Saturday, December 18, 2010

Flagship Festival

For the last few days I was on the outskirts of Anand at a remarkable farm for the Third Biennial Organic Farming Convention. It was hosted by the Organic Farming Association of India (OFAI) and Jatan, OFAI's Gujarat branch. I planned my trip to India around this event, as it promised to be a blockbuster. And it didn't disappoint.

Kapilbhai, Sarvadamanbhai (the owner of the farm), Minaben (Saravadamanbhai's wife), Dhartiben, Manojbhai, Claude Alvares of OFAI, and the countless others behind the scenes put on the finest event I have ever attended in India. The thing that set it apart from anything else like it was how deeply the organizing team couched the event in the principles of organic farming, sajiv kheti, sustainable agriculture, or whatever you want to call it. First of all, the whole event took place on a farm itself. Eight hundred organic farmers from around India and the world, all together on one of the most advanced biodynamic farms in all of India. What better place to talk shop? Second, from the bamboo forest auditorium to the organic food to the composted waste to the eco-friendly toilets to the simple tent accommodations, everything was set up with nature in mind. Nature as a partner and not as a servant. Be smart about waste, create systems of recycling, use what nature provides. If you are for sustainability but then you organize an event in a hotel with plastic water bottles and non-local unhealthy catered food, within four walls with the AC blasting, you're not much for walking the talk.

And it wasn't just the facilities, but the spirit of the whole event that imbibed the values. Much of the work setting up, cooking, serving, cleaning, etc. was done by volunteer groups who had come in from around the state, including girls from a school in Surendranagar interested in farming. All the food was donated by Gujarat's organic farmers. Sarvadaman told me how fanatical he was about every detail being right, even having the staff wake up at 5am the morning of the event to sweep the main entrance till it was spotless. Why? Because it makes a difference. Also he tells how on the first night when the delivery of blankets was running late, he stood out in the cold shivering with everyone else, the President of OFAI, to show the attendees that they were in it together. How Kapilbhai was given assurance by a few anonymous friends to not spare any expense for this event, to make it the best it can be and the resources would be there as needed.

I think all of this was exactly what Kapilbhai had in mind when he agreed to mastermind the event. He wanted to set the standard for what an event like this could be. Which is the same mindset he has for everything he does. He is uncompromising on quality. The man has incredible integrity of work, unparalleled work ethic. I salute him, as did Sarvadaman and others, for making this what one visitor from U.K. called a "flagship" event for India.

As for me, I love attending such farmer gatherings, especially with Gujarati organic farmers, of whom I know many and most know me. At an event like this I am treated like a prince; I walk around and farmers come up and greet me, show me love and appreciation, which I try and give back. It's why I do what I do. On a more practical note I was there to co-announce with Kapilbhai the launch of Sajiv Samvaad, a new organic farming-specific phone line we will be launching together. Farmers calling the number will be able to listen to a primer on Sajiv Kheti ("living agriculture"), ask questions and get responses from genuine organic farmers, get updates on news and events on the organic farming movement in Gujarat, and a new thing we are trying is a voice-based market for farmers to connect with organic retailers to buy and sell produce.

There were so many other great memories from this event, I've tried to capture them in the photo diary below. Be sure to flip through and read the captions at your own pace. Anjoy!

1 comment:

  1. awesome writeup! i'd love to get my hands on the compost recipe with ghee. :) looking forward to reading more reflections. :)