We were spending two days on the beach in Mandvi, a seaside town in Kutch, sleeping in a tent. A tent with air conditioning and a well-appointed bathroom, but a tent nonetheless. I was nursing a sunburned face, the result of a Jeep drive through a game reserve in search of the Indian Wild Ass, a large equine that can gallop at speeds approaching 80 kilometers an hour. (We saw several small groups of the ass, along with some cranes who were late flying back to Siberia, flamingoes and a few wild dogs.) I had no après-sun cream, so had resorted to slathering my red, dry skin with hand lotion.
Over coffee on the tent’s front porch I read about an organic farm not far from Mandvi, about 7 kilometers, and we decided to ask our driver, Suraj, to take us there that afternoon. I wanted to go because I am interested in farming, especially organic farming, and because I have not given up on the idea of operating a restaurant with its own large garden/small farm. So whenever I have the opportunity to see a farming operation I try to take advantage of it and walk through the fields and talk to the farmers.
The farm is called Nu Tech, and is part of World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. After asking for directions several times, we turned off of the narrow road and found a Hindu temple on our left, and directly beyond that a farmhouse and fields. We parked the car and walked toward a man standing near the farm building, and he in turn called for his son to take us on a tour of the spread.
The son, who is 18 and studying mechanical engineering at university, told us he is the seventh generation of his family to work on the farm; his father is the manager of Nu Tech. When he and his two brothers finish their educations they will work on the farm, he said. Plus, a new tractor had just arrived, and they are excited about getting on it.
We toured the farm, which has a herd of cows that supply milk and manure (which is converted to fertilizer). There are two bulls and 25 or so cows. We walked down a few trails, alongside fields of castor and tomatoes and squash. A large section of Nu Tech is devoted to date palms. As we neared the end of the tour we came across rows of aloe vera. Aloe vera, perfect for sunburned skin. We walked near a plant and removed a healthy stalk from it. Relief was in my hands.
As we neared the farmhouse again we noticed a group of 10 or so people on their haunches harvesting grass. Our guide told us it was for the cows and left us, walking over to the harvesters. A few minutes later he returned, two young women in tow. Meghan and Elise, it turns out, were volunteer workers on the farm, which they had located through Wwoof. “Look, there’s a white person,” Megan said as she approached us, indicative, I guess, of the area, which is off the main tourist track. They were planning to stay on the farm for five weeks, and were into their third. They looked happy, dirty hands and all.
We needed to get back to the tent, as cocktail hour was approaching. And I had big plans for my aloe vera stalk.
Addendum: Angela and I met Megan and Elise for dinner in Ahmedabad several weeks after our visit to the farm, and over mutton and chicken and kulcha they told us that though the work at Nu Tech was exhausting and more difficult than anything they had ever done they were happy they had worked the land. They said they had learned a lot. They were leaving the next day for Germany, where Megan is going to work as an au pair for a year. We hope to see them again.