Challenges of Agriculture Part 2: To Till or Not to Till

To till or not to till; to plant paddy (rice) or not to plant paddy; to water by drip or by sprinkler – navigating and negotiating different methods while working in agriculture can be a challenge, to say the least. In a previous blog post, I talked about the challenges of doing agriculture in a new climate and some of the experiences I have had. Now I’ll focus on the challenges of deciding which methods and methodologies that should be used in the garden. This choice is a challenging one because it must not only focus on the scientific aspects of what might function best or be most beneficial to our goals, but also on the cultural aspects that come up when one is working on a multi-cultural team.

There are many different ways that farming can be done: commercial agricultural, mono-cropping, organic agriculture, permaculture, and zero-budget natural farming are some examples. It often feels like there are two main diverging paths in agriculture: to make money or to live in harmony with the land. Many farmer are now looking back to traditional methods, which focus on observational learning from the land with the goal of constant improvement to the environment through regenerative methods (1). Traditional agricultural method vary, but all focus on the use of heirloom, local and heritage seeds, animals, and methods (2). An important principle includes building up the long-term biodiversity in plant varieties and micro-organisms as well as conservation of water and environmental sustainability (3). Traditional and natural farming both focus on the harmony of nature and not just the profit which can be made.

Students at Kattaikkuttu Sangam walking to class in the morning.

In juxtaposition, commercial agriculture focuses reaping as much product from the land as possible. A major factor of this was the green revolution, which was the introduction and expansion of the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and hybrid seeds (4). It was the industrialization and institutionalization of the mechanics of agriculture. Its goal was to increase productivity and alleviate famine in a world with a growing population (5). The green revolution has had the drastic effect of depleting organic matter and the health of soil. In India, the green revolution started in 1965 with the implementation of high yielding varieties for grain crops, such as rice (6). It focused on implementing irritation infrastructure for Indian farmer and drastically increasing fertilizer and pesticide use (7). A positive from the green revolution was returned focus on food crops and not cash crops (8). While the green revolution help resolve famine, the long term environmental effects have been extremely detrimental.

In recent years, there has been a popularization of natural farming methods. Often called Zero-budget Natural Farming, these methods have branched away from the western concept of organic farming to include traditional Hindu and holistic practices (9). India is now a hot spot for experimentally sustainable agriculture. For example, the Indian state of Sikkim has been India’s first state that has gone completely organic. They have implemented organic practices on around 75,000 hectares of agricultural land and have banned the sale chemical pesticides and fertilizers (10).

The main field being prepared to be planted with the Vetri method.

One method is the Vetri method, which was started by a farmer in Tamil Nadu. This traditional method focuses on dense biodiversity and the holiness of the cow. It focuses on a circular connection to the land, where all inputs come from the land. A major factor of this are bio-dynamic mixtures called Jeevameethra, which are created from the urine and dung of the cow, dal, soil, and sugar. These are used to rejuvenate the land along with a combination of high biodiversity and intense density planting, around 30 different plants in a 30 by 30 square foot area. This method is the one that Kattaikkuttu Sangam have decided to learn from and implement on the land, because of the cultural connection and the focus on diversity.

Inter-cropped Bananas at the Kattaikkuttu Sangam


  1. “What is Sustainable Agriculture?” Union of Concerned Scientists, 10 April 2017.
  2. Tim Folger. “The Next Green Revolution.” National Geographic. September 2013.
  3. Dr. Indira. “Organic Farming in India: Organic Farming Methods and Certification Guide”., 13 January 2018
  4. Briney, Amanda. “History and Overview of the Green Revolution” ThoughtCo, 23 January 2020.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Bouton, Marshall M. “The Paradox of India’s Green Revolution.” The Hindu Business Line, 4 June 2019.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Jebaraj, Priscilla. “What Is Zero Budget Natural Farming?” The Hindu, 28 July 2019.
  10. “Sikkim Awarded FAO’s Future Policy Gold Award for 100% Organic Farming.” GKTODAY- Current Affairs, 13 October 2018


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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