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Model Organic Farm & Edible Landscape

To promote natural farming methods and protect both the public health and the natural environment, the Dharmalaya Institute is working with local villagers to create model organic gardens, and is transforming part of its campus into a showcase for edible landscaping.

Why Organic?

The benefits of growing food organically are many, including human health, animal health, ecological sustainability, cost, water issues, flavour, and more. And the dangers of using unnatural chemical insecticides, herbicides, and fertilisers are many and severe. When one investigates these issues thoroughly, it is clear that, moving forward, the only wise and sustainable choice for society is to grow all food organically.

For a detailed look at the benefits of organic food (and the dangers of non-organic food), see Organic Food: What Is It and Why Does It Matter?

The Need for a Model Organic Farm in the Baijnath Subdistrict

In the villages in the area around Baijnath and Bir (as in most of rural India), the majority of families still have at least one family member who knows how to garden organically (according to Dharmalaya’s research), so why create a ‘model organic farm’? 

Preserving tradition: The knowledge and skills for organic gardening are disappearing quickly. Among the younger generations, there are very few people who know how to grow food naturally. To preserve these traditions before they vanish, we must act urgently to train the next generation.

Increasing yields: The chief marketing claim for chemical fertilisers, insecticides, and herbicides is that they can help farmers increase their yields. And, very often, this is true — but only in comparison to the most basic of organic practices, and that, too, only for the first few years. After three years or so of using these chemicals in typical practice, the topsoil is depleted of natural nutrients and the promised advantages of chemical farming are more or less negated, while the harmful impacts continue for years to come. Moreoever, what many farmers do not realise is that there are many organic methods that can increase yields to a level even greater than what is possible with conventional chemical farming practices, and without all the high costs and harmful consquences of using toxic chemicals. Thus, it is imperative to demonstrate natural high-yield alternatives, to empower farmers to increase their yields without the use of toxic synthetic inputs.

Education through hands-on training: It’s one thing to hear someone talk about organic alternatives, and another to stroll through a thriving, high-yield organic garden and see (and taste) the immense potential for oneself. ‘Show me, don’t tell me’ is the most effective educational method in our region, and the best way to learn something is to do it oneself first and then help others do it. Accordingly, Dharmalaya offers experiential education programmes in high-yield organic farming with paid, on-the-job training for village labourers willing to commit the time to work for the project. 

What Is an Edible Landscape?

The basic idea of the edible landscape is that the built environment (our natural buildings) can be complemented by a cultivated environment (landscape design) that provides not only beauty and function but also food. Imagine that you walk out of your home and the path leading from your door is lined with various visually appealing plants and trees that provide not only pleasing shapes, colours, textures, and scents, but also food that you can simply pick and eat. In such a place, one can walk outside and forage for a snack, a meal, an herbal infusion, or a medicinal remedy.

The edible landscape is one of the most efficient uses of land because it provides aesthetics, social space, and sustenance at the same time. It saves money while improving human health, creating beauty, and protecting the natural environment.

Dharmalaya Institute’s Plans for Model Organic Gardens & Edible Landscaping

Dharmalaya is currently creating a master plan to transform portions of its campus into showcases for organic gardening and edible landscaping. We have already created over a dozen organic garden beds, and there’s much more to do. Below is an outline of the vision.

  • Herb and small vegetable gardens under the overhangs of the buildings
  • Herb and salad garden beds near the kitchen (four already in use)
  • Vegetable garden beds at various locations around the campus (ten already in use)
  • Small orchards of fruit and nut trees, intermingled with native trees (five mini-orchards already planted)
  • Several greenhouses of different types: solar passive greenhouse, a portable nursury structure, and more
  • Grain farming in the lower part of the campus, near the forest edge
  • Several sections of the campus to be transformed with edible landscaping, especially along the paths near the main building, but also in other locations where it will make the greatest contributions to both aesthetics and social functions

We are also talking with local farmers in the Baijnath subdistrict (especially around greater Bir, Ghornala, and Sansaal) to encourage them to grow organically, and we are cultivating collaborations for more exciting projects in the future.

You Can Help Us Create a Beautiful Showcase of Creative Foodscaping

If you are interested in volunteering to help with the design and implementation of our organic gardens and edible landscapes, or if you’d simply like to get your hands in the dirt for a while, you’re welcome to join us! You can find information for volunteers here