Motivational quotes written on benches greet you as soon as you enter Shabri Farms in Sawai Madhopur in Rajasthan. They talk of hope in the midst of darkness and despair. What owners Shrilal Meena and Jaskaur Meena are doing on about 16 acres of their farmland is quite similar – insisting on organic produce and dairy when pesticides and chemical fertilisers are a way of life among most farmers. Interestingly, Shrilal Meena is no farmer. A former LIC official, he and his wife, a former district education officer, took to organic farming after retiring. They had a small parcel of land initially, but bought small pockets from other farmers to finally end up with 16 acres. Seeing the ghastly effects of pesticides and chemicals, they decided to go organic. The soil in the farm was upturned and fresh soil from nearby forests was spread on the farm. A few years later, they are a shining example for other farmers in the region. Meena says he has tried to influence other farmers to go organic, but rues that leaving chemicals is not easy for them. “They have to feed their families. Government jobs are rare, so what do people do? They have to rely on their land for livelihood. In such a case, why will they not bow down to lucrative yields that can be achieved with chemicals?,” he reasons. But he is optimistic. “The younger generation realises the importance of chemical-free food. They are more open to the idea, and are experimenting with organic produce.” As you venture further into the farm, there are rows of exotic vegetables growing.
Red and yellow peppers, red cabbage, cherry tomatoes and cucumbers, chillies and gourd. Preparations are on for the summer varieties as the last of winter vegetables are being harvested. Amla trees are laden with fruit, and a little beyond are orchards of mango and guava. Large sheds house rows of vermicompost in various stages of preparation. That’s the only manure used in the farm. Drip irrigation and hydroponics are used to make optimal use of water.A dairy houses about a hundred buffaloes and 40 cows. Interestingly, even though the milk is priced slightly higher than popular brands, all of it is consumed in the small town itself. “That the milk is organic might not be its selling point, as people here are not so aware of the concept, but they know the milk is pure and hence the demand,” says Meena. The family uses the produce for their own consumption, and also supply to their hotel, Anuraga, which they have given to the Treehouse brand to operate. In a small district where the economy thrives on spotting a tiger at nearby Ranthambore National Park, hotels are dime a dozen. What makes the Anuraga different is the food, with completely organic vegetables, dairy and pickles that arrive fresh from Shabri farms. In the hands of a deft chef, the produce is turned into wholesome, delicious and homely food. Wi fi is only at a couple of locations, but what the Anuraga has instead is live music and dance daily, a magic show that is surprisingly top notch and even a daily screening of a documentary on Ranthambore. Laidback, just as the location. “Initially, we built about eight rooms. Then we added more one by one, but the resulting structure was amoebic. Also, we were tired of operating a hotel. So about four years back, we tore down the entire building and built afresh.” The result is a palace-like structure with the usual Rajasthani architecture. Meena’s daughters did the interiors, and then they gave it to Treehouse to manage. “The hotel business is one of the most luxurious, but living on my farm is the real life,” says Meena.