- 11 Oct 2023
As I try to recall my roots, my mind drifts back to my idyllic childhood days living in a remote village nestled along the South Bengal-Odisha border, close to the coast. It reminds me of a time when life was centered on the rhythmic cycles of nature.
My family was simple and loving. My dad, a physics teacher, and my mom, a homemaker, provided a warm and nurturing environment for my sister and me. Our village was a home of lush rice fields and vibrant green patches bubbling with biodiversity of all sorts. It was a place where I spent my childhood climbing trees in search of fruits and taking joyful leaps into ponds until my mother's call beckoned me home.
The early experiences in my village were magical, though I couldn't fully appreciate their significance until much later in life. Pursuing higher education in distant cities like Kolkata, Chennai, and Kanpur and eventually to Sweden for a Ph.D. in computer science transported me to a world far from my childhood heaven that had shaped my early years.
It was in the year 2015, when I was in Sweden, that I found myself standing in a kitchen, cooking for the first time in my life. As I figured my way around the vegetables, I began to wonder where my food came from.
My research led to many unexpected revelations. I discovered that the bananas I consumed had wreaked havoc on Ecuador, the avocados I loved came at the expense of local water resources in Mexico, and Costa Rican pineapples were polluting water bodies with pesticides. I was appalled and ashamed of the global food system I was unknowingly supporting.
Understanding the true ecological and ethical cost of our globalized food system shocked me beyond imagination. Guided by my deep-rooted connection with nature, I decided to act. I started reducing my ecological footprint by reducing and eliminating the consumption of ingredients exploiting humans and nature, growing some vegetables by myself, buying from local farmers, and foraging for wild plants. All these soon became the center of my lifestyle choices, reaching beyond food.
I could see how, like in the Western world, my once self-reliant village gradually started increasingly relying on external food resources, and I could feel my childhood vanish in the timber monocultures and industrial agriculture. This external dependence doesn’t just affect food security and local ecosystems. The prevalence of packaged food in villages also raises concerns about health and nutritional security, plastic pollution, carbon footprints, and cultural disconnect.
A massive roadblock that I realized which affects a village’s self-reliance is migration due to a lack of employment opportunities. Farming has always been more of a subsistence activity than a commercial one, which is now severely impacted by climate change.
As the African proverb goes, "It takes a whole village to raise a child," the people of rural India have practiced this for ages. However, in today’s times, with the spread of capitalism and globalization, the community cohesion of earlier times is rapidly disappearing. Communities need to unite to fight the climate crisis locally and globally.
While my life was intertwined with these experiential understandings, my nephew’s birth took me back home to my community. As a result, in 2022, ‘Bon’ was manifested, which means ‘forest’ in my mother tongue, Bengali, a constant reminder of the intricate web of life that thrives in these natural spaces.
The uniqueness of Bon lies in its approach. At Bon, we firmly believe in doing evidence-based work and using food as a tool for social change. We are converting spaces around homes into food gardens that not only provide fruits, vegetables, herbs, and spices but also conserve local biodiversity.
One of my proudest achievements has been the transformation of a garden into a thriving ecosystem with 56 different plant types, butterflies, wasps, and various other species. This garden, teeming with life, represents the positive impact we can have on the environment and our communities. We had a bit of a monkey problem there, but we don’t look at it as a problem anymore. It’s all a great sign of nature coming back alive!
Initially, it was the younger generation, the children, who embraced our cause. Their curiosity and willingness to engage with nature were a refreshing change from the reluctance we often encountered in adults. Eventually, we experienced that when children take up the task of making gardens, the whole family gradually joins in. So far, this is the most effective way to mobilize families in our region, freeing themselves from the globalized food chain by establishing local climate-resilient food production systems.
Besides gardening, we facilitate different activities on weekends with children, like playing outdoor games, nature walks, storytelling, art sessions, etc. We have grandparents who especially come to share their experiences and stories of the past, facilitating a conversation around the old and new. Gradually, we have been successful in gaining the wholehearted, voluntary participation of everyone in the local community.
To address the challenges of soil health, biodiversity, and water conservation, we follow practices like crop diversification, composting, and soil covering. By incorporating various plant species, we promote a thriving soil microbiome, enriching the environment and conserving water resources.
Our goal is to nurture collective knowledge, resources, imagination, and curiosity to develop resilient tree-based perennial food production systems that are human-centric. This food will be nutrient-dense and meet all human requirements while fostering a mutually beneficial relationship with biodiversity and mitigating the challenges related to soil, water, and air.
We plan to deal with root-level problems by working with farmers and eliminating hidden poisons like plastic clothes made with synthetic dyes, modern building materials, and processed foods. We hope to bring a change by expanding from food and agriculture to building, clothing, healing, crafts, education, and entertainment over time and initiating a holistic approach to life.
We also envision a world where every village or neighborhood has an all-inclusive learning center ensuring no one is left behind. A place where communities can reconnect with nature, learn to live harmoniously with their surroundings and elevate their economies through sustainable practices. We also aspire to continue our involvement in the landrace movement started by Joseph Lofthouse, fostering genetic diversity and resilience in crops through cross-pollination.
As for advice to those interested in promoting sustainable food production and environmental restoration, I urge you to start with passion and purpose. Don't make it a chore. Instead, let it be a source of joy and connection to the natural world. Embrace the journey, one step at a time, and know that even the smallest efforts can make a significant impact.
To the world, I send a message of reconnection with nature, our communities, and ourselves. In the hustle and bustle of modern life, it's easy to forget that we are an integral part of this planet, and we must cherish and protect it. Start from within and nurture a love for our shared home, Earth.
With each step we take and each garden we tend, we are not just nurturing the land; we are nurturing a sense of belonging and a connection to the world around us. And in this nurturing, we find hope for our planet, our communities, and our future.
Exclusively written for Giving for Good Foundation by Bhairavi Hiremath
With words as her medium and a diary full of scribbled ideas, she is usually found looking for ways to use her writing to impact for Good. If she’s out of sight, she’s probably either reading, petting cats, jamming to retro Bollywood, or of course, writing!