When was the last time you climbed up a tree? Or plucked some fruit straight from the branches? As our world is modernizing and cities and developing, it's hard to find spaces to simply enjoy being with nature. To explore plants, trees or reconnect to where your food comes from.
Sujatha Gardens, on the outskirts of Hyderabad is one such forward thinking initiative that is giving children and adults alike such a reconnection space through their planting & seed bombing workshops, animal interaction spaces and the signature yearly event -- the Aam (mango) parties.
"It started as bringing in families to enjoy what we could enjoy". Over the years they have been successively transforming the land Shashi inherited from his mother, Sujatha. Today they have over 2000 mango trees and 500-800 other varieties of trees including soapnut, guava jamun, sapota, jackfruit, pomegranate etc.
It all starts with the kids
When they realised that their kids and the other kids in the family were enjoying themselves so much in nature, that's when they decided to take this to other parents. There are some families who were in awe to see fruits growing on trees. "I thought we get them from the shop." some kids would say. Rupam and Shashi wanted to break this mindset and encourage children to do some activities closer to Earth. Majority of their trees were mango trees; that's when the Aam party concept came up of plucking your own mangoes in the peak of summer. It took a few years to get it rolling, but today Rupam says she has to refuse people because of the lack of shade and shelter she has to offer.
At this Aam party, they invite kids to come climb trees, pluck their own mangoes and for the families, and buy them at farm price. They also have a terrace gardening class where they encourage people to plant their own food. Their mangoes are chemical-free and ripened on the trees so they also turn people to the habit of healthy food.
They decided to add in one more twist to this project. Seeing the misuse of plastic today that has affected all of us, they thought why not inculcate some of these habits from the source. "We have done so much damage to the Earth. Like polluting it up to such an extent that the oceans are soups of plastic". Rupam feels that it's not quite possible to reverse or clean it up, but we can just simply stop adding more. How? Zero-waste parenting. "That would be possible, if we can instill this in our children at an early age. It should be a lifestyle, not something that they are trying to do. We have this platform for the children that come in, to show and tell them and help them stop using single use plastics."
When the children come to their farm, they are shown around by other children who are volunteers at the party and informed about how damaging plastic is to the environment. They show these kids pictures of the damaging effects of plastic on the environment. Seeing them, the children feel concerned and obliged to do something about the issue. Some have come back after a year and said, "you know, it's been a year and we haven't used a straw."
Why are these initiatives important in our rapidly modernizing world? By understanding how our food is grown and physically coming in contact with nature we are able to understand global issues like climate change, the plastic problem, depleting oceans and soils or the food waste crisis. Our empathy with nature is the first of many steps towards being conscious about how we buy and use things. This empathy slowly nudges us towards zero waste lifestyles for a healthier and happy planet.