At 19 years, Krishna McKenzie felt disconnect with life in Britain. He had studied in the J Krishnamurti School in England which oriented him towards a life close to nature. Destiny played her hand and 30 years down the line, Krishna runs the six-acre Solitude Farm at Auroville in Pondicherry, practising natural farming and growing close to 200 local varieties of crops
“I was aspiring to live close to nature… a spiritual life inspired by the teachings of spiritual gurus Sri Aurobindo and The Mother (Mirra Alfassa) who founded Auroville. In England, an acquaintance who had lived in Auroville told me about it and I felt drawn. I came here in 1993,” he says.
At Solitude Farm, Krishna grows around 200 varieties of vegetables, fruits, cereals, millets and edible wild greens, which are superfoods with high nutritive and medicinal properties.
But he has his hands in several pies. He can be found working at his farm or rustling up a meal in his café or perhaps cutting a music album with his Indi-pop band Emergence.
Krishna McKenzie at his food forest in Auroville. Pic: Facebook/@krishnamckenzie
Krishna practices natural farming and permaculture inspired by Japanese Zen master Masanobu Fukuoka who advocated that bio-resources such as leaves, branches and weeds should be returned to the soil to enhance its fertility.
The musician-farmer hosts a weekly farm tour and workshops at the farm as well as in schools and other institutions to train and familiarize others with permaculture. He has a large following on social media and regularly uploads music and farming videos on Instagram and YouTube (over 55,500 followers).
Food, forest and natural farming
A permaculture farm involves different layers of vegetation and a diverse range of crops. The biodiversity takes care of the complete nutritional needs but also creates an eco-system that is resilient to vagaries of weather and pests.
Krishna says he mixes leaves, branches and weeds which work as nutrients to keep the soil healthy. He doesn’t use pesticides or fertilisers and is averse to using machines or tractors.
His food philosophy is simple – eat local. “All civilisations have emerged based on their relationship with mother nature. Our relationship with mother earth is the basis of salvation,” he says.
Krishna McKenzie hosts a weekly farm tour and workshops at the farm. Pic: Facebook/@krishnamckenzie
“By honouring the local plants, you honour your cultural identity. Our culture comes from the soil. A society without food culture is without any cultural identity.”
In the west, society is in free fall because no one has any relation or link to where their food came from. India, to an extent, has still managed to preserve its cultural identity, he says.
“When everything you need is locally available and has great nutritive and medicinal value, why should spend large amounts of money to import exotic food crops from other parts of the world that have adverse costs on society, environment and health?” he asks.
Food basket (left) and fresh harvest at Solitude Farm (right). Pic: Facebook/@solitudefarm
He feels that local foods that are easy to grow, nutritive, don’t have ecological costs or carbon footprint should be introduced in the mid-day meals in schools which would be a solution for nutritional well-being, thus addressing the crisis on an ecological, social and economic level. It would make life easier for farmers, undermine industrialisation and create a strong cultural identity for the next generation, he says.
Imbibing the local culture
When he arrived in Auroville, Krishan lived and worked at Annapurna farm, learning the basics of farming and about the local crops. He soaked up the Tamil culture and language. But after a year he was open to a bigger challenge. So he lived and worked on a 50-acre piece of land.
He built his own hut, grew his own food and lived much like Robinson Crusoe, by his own admission.
A year of solitary life made him restless and lonely. So he went off to Japan and brought his girlfriend to live with him in Auroville. He and a few other youths at Auroville launched the Solitude Farm in 1996 where Krishna started farming, learnt the local practices of organic farming and started experimenting with natural farming.
But it was a destined meeting with his guru, Fukuoka, in Dehradun in 2003 that galvanised him to work with a renewed focus on the farm.
“Those five days with Fukuoka gave me new energy and motivation. The farm really took off after that and has been growing ever since.
Thali at Solitude Farm Cafe. Pic: Facebook/@solitudefarm
The basic philosophy I follow is simple – the soil is divinity and all the microorganisms that live in the soil provide it fertility. Man’s arrogance or attempts to dominate nature are futile. Fukuoka would say that only a fool can understand nature,” says Krishna.
Farm to plate, musically
In 2011, the need for financial sustainability led Krishna to set up a farm-to-plate cafeteria in his farm to serve locally grown delicacies.
“Starting the café has further facilitated our on-going exploration of this vast treasure trove of nutrition that has really become the cornerstone of what Solitude Farm stands for – honouring the gifts of Mother Nature,” he says.
Krishna has also started a subscription-based basket service where different food items are harvested and packed in a basket.
“Each basket has 6-8 kg of food and costs Rs400. An annual subscription costs Rs12,000,” he says.
People can choose the food items they want, he adds.
Music too is integral to Krishna’s life. He is the frontman for his Indi-pop music band Emergence. He has given scores of performances and cut two albums. A third is on its way.
Music lover Krishna McKenzie (centre) is part of Indi-pop band Emergence. Pic: Facebook/@krishnamckenzie
His music is woven into his philosophy of nature and food. “I feel celebration is an important part of permaculture,” he says. And as for living in Auroville, he says: “At Auroville, I was free to explore and work at my own pace I had the space to learn, make mistakes and grow."
(Urvashi Dev Rawal is a Jaipur-based journalist specialising in development, gender, and political reporting)