In the permanence of nature

Kunal and Laura with the farm produce

How to live? With a piece of earth care, lot of people care, and premise of fair share, believe Laura Christie Khanna and Kunal Khanna. The permaculturist couple who manage a food forest on a acre-land in Panchgani give us a sneak peek into the art as well as necessity of permaculture

What got you interested in practicing permaculture?

Laura: I studied food and regenerative agriculture for twelve years. And Kunal also holds a Master’s degree in the study of Environment and Sustainability from the University of Melbourne. So, after a decade of working on several organic farms all around the world and seeing different styles and practices, I found permaculture as the only solution that unifies all things. It’s not an approach based on perspective or about how to use a certain fertilizer or a certain pesticide. Instead, it is a design-centred way of thinking about your land. It is a methodology of thought. It is different in its dynamics but so centred in its ethics and principles which Kunal and I both resonate with.

It is the way forward for all of us as human species. Therefore, I did a ‘Permaculture Designs' course back when I was in Australia and I implemented my learning on our farm.

What are the tangible and intangible resources one need to be a permaculturist?

Laura: The one resource that you need is ‘an open mind’. A mind that is able to think out of the box and critically. Besides that, written in the code of permaculture is that the practice is based on using resources those are local, free in abundance, and natural.

Can balcony garden also be considered a practice of permaculture?

Laura: It can be, if you are thinking about the waste stream or anything that goes through the drain, food waste, and how to use veggie scrap as resources - then you are a permaculturist. Also, being a permaculturist isn’t only about food. If you are conscious of how you consume - could be food or the space around - and produce, you are a permaculturist. You could be an office goer, but if you work towards energy efficiency or waste management, you are practicing permaculture.

How are people in and around Panchgani responding to your initiative?

Kunal: The response is good. There has been a steady growth over a period of time. We conduct a lot of workshops on educating people on how to become more self-reliant by way of cooking better quality of food, on how to preserve the veggies, etc. We recently launched an online course on Udemy that helps train one on regenerative lifestyle.

What were the challenges you faced when you started out?

Laura: It is funny even as you say that. In permaculture, we believe the problem is the solution. A challenge is actually an opportunity to create efficient outputs.

In that case, quote an example.

Our property here in Bhilar, outside of Panchgani didn’t have access to enough water. We were not permitted to dig a bore well. Water came from tankers. So while we were facing scarcity of water, it led us to become aware of specifically how much water we were using. That helped to build a composting toilet and outdoor toilet for both men and women, meaning they didn’t have to flush every time. It also meant that our grey water that came out from the washing machine, shower, kitchen, etc were used on the site in various forms - say watering the plants and trees. And it also led us to think hard as to how to grow more food by consuming less water.

Permaculture is a culture that follows the principle of earth care, people care, and fair share. How do these ethics fit into your scheme of things?

Laura: These ethics are the driving force behind every single decision we make. Speaking of earth care - we ensure that the water that leaves the land is clean and ensure that we make living habitats for reptiles and animals on the site. We maintain the site in a manner such that there is no waste. And use natural materials for construction. Speaking of people care, we ensure that we follow a non-hierarchical approach at work besides communicating non-violently with people. Finally coming to fair share - to ensure that everybody has access to organic resources, the products that we sell in our shop are reasonably priced.

Do you think this can be the future? I mean living so naturally. In India there aren’t many permaculturists; it seems like a new concept.

Laura: India may not have many permaculture farms, but there are thousands and thousands of people in the country practicing regenerative and sustainable practices, read the tribal and adivasi population. They are permaculturists without the tag. So much of methodology and practices of permaculture are rooted in indigenous adivasi and tribal ways of doing stuff.

Do I think if this could be the future? Absolutely. This is the way forward. I think humans will get to a point where our cities will be so polluted and our air so harmful and food as well as water so unconsumable that we will have to return to following traditional indigenous ways. May be not now, but at some point this will happen, considering the urban lifestyle we lead.

Okay, now that you have adapted to such a natural way of living, how has life become better?

Kunal: We may officially have become permaculturists after we started working on our land, but Laura and I were always mindful of our ways of living. Of course, the fact that we consume all things nature-based such as food with micro-nutrients, we don’t feel the need for medicines. Our food is our medicine.

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