Seed Savior

High in the hills above Rishikesh- the birthplace of the great Ganges river, there’s a secluded valley. Hand hewn terraces perfected over the centuries, line the walls. Gravity fed river rock irrigation channels lay like patchwork over the valley floor. Water buffalo are used to plow. Just north out of the hustle and change of modern India, one man has taken it upon himself to preserve his areas agricultural legacy.

Vijay Jardhari experienced during the course of his lifetime the introduction of hybrid seeds into his seemingly isolated valley. These seeds, in combination with the fertilizers that they were sold with, amazed him and other farmers for the first few seasons they grew them. By the time that he and others realized that the breeds did not not do well after a few seasons, and that they did not stand up to drought or severe weather, many of the native varieties- bred specifically for the area over millennia, had been lost. The story is not uncommon, what is special about this valley however, is the mission of one man to reverse the trend.

Vijay Jardhari with his seeds

Vijay is a humble man. When he speaks of the seed bank he started, of how he trekked all over the Garhwal Himalayas around his valley to collect seeds from other farmers, of how everyone in his valley thought he was mad, he laughs. He is the type of man who sings with his four daughters as they work at the seed bank. He thinks nothing of his work to give away as many seeds as possible to other farmers.

Vijay has made it his life’s mission to educate all those willing to listen about the value of saving seed. Like a Ghandi of seeds, he patiently explained to us the different varieties, about how people now visit him from all over India, of how he intends to die saving seeds. With his soft voice and broad smile, you can’t help but like him. Surrounded by 600 varieties of beans of every color, perched high on a terraced hillside, you can’t help but want to stay with him, and save the world bit by patient bit, one seed at a time.

For more information, please see his organization’s website: Beej Bachao Andolan

– By Jessy Beckett

The Stare

It’s always difficult to gage the custom of filming in public when working abroad. In some countries, everyone is polite, stands back, wonders to themselves what you may be doing. In the US, people have learned that while it’s fine to stop and watch a film crew, one mustn’t get in the way of the shot, one must stand back. This custom has not yet developed in India, well, at least the parts of India that we visited.

India is the most vibrant place I’ve ever worked. A billion people bustling up against each other, each more colorful than the next. Given the proximity to one another, people seem completely comfortable staring at what ever it is that you may be doing. This made filming in public places very complicated.

We’d see a great scene, a busy market, a winding street, a valley of goat herders- and like filmmakers do, we’d stop the van, and hustle out with the equipment- camera, tripods etc to try to catch the shot. But, in India, without fail, as soon as our white faces appeared and our feet hit the ground- much less the film equipment- a crowd would form. And, despite the best work of our fixer Gautam, the crowd would eventually block whatever the great shot was that we had stopped to film.

John Chater, DP attempts to film, and a crowd forms

Eventually we evolved. Instead of piling out on the sidewalk, we decided that the best way to film any public place in India was to put John, our DP, on the roof. Thusly allowing large crowds to form around us without experiencing a crowd-block. Both Indian public and film crew came away from these frequent occurrences satisfied. They got to stare at us, and we, well, indirectly, we got to stare right back at them.

 The evolution of avoiding the crowd block
– By Jessy Beckett

Soul of the Soil

Jaspal Singh’s farm lies just outside of Ludhiana, in the heart of the Punjab, the north-west region of India, against the border of Pakistan. The name Punjab comes from the Persian words panj meaning five, and aab, meaning water.

For millennia this alluvial plain has been the ‘breadbasket’ of India growing many of the country’s staple crops such as wheat and mustard. In the 1960s, scientists and researchers from the U.S. brought the ‘Green Revolution’ to India. As I mentioned in the Seed Savior post, the technology of this revolution brought with it impressive yields, and did indeed help stave off the periods of starvation that had before been frequent on the Indian subcontinent.

There is a dark underbelly of the Green Revolution however, that isn’t highlighted in much of the western literature that surrounds its occurrence. This underbelly includes; dead soils, a rapidly dropping water table, and high cancer and birth defect rates in local communities. Jaspal Singh, a  Sikh, with considerable lineage in the area, watched his father apply the technologies of the Green Revolution (herbicides and pesticides, massive watering, hybrid seeds etc) on their land. He watched the soil loose it’s ability to retain water and nutrients, he watched both the soil, the crops, and local farmers ‘become sick’. When it became his turn to tend the family’s acreage, he decided he had to change their practices and return to a more natural form of farming. It was in this quest for a different path that Jaspal discovered biodynamics.

Today, Jaspal Singh has transitioned all of his acreage to biodynamic farming. His diversified farming system has healed his soil through cover cropping, intensive composting applications, and the use of biodynamic preparations. Though many of his neighbors once laughed, people now visit his farm from the surrounding area to learn from his progress. They want to know how his soil has recovered, why his crops are so lush, and how it is that his water table is now higher than that of surrounding farms.

As his farm has developed into a haven for birds, insects, and other wildlife, so too is it a haven for conversation about a different type of farming. As the Punjab moves farther into ecological crisis, Jaspal is the beacon of a  different way forward. He understands that if we are to survive we must create a relationship with the thin layer of soil which allows us to exist and thusly he is mending the error of previous generations by leading a new way. Progressing toward ecological balance and equilibrium. Ultimately, aside from the beauty of his accomplishments and the health of his person and his farm, one thing rings true. Jaspal is a farmer who gets it, because Jaspal, deep down, has a soul of soil.

– By Jessy Beckett