Published: 01st May 2017
Green Thumbs: How Nandanam Arts College students turned a space smelling of urine into a lush, green organic vegetable garden
Government Arts College for Men, Nandanam in Chennai has set up an organic farm, under the MHRD’s RUSA scheme, that has transformed a barren, smelly patch of land into an organic vegetable garden
A few years ago, going past the Nandanam Government Arts College would have warranted some grimacing on account of the stench of urine. A smelly patch of land in one corner of the campus was being traditionally used as an open toilet by the students. “It would stink terribly. We tried our best to discourage students from urinating in the open, but we failed,” says Dr Mujeera Fathima, Head of the Department (Botany).
Luckily now, passersby don’t need to worry about the smell as the place has been transformed into an organic farm, growing all kinds of vegetables. “Three years ago, we got the students to dig the plot and restore the land. We encouraged them to plant vegetables and use bio-fertilisers," says Dr Mujeera, who's been mentoring the students from the get-go.
Proud produce: Students displaying their produce from the farm
Currently, this skill development initiative by the college is a part of the MHRD’s Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA) scheme — a Centrally Sponsored Scheme (CSS) — that was launched in 2013, aiming at providing strategic funding to eligible state higher educational institutions. “This is the first project from our college to get approval to come under RUSA and it will prove to be beneficial to the students in the future because this is something that they can make a living out of. Since most of our students have their roots in farming, it makes sense to teach them how important it is to use organic insect repellent instead of pesticide, and the benefits of bio-fertilisers that are not only eco-friendly but also economic for the farmers,” explains the HOD.
This project involves the students of the Botany and Zoology departments in groups of ten; each group is allotted a 15x15 feet piece of land where they can plant anything from okra, bitter gourd, chilies to a variety of greens. "The programme begins in the month of December and goes up till March. We teach them theoretically and then evaluate them on the quality of produce grown. Most importantly, we use only traditional bio-fertilisers like Gunapaselam, a fermented fish waste or Panchagavya, a mix of cow dung, cow urine, ghee, curd and milk," explains Dr Mujeera.
Green thumb: The organic farm run by the students using bio-fertilisers
Initially doubting a Zoology student’s need to understand organic farming, 20-year-old S Babu, says, “At first I was wondering what zoology has to do with organic farming, but after a few weeks I realised that I could use these skills even after I graduate. Now I know how to make vermicompost and vermiwash. We've visited other organic farms to gain exposure too." He attests that there's a huge difference in the taste of these organic vegetables to the ones we get in the market. “My family owns a piece of land and I have plans of starting a small organic farm in the future," he says confidently.
G Dharmadurai, a 21-year-old Botany student, who hails from Viluppuram, says, "My family has been into farming for more than three decades and they have never heard of organic farming or even bio-fertilisers. Now I've educated my father on how cost-effective these insect repellents are and we have decided to give it a try once the rains set in this year. Earlier, I wasn't aware of how pesticides can affect the soil adversely and contaminate it. I am hoping that this will influence the other farmers in our area to make the switch too." He also notes that people are now being exposed to the health benefits of organic vegetables and it definitely should be welcomed. "Organic farming is something all of us can try if we put in some effort. Even a small terrace garden can accommodate a family's vegetable needs," he explains.
The professor says they are planning to expand the farm to a scale where they can start selling their produce to the public. Also, she adds that this might kindle the entrepreneurial spirit within the students
The Ministry of Human Resource Development announced that it has plans to introduce the skill development course to many government colleges in Tamil Nadu. In its first phase, it's been rolled out to nineteen colleges. Dr Amutha Pandian, Principal of the Government Arts College for Men and State Coordinator of this initiative, says, "We always talk about liberal arts, but at the end of the day, are we really making them job-ready? This is exactly why we need these skill development courses. Under RUSA, we've gotten BSNL, BFSI, ICT, NFPC and so on to train about fifteen thousand students across Tamil Nadu this year. These vocational courses will mend the gap between educational institutions and corporates."
Teaching the students the importance of health with this hands-on approach can further benefit them. We saw how capable and responsible our youngsters can be with recent Jallikattu protests; all they needed was a push. Similarly, I am hoping our initiative might be the start of a new green revolution in farming
Dr Amutha Pandian, Principal, Nandanam Arts College
She also expresses her delight in knowing that the college's organic farming programme has been taken under the RUSA scheme. "Teaching the students the importance of health with this hands-on approach can further benefit them. We saw how capable and responsible our youngsters can be with recent Jallikattu protests; all they needed was a push. Similarly, I am hoping our initiative might be the start of a new green revolution in farming," says Dr Amutha, with a smile.