Monday, June 25, 2012

There's a Fish in my Tomato


Look closely at that tempting tomato, especially if you are vegetarian. Is it 100% tomato, or is there a fish gene lurking in its succulent, scarlet squashiness? What about that cob of corn? Is that a human or a jellyfish gene spliced into its crunchiness?
Makes you think twice, doesn’t it, about the food that you put in your mouth?
GM foods are more mainstream than you think, and if those aromatic displays of fruit and veg in your supermarket aren’t organic, you may want a closer look at their labels.

The Fish Tomato and other Marvels
The fish tomato, a genetically engineered marvel conjured up in the labs of biotech firm, DNA Plant Technology, never quite made it past its USDA field test. But many other genetically modified foods have. GM watchdog, the Institute for Responsible Technology,
provides a chilling list of GM-fortified foods that make it to the table of unsuspecting consumers:
"bread, cereal, peanut butter, pasta, ice cream, infant formula and commercial crops like sugar beets, zucchini, soy  and canola."

Frankenstein Foods
Despite the claims of Monsanto, Dow and other biotech companies that champion GM engineering, the inherent safety of so-called Frankenstein foods remain unproven, hinging on longterm studies that haven’t yet occurred. In fact, there is a growing body of proof to the contrary - reports on sterility, allergies, auto-immune diseases, eczema and epidemics among animals and some humans exposed to GM foods –  are not uncommon on Google and in your daily paper!
Together with irrefutable evidence that pesticide residues in food create havoc with our bodies, this information raises the worrying spectre that because of our diet, future generations will spring from a distinctly odd gene pool.
Sangita Sharma, Eco- Warrior 
In Bangalore, India, one woman decided that educating the public about toxic foods and campaigning against the GM industry wasn’t enough. In Jallahalli, on the outskirts of Bangalore, Sangita Sharma, a feisty organic farmer, is paving the way with innovative solutions to organic food production.
Sangita  runs Annadana, ( a verdant, self-contained farm, where her minimal but efficient team grows, harvests and conserves seeds in a seed bank that has become a lifeline to many small scale farmers.
At Annadana, Sangita practices and advocates low-cost, sustainable, organic farming techniques, aimed rural farmers and farming communities.
Farmers, Debt & Suicide
The harsh reality is that hybrid GM seeds are not self-sustaining. Traditionally, says Sangita, farmers who used to save seeds for their next crop cycle, are now are relying on subsidies, year after year, to purchase hybrid seeds from agribusiness giants such as Monsanto and the Swiss Syngenta. The backlash of this dependence  - rising debt and farmer suicides - has been explored in Frontline, a US documentary series, the award winning Indian film, Peepli Live (2010) and Mahesh Bhatt's 'Poison on the Platter' (2009).
But what does this dependence on GM seeds and subsidies really mean? To Sangita, it means:
“that farmers today are losing their age-old knowledge of seed saving techniques” .
So at Annadana, her mission is “to revive the ancient art and science of seed saving, restore the farmers' right to open pollinated heritage seeds and empower them to be debt-free.
How Annadana works  
In the seed gardens that dot Annadana’s five acres, Sangita and her team cultivate  traditional vegetable seeds - diverse varieties of corn, capsicum, brinjal, chillies, squash, lettuce, tomato  - and as well as field crops of ragi, paddy and wheat.
The team follow crop rotation cycles and traditional farming technology - such as raised vegetable beds (reframed every four years when they shrink), and net covered tunnels to prevent natural hybridisation between varieties.
Rainwater collected in five harvesting pits scattered around the farm and natural fertilizer mixed with rich, eroded topsoil, are used to nurture growth.
Natural pesticides made from biomass plants – neem and mango leaves, congress grass, cow manure, weeds and urine, among them – keep pests and vermin at bay.
Sangita follows the constellation cycle when sowing seeds - in traditional farming, the four elements of air, water, fire and earth influence the growth cycle of seed, flower, root, leaf and fruit – a process that "enhances taste to its fullest potential."
These simple, natural and inexpensive techniques, says Sangita, can easily be replicated in farming communities around the country and restore to farmers, an age-old tradition that was once theirs.
The Seed Bank
The farm sells and exchanges only seeds, and its produce is not for consumption. So once the seeds are harvested, they are processed, stored and packaged in an insulated, temperature controlled unit. The seeds are dried on mesh-covered wooden trays that provide both shade and ventilation. A warm oven is used to eliminate moisture and ensure both the longevity and viability of seeds.
Farmers have access to organic, open-pollinated vegetable seeds at a fraction of what it costs them in the open market.  Twenty to thirty thousand packets are distributed free of cost to nearby farmers. Sangita also takes her seeds to farming expositions across the country to introduce farmers to the possibitlity of low-cost, hybrid-free farming.
All you need  are a few pots
Sangita’s vision for eco-friendly farming includes more than just the farming community. She urges people to grow their own vegetables..”all you need are a few pots“ and organizes field trips to Annadana for local schools.  Children particpating in her farm trails project, "From Soil to Seed to Plate' refuse to leave: 
She is a passionate advocate of eco-friendly farming at corporate events, runs campaigns and takes her message to symposiums across the country.
It's an incredible achievement from someone without a background in science or agriculture; in fact in her previous avatar, Sangita worked in the media, and she clearly understands its power as a medium for her eco-farming message.
“Just try it, farming is not rocket science, if I can do it, so can you! ….my lessons are learnt from nature and time-tested farmers' wisdom.”
Annadana in Sanskrit means ‘the gift of food’ ....and Sangita’s seed bank does just that!
Useful links:

About Talking Cranes

Talking Cranes is a social site founded by Hyma Menath, based in the San Francisco bay area and Aneeta Madhavan, based in Oxford, UK to create an online space for women of South Asian heritage and people interested in a multicultural world. We were joined by Meera Kymal and Lakshmi Rao Sankar, both from New York. The four of us had a blast creating and shaping the site. We want to provide a platform to communicate ideas and share stories, ask questions and get support and mostly find humor in our everyday lives. So that's the "Talking" part of Talking Cranes.
And now for the Crane bit - there is something eloquent and beautiful about these large majestic graceful birds celebrated in myth and folklore. They are very communicative, form strong bonds and make caring parents. For us, cranes also represent wanderlust. Many of them migrate up to 3000 miles, and, in folklore, these birds of heaven are the only creatures that can traverse heaven, the earth and the underworld.
So join us and connect with this community of people interested in a multicultural world and share your stories and perspectives of the world through your unique point of view.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Memorable visit by students of Class 7
from Jain Heritage School

Ishana Farms witnessed a trail of 45 young enthusiastic minds belonging to class of 7 from Jain Heritage School(JHS). This is was thanks to the efforts of Sudhir and Namrata Mahajan.
Several schools have visited in the past but this by far was the most energized and gratifying experience. Even the two teachers with farm backgrounds went down memory lane to share their experiences in their villages back home. At each juncture of the trail, it revoked a nostalgia on how agriculture was practiced at Ishana farms was the same in the villages once upon a time but no longer done now! Which is the sad truth.

Taking you back to the trail -  Students were first introduced by coming 'face to face' with the producer of their foods ' Farmers'. The students were split into 4 batches of 15 each with a Annadana farm educator to guide them through the journey of the seed to the plate.  The interest to understand and learn every aspect of integrated farming was joyful. To keep children captive and attentive is one thing but the inertia that came from within these students and the values imparted by the school and parents must be complimented.

Most student visits in the past to the compost, biogas, bio digestor yard are seen with such averse reaction to just the smell and profanities galore of disgust.
But students from JHS participated in all our activities by touch and feel be it the earthworms, cow dung, manure or compost without reacting to the smell. They handled each aspect with a finesse like no other. So refreshing.

Students excitement knew no bounds with the ' Vow and oh look at that" to the vast vegetable diversity captured when presented to them. Questions galore were shot out ...why cannot we see this diversity in the supermarkets? We then showed them a short crisp film on the Immortal burger and what junk foods does to their bodies. Their disgust was evident with the most impressive reaction of "Oh No, No more!".  We explained the food they ate now was devoid of this rich diversity and nutrients which is why disease was so rampant. A vow was then taken that should they pass by junk food places they will refrain from entering such places. A loud NO to junk foods still resonates in my ears. Absolutely heartening.

Now these young green guardians after the farm trail indulged in fresh hibiscus lime juice and cheered at the thought that they were actually drinking nectar of nature. They then watched the most thought provoking potent documentary film 'Poison on the Platter' and were horrified that this biodiversity was under threat from genetic modification. So they wished to go a step further and asked us how they could help in safeguarding biodiversity. So we in turn wished to know  ' how many would take the responsibility in conserving one variety and partake in 'save a seed to save a species' campaign? The answer in a animated unison was a "YES"   We then circulated " Adopt a seed" fliers with seed saving tips along a few heritage seeds of two varieties of tomatoes and brinjals. Boy oh boy...silence prevailed whilst they lapped up all the information and their queries answered. They then decided that they would faithfully sow the seeds and contribute back to our seed bank.  The intention to just do this was in itself encouraging.

A hungry bunch who now deserved food was packed and brought along to be served by Mr Raajkumar and team, was simple yet wholesome. He kept all students in check, cautioning them to not litter Ishana Farms. True to his word, when they left there was not a single plastic not a plate or food that was dropped nor wasted. We were most delighted to see discipline.  We thank Mr Raajkumar's conscious ways.  
With each effort to alert and educate students makes me realise that all our efforts in sowing seeds of consciousness over the years is well worth our while. You may view our face book link on Jain Heritage School's visit....

We hope to see educate many more students this season... our trails and teams are all set. Join us.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Wish to start and run your own organic farm? Fear not we are here. Following the pouring requests and demands, we continue with much vigor to conduct our organic farm workshops at our knowledge farm 'Ishana' in Bangalore.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

This change from 'My right to safe food' to 'Our right to safe food' has long been over due. The contamination in our food chain leaves me in despair when almost every home has an invasion of a life threatening disease. We need you to stand with us as we defend our food chain from disease through repeated assaults.

Here at Annadana, we continue in our endeavors to focus on workshops, consultancy and lobbying so that people from all walks of life are educated on the issues of safe food and sustainable farming. We need your help to keep our children safe, healthy and inherit an earth that is pristine and clean. We need your hands to support us in our quest for a fairer world.

You can help in any one or more of these ways –

Ishana Farm Trails – Take a break from the urban jungle and come visit our farm. Discover the pleasures of feeling the moist soil beneath your bare feet, the smell of fresh rural air and the sounds of a working farm. You can even lend a hand on the farm if you wish – a fantastic educational experience for all ages – kids as well as their grandparents! For further details and bookings, please email us at or call 08277116606, 080 23254400 .
Please view link -  "" \t "

Soil to Seed to Plate
– Not quite confident of growing your own veggies? Fear not…Annadana to the rescue! For a small charge, we will help you grow your own fruit and veg at home – regardless of whether your kitchen garden is one window sill, a few pots in the balcony or a lovely large patch in the back garden. You will even get a starter pack to help you in the path to food independence. Call
08277116606, 080 23254400 for further details.

 The Seed membership - Gift a membership to a friend, family or loved one – after all, the gift of a seed is the gift of a life. We have various membership packages with bio-diversity gift packs and information that will allow you to become a bio-diverse farmer yourself! Your membership will go towards supporting our committed farmers and preserving our seed heritage. Please view our website

 GYO veggies
– Grow Your Own pesticide free fruit and veg – straight from your garden onto your plate. Please download Annadana Seed Catalogue 2012 from our website which offers a diverse collection of heritage organic vegetable seeds. Select what you want to grow, fill up the seed selection form and send it to us at :"  Simple!

 Safe Farming advisory services
- Wish to live in the luxury of your own farm and make it productive. Your land may be lying vacant but you do not know how to get started? Trust us, farming is no rocket science, if we can do it so can you!  Our expertise ranges from advising private farms, resorts, hotels, government horticulture farms, botanical gardens to International Institutions to suit any agro -climatic zone. We take an integrated holistic approach as Soil and Seeds are sacred to us. Our qualified team and farmer teachers are armed with experience and knowledge.  Just call an Annadana farm expert who will offer you a consultancy advice and help you getting started. For further details  -write to or call
08277116606, 080 23254400

Come join us to celebrate the greatness of food, its emergence out of the vital essences of the earth and its intimate connection with all life.