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It's Farmville for real.

Chucking lucrative jobs to go back to nature was their ultimate dream and they made it areality

FACEBOOK FarmVille may have millions of wishful thinkers hooked, but for some that won't do. These are families that decided to take the plunge for real --gave up high- paying jobs and the monotony of urban life to go back to nature and take up farming for real. They love the feel of soil on their hands and are overwhelmed by the benevolence of nature. As they soak in every bit of farm life --from digging and sowing to harvesting --they say it's awonderful opportunity to be in tune with nature. They've turned farming into away of life, it's not just avocation. Meet the couples who have dared --and realised their long- cherished dream of literally going back to their roots.

SAY CHEESE!

IN IDYLLIC Coonoor, nestled in Nilgiris, Tina Fonseca's cheese evokes more interest than her husband Mansoor Khan, who made blockbusters such as Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak , Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander , Akele Hum Akele Tum and Josh . Though the idea of farming was close to her heart, Fonseca says Khan's idea of moving away from hip and happening Mumbai to this remote tourist destination didn't quite appeal to her initially.

" My concerns were about leaving behind my aged parents and the nightmare of sitting idle at home," says Fonseca, the mother of two teenagers . The couple left behind Mumbai's glitz to set up Acres Wild farm in 2004, which Fonseca says was actually Khan's calling in life. " I am really happy that I ran away from the maddening city life. It took a long, long time to get here but I felt I was reborn and living for the first time," says Khan.

Khan's idea of cheese- making initially did turn Fonseca rather sour. But after researching on the Net and visiting local cheese makers for guidance, she got into the groove and began to enjoy it. " The farm is our effort to shape a self- sustaining, organic lifestyle. We keep cows and get a lot of milk, so we decided to make cheese," says Fonseca. Now, her handmoulded cheese is selling like hot cakes in the Nilgiris.

Over the years, Fonseca acquired expertise in varieties such as Gruyere, Feta, Gouda, Monterey Jack, Mozzarella and Ricotta, in addition to herb and garlic cheese. Her latest experiment in new flavours of Monterey Jack blended with red chilli, cumin, green chilli and garlic sell like hot cakes! What started as an experiment with an acre of land has now expanded into a 22- acre farm with 14 cows, 40 ducks and 22 goats. It also boasts of its own hybrid Jersey, Holstein and Friesian cows.

Though the cheese is available in only a few towns, Fonseca prefers to keep production on a small scale -- like a home unit.

Their 16- year- old daughter Zyan and 14- year- old son Pablo also love the life on a farm and are keenly involved in the process, says Fonseca.

IN PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS

FOR ARCHITECT Sushila Konanhalli and her husband George Varghese, a software professional, nothing can compare with breathing fresh air and cultivating paddy and vegetables on their six- and- a- half acre farm -- not even the quality of life they left behind in the US or Australia. " Breathing fresh air and having fresh food grown on your own farm is an amazing feeling. Watching a seed sprout and grow too," gushes Konanhalli.

Located in the fertile and picturesque Konkan belt, their farm in Sirsi, Karnataka, 100 kms from Goa, is the culmination of their dream and aspiration to live close to nature. " In the cities, we are unaware even of the seasons -- whether it's monsoon, autumn or summer. There is a total disconnect from nature," says Varghese, who juggles his commitment as a farmer and a software architect working from home for Motorola. Konanhalli, on the other hand, says her hands are full taking care of her two- year- old daughter Amritha and running their farm. She believes that the connect with Mother Earth has made her spiritual and enlightened. " I go out and pluck vegetables just when the dal is boiling in the cooker," Konanhalli says and avers she still hasn't got over the exhilaration of eating the very vegetables they've grown.

Apart from paddy and arecanut, their farm also produces cardamom, pepper, sugarcane and assorted fruits such as banana, mango and chikoo. The crops are grown organically, and they are self- sufficient as they also grow a variety of vegetables such as tomatoes, beans, cucumber, greens, various types of gourds and capsicum.

Konanhalli is not a stranger to the rigours of rural life -- as an architect she has worked closely with potters in villages across Kerala.

The Natarajans too have a similar tale to tell. Giving up a plush lifestyle in Seattle for Gottigere, a sleepy hamlet 250 kms from Bangalore, Akila and Satish Natarajan followed their heart to take up farming on their two acres of land.

After quitting Wipro a decade back, Satish, an IT professional, was sure about what he wanted to do. Akila's solid support made it easier to take that decision. " My job was taking up all my time and there was no time for anything else," says Natarajan.

That was until his mind followed what his heart craved for. Associated with an NGO, Natarajan now works for sustainable agriculture using organic farming methods.

Like all new ventures which comes with its own set of challenges, Akila and Satish too had to face their moments of truth. " We had no idea how to go about it and everyday was a learning experience. But now we can look back and say we learnt a lot more on the job than we thought we would," she says.

It didn't take long for their efforts to bear fruit. " The joy one derives having the fruits of one's own labour is the sweetest. Since all the vegetables on our farm is grown naturally, we don't need a fridge to store them. Also, their shelf life is longer than the vegetables you buy from the market, and what's more they taste better too," says Akila, watching her two daughters Mridula and Vivaswini clearing weeds from the tomato patch.

OF VEGETABLES & MORE

FOR PRITI and M. A. Srikanth, what started as a farm set up to while their time bird- watching is now home to 3,500 plants of over 125 species. Priti, who has a PhD in neurophysiology and works as a principal scientist with bioinfomatics firm Molecular Connections, loves the simple life close to nature. Along with her IT professional husband, who works with Intel, they decided on setting up Vanashree, an eight- acre farm, 50 kms away from Bangalore, to grow tomato, brinjal, lady's finger, radish, pumpkin, chilli, cucumber, drumstick, chow chow and sweet potato! After five years of life in the US and Saturday night parties, it's no more about shaking a leg but bending their backs over farm tools during the weekends. For their six- year- old son Sriram, a visit to the farm means catchingup with the wildlife all around.

" We realised that natural farming is the best way for an eco- sustainable living. The idea is to let nature takes its course," says Priti. Their farm now provides all the vegetables, rice, cereals, fruit and paddy they need. Proud of their success, they plan to take up farming full time in five to six years. " We might homeschool our son or put him in a school near our farm," says Srikanth.

IT'S ALL HARD WORK

GOING back to nature, watching time take its own course, or just standing and staring at life around you -- those are romantic notions that city- slickers think only exist in dreams. But to make those dreams come true, these families have worked hard with unwavering dedication.

" People who want to take up farming, should do a reality check and meet people who have taken the plunge. It might seem very romantic but is loads of hard work," cautions Varghese.

But if it clicks, the emotional rewards are what no other job offers. " From planting seeds, harvesting the crop and transporting it to the market, we are involved all the way," says Konanhalli. Fonseca agrees: " It wasn't hunky- dory, initially we were groping in the dark and it was just trial and error then." Sharada Satrasala, director, Texas Instruments, too cautions romantics. " From outside, it looks like an idealistic dream.

But a lot of hard work is involved.

One should be ready to take on the hard side too," says Satrasala.

Satrasala and her husband Vijay Sindagi, senior manager, Infineon Technologies, have toiled hard to convert their fouracre barren land in Hesaraghatta, 40 kms from Bangalore, into a fertile farm. Calling their land an experimental farm, they try both traditional and scientific methods of farming. The couple is planning to turn to full time farming in a few years. For Satrasala, working in the field is a liberating experience. " It's a lot of hard work. Since we are not traditional farmers, we had to learn a lot," says Satrasala.

Srikanth too has a word of advice, recalling his initial experience he says, " We did everything ourselves from digging, planting, watering and harvesting as labour is scarce. It was a new experience and I realised how difficult a farmer's life was. There were numerous occasions when I had to battle bruises and cuts while digging. And then planting -- the task was arduous initially because you have to bend for long hours during planting, sowing or harvesting. It was daunting.

Over the years, the bonding with the trees grew stronger as they grew," says Srikanth.

THE CALL OF THE CITY LIFE

SO DO these farmers miss the hustle, bustle and glitz of the city life they left behind? Ask Fonseca and Khan how they cope with the non- glamorous life in the hills? " We never led a glamorous life in Mumbai. We were down to earth . So I don't miss city life at all . The only thing I miss is my family and friends," says Fonseca. And Khan says he turned more sociable after settling down in Coonoor.

Konanhalli is also nonchalant.

" We are now used to the luxuries and convenience of village life.

We are planning farm stays so the socialising part is taken care of," she says.

Turing the question on its head, Akila feels that it's the purity of village life that the city bred are actually missing.

" It's the small pleasures which make our lives more rewarding.

Milking a cow, watching them giving birth, help us sense the power of nature. We have lost touch with our roots. Nature is power, it's a different feeling altogether," says Akila, who left her teaching job to take up full time farming.

Having seen the best of both urban and rural life, Priti too thinks it's city dwellers who are not aware what they are missing out on. " City folks are stressed out. They have no time to watch the rain, see flowers bloom.

Watching a plant grow, bearing fruits is like watching our children grow," says Priti.

NO MONEY PLANT

A note of caution: If you are reading this and you you now want to make a living out of farming, it may not be a good idea. One should have a fall back option or contingency plans in place, feels Natarajan. " We are yet to break even. Though we sell bananas and ghee outside, we are not making any profits as of now," says Varghese. However, unlike in the metros, the cost of living in a village is much less. " My idea is not to generate revenue, it is to live in harmony with nature," says Sindagi. Agrees Satish, " I don't look upon it as a profitable venture. We have some savings to live on." However, for those who want to make a living out of it, Sindagi has a piece of advise, " Invest in large tracts, in that case. Only then will it be viable." As for his plans, he says, " I will partly live on my savings but simultaneously try to reduce the dependency on it." That sounds wise, doesn't it?

preetha.nair@mailtoday.in

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Publication:Mail Today (New Delhi, India)
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Oct 21, 2009
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