectives so far). We are also putting together a visual photo book of the collective landscape to help prospective members in their decision making. Fingers crossed on this one. We are definitely excited about having a collective near Mumbai.
2021 started with the hope that the pandemic had passed and life would get back to normal. But the virus had other plans. By March, much of the country was under lockdown and everyone’s ‘this year is going to be different’ plans hit a wall. We would all have to step back and redefine every single task we took for granted.
Stuck at home in Mumbai, I tried to make the best with minimal resources. Limited soil, no problem, let’s make some compost. Not enough pots, lets recycle delivery bags, boxes and coffee cups. The problem was becoming the solution. Over 4 months, I’d not only created compost, but also had a thriving window garden with over 150 saplings for a variety of plants from passion fruit to almonds, dates, spices, lettuce and more. All in a 2 x 15 Mumbai apartment window grill.
A few months later, I had bigger challenges at the farm – how to make productive, a patch of land dominated by laterite rocks and barely any soil. There were no quick fix solutions, but something had to be set into motion without breaking the bank.
The two options were to either drill holes, a faster but more expensive option or the more time consuming planting of native species which would add to the diversity and break through rocks while spreading their roots deep and wide. Eventually it was a balance between the two. We drilled large holes in parts of the land that were entirely dominated by laterite, while planting a diverse mix of perennials where there was some soil. These would bear fruit, loosen soil, provide mulch also act as windbreakers over the long run.
The drilled holes needed soil, if we were to grow something. Sourcing it externally came at a premium, wasn’t completely reliable but couldn’t be avoided. There was scope to reduce how much we would source and how we could enrich it. We set up compost pits with natural green and brown matter from across the orchard in most and filled the rest with dry matter, burnt to create ash, rich in micronutrients and calcium. Collectively, these would form a great mix to the external soil added over the next few months. With a variety of diverse perennials sourced from local Krushi Seva Kendra and home nurtured saplings, we hope to bring new life to a hardy barren piece of land.
In a city like Bangalore, that was known for its green cover, with absolutely no regard trees have been chopped down to make way for flyovers and apartment complexes. In the 2 decades that I have known this city, there are apartments as far as the eye can see. I didn’t even have any control over the life of a tree in my backyard because it is heavily depended upon the quality of soil, air and water surrounding it.
As serendipity would have it, my quest led to Beforest. A company that seemed to have struck a balance between protecting the forests and creating a sustainable livelihood around it.
Every day has been a learning experience since. The concept and possibility of a Food Forest have been a revelation. While we have all studied biology and botany to some extent, it is only now that I have begun to appreciate the critical relationships between flora and fauna, the value of maintaining natural systems that have evolved over millions of years and how important it is to protect every small link in the chain. The enormity and complexity of nature has left me humbled. The fantastic Mycorrhizal network is my personal favorite.
I have had the opportunity of meeting individuals striving to make a difference in how humans perceive and interact with the natural world. We hope to organize events where our members and fellow agriculturists will be able to gain some wisdom from them too. I have also started curating a list of great minds in the field who I can follow over podcasts and social media to keep learning and stay inspired.
Food Forests are the need of the hour. It is my sincere hope that we are able to inspire farming communities along the way to adopt regenerative farming methods so we can all thrive together.