We walked into the farm beside the new hospital, bent down and grabbed out a couple bushels of plants with roots of peanuts. We sat on the dirt, removing the peanuts from the plant, rubbing the dirt with our hands, opening them and popping them into our mouths. Eating with friends was nothing new, but eating raw food straight from the source was something rarely experienced. At Jamkhed, it has been nice knowing where my food comes from and I have come to appreciate that relationship in health, both by respecting the food and understanding the conditions it came from. The relationship is important at CRHP and is imbedded into us while at Karkut Farm, CRHP’s local farm 20 minutes from the hospital.
All the food made at CRHP comes from Karkut, which I have visited around ten times. At Karkut, we often pick corn from the field and roast it in coal, watch farmers milk cows and place the milk into jars then brought to CRHP, see chickens lay eggs that are put into bags and then into omelets at breakfast, speak with farmers who till the land where eggplant is grown, or walk through fields of sorghum wheat. Karkut serves many purposes, one of which is to provide organic food for the Arole’s, guests and some staff at the CRHP campus.
The farm’s larger contribution comes from harmonizing our relationship with the environment and land. Karkut teaches villagers and farmers about farming techniques, focusing on those which foster a beneficial and sustainable relationship with the environment. Upon initial arrival to Jamkhed, the Arole’s found that men had a rather destructive relationship with their land, unsure of how to best utilize their space and have it provide for them, especially during drought. There was no leveling of land, no water harvesting and farmland was rocky. With the understanding that it was essential to have productive agriculture to reduce child mortality, for families to be happy and mentally at ease, and for nutrition to be discussed, CRHP started the watershed development program and farmer’s clubs. Farmer’s clubs were men who would come together and discuss new techniques and solutions to common problems plaguing their land and crops, as well as displaying good farming techniques. Techniques such as irrigation, farm ponds, proper spacing of land, co-placement of trees and crops and crop rotation are all exemplified and discussed at Karkut.
Karkut also provides the space to be inventive and experimental with farming methods that are affordable and natural. The earth provides for our own needs and when properly utilized can save the trouble, cost and danger of using products usually paid for. The Neem plant, for example, serves many purposes. When planted along the side of the road, it prevents animals from grazing and plant infections from entering. When converted into a liquid, Neem becomes a natural insecticide. When the branches are torn off, many Indians use it as a toothbrush. Or the Moringa tree, which originated from India and is commonly found throughout Africa. The seed pods have been proven to purify contaminated water. The leaves can be prepared similarly to spinach and are low in fats and carbohydrates but contain a high content of protein, calcium, iron, potassium and vitamins A, B and C. Additionally, soil fertilization at Karkut farm is done by worms that eat up old vegetables, soil and cow dung and poop out rejuvenated soil. Thousands of worms squirm away next to the farmhouse producing fertilizer within weeks and at only marginal cost. These methods are all experimented with on the farm and those that are successful then transferred to other farmers.
Karkut also works to reduce stigma associated with HIV/AIDS, as every female farm-worker is HIV positive. Karkut provides them with housing, stability, work and acceptance. This trend started in the mid-nineties when HIV positive women began to present at the hospital sick, stigmatized, alone and depressed. With food, support and love, these women serve an indispensable role in running and maintaining the farm. All receive antiretrovirals from the government and CRHP is not shy to tell their story and raise awareness about their success.
In urban areas, it is all too easy to become disconnected with our food and forget its origins. Living in Atlanta, Boston and New York, I would rarely think about where my food came from, how it got there, who was responsible for growing it, or how my own actions effect its growth. All that was important was my food getting to me when I needed it. Living in a rural area changes this view, not only by eating peanuts straight from the ground or walking on farmland, but from seeing how the rain (and lack of it) affects the mood of villagers, or how suddenly we will not be eating onions because the crop became infected and prices raised. The connection is especially strong from seeing how the health of children and families is dramatically affected by the weather. It is important both as a person and as a doctor to think about the behind-the-scenes view of the food we eat because it is usually grown right next door and plays a large component in our own health as well as that of our community.