Chennaiite is techie by profession, farmer by passion

Winston in his garden

Chennai: We often read reports of farmers leaving their native lands to migrate to bigger towns and cities to find alternative work. This worrying trend has been offset in recent times in a small way by youngsters in the city who actively pursue farming and gardening.

This week, when the Tamil diaspora around the world celebrates Uzhavar Thirunaal (farmers festival) Pongal, News Today brings you the story of 27-year-old VOC Nagar resident, Winston Benjamin – a techie by profession and a farmer by passion.

Winston says, “It was the 2015 floods that started my endeavour in terrace gardening. During this period, it was a struggle to get vegetables for cooking on a daily basis. That was when one of my friends suggested to set up a small terrace garden and pick vegetables from the terrace itself.”

Clove beans

Today, Winston has almost 80 pots of vegetable and fruit-bearing plants (including creepers and climbers) on his terrace, that supply his family of four with enough vegetables to cook for 3-4 days a week.

Winston now grows pomegranates, cauliflower, cabbage, chili, lady’s finger, clove beans, brinjal, rosemary, ramba leaves, capsicum, mint, thiruneetrupachilai, punai kali, pirandai, red pasalai, clitoria on his terrace garden. “What about squirrels?” we ask Winston. “They eat some and leave the rest for us. They also need to eat. It’s only natural,” he replied with a smile.

He says, “We almost never buy lady’s finger or brinjal. By growing veggies ourselves, we have the added benefits of minimising monthly expenditure and eating pesticide-free food that tastes better than what we get from the market.”

Milky white okra

Winston also swears by the natural farming methods and never uses any chemicals. He uses techniques like mulching for keeping the soil moist and promoting the growth of beneficial microorganisms.

Powdered vasambu, neem leaves are some of the natural pesticides he uses.

Winston says he learnt all this by following and interacting with some of the pioneers of natural farming methods like Bernard D Clark of Puducherry.

Elephant yam

“Bernard and Nammazhwar were the people who made natural farming popular in Tamilnadu and across India. I learn from wherever I can – books, YouTube, Facebook…” his voice trails.

Winston also helps people set up terrace gardens in their houses. But right now, his time is entirely consumed by a pet project that he is helping out a friend with. He says, “My friend Abdul teaches children about natural farming practically by setting up a garden in a corporation school nearby. I’m helping him now.”

Winston’s Pongal wish is for everyone to support farmers and grow a small kitchen garden in their home. By doing this, Winston says, people will realise the effort taken by farmers to put food on our plate.

Winston can be contacted at 9840703327.

SEED BANK
Recently, Winston Benjamin has also started to don the hat of preserver of native seed varieties.

He said, ‘Right now, I am in the process of collecting indigenous seeds that were lost over a period of time. I am procuring them from a farmer who is in the process of reviving lost plant varieties. The farmer and I try to propagate these plants by giving it to interested people for a cost of Rs 30 per seed packet.”

Right now, Winston has managed to grow milky white okra, elephant tusk okra, red okra, cow horn okra and much more in his terrace garden. Showing us a rare variety of clove beans, Wi”ston said, ‘This was once available all over Tamilnadu. Now, they are found in Kerala, but nowhere in Tamilnadu.”

 

A Harsha Vardhan