Four years ago, software engineer Prakash Kannaiyan (36) from Ambattur realised that he was unhappy despite his professional success and leading a cushy lifestyle. Like so many mid-career professionals who go through a similar crisis, the techie, who lives with his wife and nine-year-old daughter and works at a multinational firm along OMR, turned to the Internet to find solutions.
“It was then that I stumbled upon a YouTube video on the toxicants present in the food we eat and the benefits of organic farming. I was hooked from that moment,” he says.
Over the next few days, Prakash drove from nursery to nursery during his lunch breaks and purchased pots, soil and coco peat, and seed packets of tomato, brinjal and other vegetables to set up a little garden in the terrace of his home.
“I bought the basic tools needed for a terrace garden, watched all the ‘Do-it-yourself’ videos on YouTube and a couple of months later, I harvested my first crop of tomato, brinjal and greens grown organically from my terrace. It was one of the most satisfying moments of my life,” he says. This happened four years ago.
Soon, other like-minded organic veggie lovers in the city, who shared their experience with one another on online forums, got together and formed the Chennai Green Commune, an online platform for urban gardeners. Membership swelled and splinter groups were formed where doctors, lawyers, housewives and even senior citizens interacted and set up vegetable gardens in their homes using organic manure and pesticides.
The group decided that merely sharing the joy of growing and harvesting vegetables within the online community was not enough and went to the streets. “We organised weekend workshops where basics of organic gardening was taught to interested folks and we even sold our produce in public parks to create awareness among the public,” say members of the Chennai Green Commune.
But Prakash was still not satisfied with his success in farming. When he could find no more space in his terrace to plant new seeds in all the polythene bags and the containers that he possessed, he went ahead and invested several lakhs of rupees in a 7-acre piece of land at Melkothukuppan, near Ambur, in Vellore district, and set up an integrated farm.
The lush green farm now has paddy fields, vegetable and flower gardens surrounded by sandalwood, red sanders and other valuable trees, two poultry units with thousands of chickens, a dozen cows and several goats. His latest passion is cultivating spirulina, a freshwater algae whose extract has huge commercial potential as a dietary and cosmetic supplement.
“While organic farming as such is still not lucrative, a little application of technology and research can go a long way in bringing profits,” he says. Every Sunday, the geek-turned-gardener leaves home early in the morning and takes a two-and-a-half-hour ride to his farmland.
Last week, he took Dr Rengasamy, director of the Centre for Advanced Studies in Botany, University of Madras, to his farm to review a research project conducted by the university on his land.
After going on a tour of the farmland and listening to the enthusiastic geek’s YouTube-based knowledge on farming, the top botanist remarked, “It’s amazing, they seem to know more than me.”