On a daily basis, humans living in a city are engulfed in the vicious cycle of a chaotic, dreadful routine. So dreadful that the moment we know that we have a few days off, our minds instantly plan to be whisked away on vacation. Whilst most of us think of soaking up the sun by clear turquoise waters or participate in an exhilarating trek, we forget to pay much heed to destinations unknown. And, by that, I don’t mean private islands or a cottage in the middle of nowhere. You’d be surprised to know that there are several hidden gems just a few hours away from the concrete jungles we call home.
As basic a fact, as it is, I feel the need to reiterate it keeping in mind current circumstances. Farming is the basis of our existence. But, how many of us have actually been to a farm or understand how a farm runs? Sure, we’ve read about it but do we know where our daily vegetables and fruits come from?
Now, I am the kind of person that gets worried when my data changes from 4G to Edge. Most of us are thoroughly city-bred and whilst that has its advantages, I’m here to remind you that it is always refreshing to get in touch with nature.
In recent years, we have seen working farms and industries welcome us with open arms to get down and dirty to learn how food reaches our table. Popularly known as a “farm stay”, it involves accommodation in a plantation or a ranch. These farm stays can have unassuming houses to luxurious villas with pools, spas and restaurants that can give your favourite resort a run for their money.
Guests can engage in daily activities such as growing crops, feeding livestock and collecting milk, or eggs just to name a few. Staying in a house encompassed by acres of green rejuvenates us like nothing else, a necessary learning experience for kids and adults alike.
Reading between the wines:
These farms aren't limited to just our daily fruits and vegetables. We have numerous farm stays dotted around the nation where one can even learn about how tea shrubs and grapes are grown and harvested to how they’re packaged and shipped.
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to breathe life into a winery along with plush accommodation and amenities down south. To do this, I had to learn everything from planting the seed of a grape to the bottling process. Luckily, one of the oldest wineries in India was the ideal choice to understand winemaking along with the industrial technicalities. A few friends and I decided to make a trip out of this. Upon reaching the vineyard, we quickly freshened up at their sensational 3 bedroom villa before making our way for the winery tour. You’d be able to see the laborious processes of picking and selecting the green, and red grapes, getting them pressed, to the extensive fermentation process where they’re converted into different wines and bottled. You’d also learn about the various machinery and equipment involved in winemaking. What’s more? At the end of the tour, you can indulge in a cheeky wine tasting session.
After the informative and intoxicating tour, we made our way to one of the restaurants and devoured some scrumptious food with more red, of course. We took a stroll around the property and made our way back to the villa and watched the sunset.
The whole idea of staying at these properties is to just unwind and not do much. Taking a moment to breathe and letting nature take over your mind truly inspires you. These farms open up year-round employment and oenotourism opportunities that develop the economy and put offbeat locations on the map.
A greener way to eat:
I am reminded of my childhood a lot every time the farm topic comes up. I remember vividly as a child, when we were forcefully taken to the countryside, ancestral home for summer vacations, there were hardly any restaurants. Fighting through a craving for a Happy Meal that was promised after doing my end of year exams well, I had to make do with what was made at home. Now that I think back to memory, I was a foolish kid.
Till date, I haven’t had a simple dish, like a tomato chutney with the same flavours as I did as a kid at my ancestral home. The backyard, apart from being our house cow’s home, also was the place where tomatoes, chillies, brinjals and even potatoes were grown. We never had to hunt for curry leaves in the fridge, hop in the backyard and pluck a few stems for that fresh produce.
Very similar to how a decade ago, “organic” fruits and vegetables were all the rage, add onto the ever-evolving food fads is a new concept called the “farm-to-table”. Essentially, farm-to-table means harnessing the livestock and produce from ranchers and farmers; to put it plainly, shopping local. Is this just a marketing gimmick or does it make a difference?
What is funny here is that this concept has been around for ages, but like yoga, it was glamorized in recent years. It has evolved into a social movement which encourages people to buy and serve locally grown produce at restaurants, schools and eventually homes, through direct acquisition from the farmer.
So, why is it so important to shop locally?
For one, it promotes healthier eating. Most of the produce loses its nutrients within 24 hours after harvesting. Buying ingredients locally allows chefs and restaurants to get their raw materials quicker whilst it’s fresh and full of nutrients. (that clearly explains why tomatoes were so plush and always ripe in my grandma’s backyard) It eliminates the need for added preservatives and freezing as the vegetables and fruits are still fresh. Customers get food that tastes exceptionally better and packed with natural vitamins that enable better health.
The brilliant team at the almost self-sufficient Kuruvinakunnel Tharavadu Farms, in Pala, Kerala realised this and decided to sell their premium grade, organic rubber, pepper and cacao(amongst a cornucopia of other things) to customers pan India. By selling directly to the consumer they’re able to keep the costs low, which makes their recurring customers rejoice and labourers happy by paying them a substantially higher salary.
Moreover, understanding the value of what we eat has allowed sustainable farming to be on the rise once again. The 400-year-old ancestral home that sits amid this plantation has earned the recognition as one of the few heritage properties in Kerala. I was lucky to get a virtual tour of their stunning home and plantations, courtesy of Mr Kuruvilla. I truly cannot wait to visit and spend some time under the countless fruit-bearing trees.
“New” ingredients and homegrown eateries:
Ten years ago, if you wanted to have an avo tartine, you’d have to travel for a considerable amount of time because hardly one or two places served it. But now, with an increase in growing and shopping local goods, we’re able to see most places in our city serve dishes from around the globe with ingredients we’d be able to consume only whilst we’re abroad.
Be it bean-to-bar chocolate from Jaipur or the coveted black gold, Vanilla pods from Pollachi, homegrown brands and restaurants are now able to make use of these gorgeous ingredients that are as good as from Belgium or Madagascar, if not better.
So, the next time you want to get away, keep your passport in the locker, and take a short, domestic flight to one of the many destinations that you’d never think of visiting. It’s bound to surprise you.
While you’re at it, here are some links for you to binge on that are already providing some incredible experiences:
Retreats and Farm Stays by Karthik and Nikita. We cannot wait to visit this place once it’s open. Here is a link to their instagram to join in their journey of putting together the entire place. What’s more, Slow Pottery studio is also going to be shifted to this place once it’s up and running!
Leave it to Amar Ramesh to do some really cool and creative things and his venture into farms and slow life is also worth noting. Here is the link to Kadambavanam, a work in progress experience right here in Namma Chennai. Do follow this link to experience its progress virtually.
A brand that has been creating magic with chocolates ranging from dark to light with different muses. These bean-to-chocolate bar makers have drawn inspiration from daily life be it simple pleasures or something worth noting.