Challenges of Agriculture: Learning the Ways of the Land in a New Climate

The Kattaikkuttu Sangam and Gurukulam are located on 7 acres on the outskirts of Kanchipuram in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Right now, the land surrounding the school is a vibrant, lush, and green. The trees are dripping from the last of the heavy monsoon rains and the red sun is slowly setting behind the palm trees at 5:00 pm. Soon the rains will stop completely. The heat will then slowly rise and the sun will dry the land. Until the heat will stop, the garden and the plants will thirst for water. I will soon experience this brutal summer. Like in northern winters, the plants will go dormant, not because of the cold, but rather because of the heat. The weather is too extreme for most plants to produce fruits or leaves. 


The seasons here, coupled with the unpredictability of the weather and the effects of climate change, have created a challenge for me. I grew up in a temperate climate in the Midwestern United States. Tamil Nadu is in the subtropical zone, a climate I was wholly unfamiliar with before coming here. Working in the garden was not easy. I did not know the land, the soil, and many of the local crops were unfamiliar to me. I hadn’t experienced monsoon rains and the ensuing chaos.

The first time the garden flooded – October 30th, 2019

When it first started to rain, it did so lightly and not everyday. The rain soaked into the ground and I thought the weather was perfect to plant.  So I did. Beans, millet, tomatoes, okra, and greens. I was happy; the plants were growing. And then it suddenly rained for three days straight. It was a heavy heavy rain and not all of the water could soak into the ground.  The garden flooded and everything I planted died. I was frustrated but thought to myself, “hey, that is the nature of farming.” The rain stopped and it was dry for four weeks. I asked around; some people said “yes, the rains are over” and others thought more would come. Because the ground was perfect for planting again, I decided to risk it. It was wet but not soaked, and the sun was shining. Carrots, radishes, greens and more were planted. They were again growing and happy. Until I woke up in the middle of the night to torrential rain and knew that once again the garden would be flooded and my plants would not survive.

The second time the garden flooded – November 28th, 2019

It is easy to be upset by the rain and frustrated with my lack of knowledge and experience of the land. It is a challenge that is going to follow me this whole year.  I have to rely on the knowledge of those around me who have been farming this land for generations and continue to build connections to create a space where knowledge can be transferred.  It is also important to remember that we are lucky to have rains this year in Tamil Nadu, because last year, there was no monsoon rains. Due to climate change the monsoons are coming less frequently and droughts have been staggering around the world (Frayer, 2019). Last year, Chennai, the 6th largest city in India three hours from my placement, made international news because of water shortages (Frayer, 2019).  The effects of climate change are noticeable everyday in India and the methods that we chose to use in the garden are affected by climate change. In the next blog, I will talk more about how we make the choice of which methods to use and why.  

Resources: 

Frayer, Lauren. The Water Crisis in Chennai, India: Who’s to Blame and How do you Fix it?. Morning Edition. National Public Radio. July 18, 2019. https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2019/07/18/742688141/the-water-crisis-in-chennai-whos-to-blame-how-do-you-fix-it

Loren is serving as an American India Foundation (AIF) Clinton Fellow with Kattaikkuttu Sangam in Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu. For her Fellowship project, she is training youth on the use of vegetable gardens to learn about organic food production, healthy nutrition, and environmental sustainability. Loren graduated in 2019 with a dual degree in agriculture and natural resources, and peace and social justice studies. Loren discovered her passion for sustainable agriculture and food equity during her gap year between her secondary and undergraduate studies. During that year, she traveled to Japan and Hawaii. While in Hawaii, she volunteered at Mala’ai garden, a culinary and school garden associated with Waimea Middle School. She found that she loved working outside with the students and growing and cooking food in community with others. When she began her undergraduate career, she knew her focus would be on food, agriculture, and food systems. She found Berea College to be unique with a no-tuition-guarantee and work-study program that provides low-income students with a wonderful education as well as work, internships, and research opportunities. Loren’s work experience at the college included time on the college farms as well as cooking, baking, and processing foods from the farm to sell to the community at the Berea College Farm Store, where she was head student baker and student supervisor. She won a summer research scholarship to the University of Minnesota to work on studying the impact of cover crops on the soil in organic agriculture and spent time working at Berea Urban Farm creating production space and a food forest plan. Loren is pursuing her passion for sustainable agriculture through the AIF Clinton Fellowship, where she looks forward to working with students in the organic gardens and demonstrating cooking those products in the community kitchen. Although she has never traveled to India, she has great respect for the county and its people and is very excited for this adventure.

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