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Farmer’s Share: A celebration of self reliant minimalism

Anitha Moosath | Updated on July 30, 2021

Special venture: Ambrose Kooliyath lives his dream at Farmer’s Share   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Ambrose Kooliyath’s permaculture farm on the banks of the Nila River thrives on local resources

* “Permaculture envisages a world in which we create what we need with the resources we are blessed with,” Kooliyath says. Every facet of Farmer’s Share exudes this philosophy

* On the shelves is a long array of value-added products, all of them artisanal and GMO-free and mostly of single origin

* “I don’t believe in scaling up beyond a point. We need to make and sell only to the extent that allows decent support to the 12-odd people working with us here”

***

When greeted with hibiscus tea and moringa cookies, one already gets a sense of the aura of the place. Squirrels and chirpy birds work up a cacophony amidst the sprawling thicket by the Nila River. A picture of oneness with nature emerges — marked by a conscious effort to bring harmony. Not surprising though when one comes to know the man behind the 10-acre venture. Ambrose Kooliyath lives his dream at Farmer’s Share — permaculture farm, culinary lab, craft learning and weaving centre all rolled into one, which he set up in Shoranur town in Kerala four years ago.

Earth bound: Buildings at Farmer’s Share have a minimalistic tone and are designed using local resources such as bamboo, mud, and river grass   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

 

“My idea was to create a self-reliant community that thrives purely on local resources and supports all its participants,” he says. For a few years after completing school, Kooliyath worked as a mason helping out his father. Later, he got actively involved in a self-reliance movement in his village of Vypeen, an island off Kochi. “The Vypeen Swasraya Movement pursued the concept of a sustainable village economy. We used to conduct classes on the Gandhian ideals of food, employment, health, farming, and so on,” he says. This, in a sense, primed Kooliyath for a life distanced from the ordinary.

Home grown: The permaculture farm offers a range of value-added products, all of them artisanal   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

 

A few years on, he opened a restaurant in Kochi — Grasshopper. It was a big draw, with the unique saline tolerant ‘Pokkali’ rice from Vypeen, and prawns from the region being part of the fare. Later, he ventured into organic farming with a friend and together set up Lumiere, a shop in Bengaluru to sell the produce. “It ran smoothly and the venture is still on. But I strongly felt the need to move closer to the grassroots.” Once back in Kerala, he founded a trust along with a bunch of like-minded people. They leased out land in Shoranur and work soon began to shape it into a permaculture farm. “Permaculture envisages a world in which we create what we need with the resources we are blessed with,” Kooliyath says. Every facet of Farmer’s Share exudes this philosophy.

Wall art: Cycle rims serve as partition walls, and lend an added sense of flow to the space   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

 

What captures the eye is the minimalistic tone of the buildings. True to his design sense, Kooliyath has used plenty of locally available resources such as bamboo, mud, and river grass. Old sewing machines make for sturdy tables and cycle rims serve as partition walls, lending an added sense of flow to the space. The cottage for visitors is situated away from the main structure and is made of rammed earth. Windows and railings are made of scrap waste, while the roof is done with an all-weather canvas material.

There is buzzing activity all around. Hibiscus flowers (nearly 500 are collected every day) are being sorted; papaya is being sundried; moringa leaves are being powdered. Kooliyath’s wife, Mini, is busy blending a fresh crop of ripe mangoes with palm jaggery and cardamom. Younger son Akhil is honing his skills at the pottery studio while Amal plays the unofficial manager. Kooliyath chose not to send them to school because he believes that true learning is about acquiring skills for a lifetime. Formal education just tries to fit children into a pre-designed mould, he adds.

Takeaways

On the shelves is a long array of value-added products, all of them artisanal and GMO [genetically modified organism]-free and mostly of single origin. Many of them are exclusive to Farmer’s Share — like Chinese potato and fibre-rich banana stem pickles; hibiscus jam; ‘nelli arishtam’, a naturally fermented amla concoction, and so on. Moringa and curry leaf cookies are an unusual blend of wheat and spices. Wild honey infused with hibiscus or tulsi can be a natural sweetener and a perfect topping for pancakes. Packaged products are priced between ₹100 and ₹500.

Farmer’s Share also promotes products from other ventures, such as vetiver (khus) soaps and vanilla body butter scrub from an Adivasi women’s collective. A whole lot of grocery items and spices are sourced from Rajasthan, millets from Karnataka, and palm sugar (which replaces sugar in their preparations) from Tamil Nadu.

‘Less is more’

There has been a lull since the Covid-19 outbreak, but sales have been satisfactory. This is true of the curios, garden terracotta, and the kitchen range that even suits the modern gas stove.

“I don’t believe in scaling up beyond a point. We need to make and sell only to the extent that allows decent support to the 12-odd people working with us here,” says Kooliyath. However, Farmer’s Share too aspires to grow, in a different direction though — by reviving dying crafts and supporting marginalised communities. It was to this end that they tied up with Khadi two years ago to start a weaving unit. The trained women have now graduated into colouring the fabric with natural dyes, and the monotones that sell at ₹380 per metre have found many takers. Work is now on to meet a 3000-metre order from an NGO that wants to use it for a clothing range for newborns. A tailoring unit is on the cards and also more structured crafts training sessions.

Farmer’s Share is a wholly inclusive space. Those who want to immerse in the experience can stay for a day or two. The two huts at the premises accommodate three persons each, and a day’s stay is organised for ₹1250 per head, including three meals, snacks, and craft experiences. Indulge in the quiet by the riverside, capture orioles and drongos in their early-morning adventures, be a part of picking microgreens for the day... soak in the rhythm that slowly unfolds. The calm that filters in is sure to linger, so also the picture of the lives differently lived.

Anitha Moosath is a Chennai based writer

Published on July 30, 2021

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