A little calf sticks out her tiny tongue at me in welcome, as I enter the gates of the C-SOF farm. She is only 6 days old and has not had sufficient time to learn either her manners or the fear of strangers 😀 She gently nuzzles my hand as I get close to click her picture. Her large eyes and delicate face make her seem more deer like than bovine and I promptly name her Bambi.
It is the harvest festival of Pongal and I could not have chosen a better day to visit an agricultural region, for what can be more auspicious than fortuitously celebrating the occasion deep within the folds of rural India, in the lap of the soil that gives birth to the food that we eat, amidst fields of vegetables and paddy and literally from the root of where it all begins.
Being passionate about ethical and sustainable farming, my enthusiasm today is twofold because apart from being an exemplary organic farm, the C-SOF is also the initiative of the reputed International Competence Centre for Organic Agriculture (ICCOA), which is India’s leading networking organization in organic agriculture, an organization that has been a game changer in the field (pun intended).
The name C-SOF is the abbreviation for Center for Sustainable & Organic Farming. It is being established to serve as a model to demonstrate organic farming practices, as well as to generate and supply organic produce to consumers. It will also make available hands-on experiences to people from the city, who can visit and participate in its various day to day activities (eg. weekend farmers program or adopt an organic plot for a season, etc).
The C-SOF farm is nestled deep within the verdant countryside of the village of Kolatti which lies in the Denkanikottai taluk of the Krishnagiri district of Tamil Nadu, India.
Feel the excitement as you step inside with me and let us explore together, what it has in store for us.
About ICCOA –
The International Competence Center for Organic Agriculture is a registered not-for-profit organization that was formed in 2004 primarily with a mandate to play the role of an interface organization to boost the organic movement in the country and also to be a knowledge center for organic agriculture.
In order to work on its goals, ICCOA performs various roles.
Knowledge Partner to assist in organic conversion –
As a knowledge partner, ICCOA executes large projects in different states of the country. With the support of the concerned state government, it implements 3 year long turnkey projects. The process involves selection of the farmers who are interested in organic farming, orienting them on organic principles, training them on the technical aspects of farming, training them towards obtaining certification, connecting them with accredited certification agencies and eventually at the end of the third year, getting them certified and connecting them to markets. The number of farmers that they assist per year, ranges from 100 to even 500. The certification makes the farmers eligible to sell their produce in the domestic market and in the international market too.
Training programs –
As a part of their mandate to promote organic agriculture and disseminate information, ICCOA conducts frequent training programs, workshops, national and international seminars, conferences on issues and developments that are relevant to the organic sector like composting, organic farm inputs, pest and disease management, certification requirements, etc are held in various project areas.
Policy advocacy –
ICCOA works with several State Governments of India (18 till date) and provides consultations to frame their individual Organic Policies.
Research and Collaborations –
On-going research and market studies are conducted in collaboration with Indian and international organizations.
ICCOA has associated with international organizations FiBL, IFOAM, Nurnberg Messe (BioFach), FAO, CBI, UNCTAD, etc.
Likewise in India, it has associated with the National Centre of Organic Farming, APEDA, Ministry of Food Processing, State Governments, Agriculture Universities, NAFED, CII, organic farmers, processors, traders etc.
Providing a platform –
In order to provide a platform for the stakeholders to meet, ICCOA began an annual event which was conducted in various big cities of India and was initially called the India Organic Trade Fair. In 2009, they entered into a long term agreement with Nurenberg Messe, Germany to co-organize ‘Biofach India together with India Organic’. Biofach India is organized in the month of November.
Since 2017, ICCOA and Government of Karnataka also started the International Trade Fair, ‘Organics & Millets’, which already has had 3 very successful editions in Bangalore from 2017-2019.
Model farm –
The C-SOF farm – ICCOA is creating this model farm known as C-SOF, to demonstrate the various aspects of Organic agriculture.
About C-SOF –
On the completion of a decade of ICCOA in 2014, the dawn of the next decade also brought the dawning of the realization that as an organization promoting the organic movement, it would make sense for them to have their own Model farm which would serve as a one stop shop to demonstrate their entire organic principles and literally be a representative organization for organic agriculture in India.
With this idea, ICCOA identified land just across the Karnataka border and thus the C-SOF was created in the neighboring state of Tamilnadu in the rural interiors of Denkanikottai.
The farm is designed to be a single window, showcasing their various methods of achieving ecologically, economically and socially sustainable agriculture and organic business.
This will be accomplished by growing various crops, using different methods of composting and basically demonstrating and training people in the complete concept of holistic, integrated organic systems.
From the time of the purchase, ICCOA began the process of converting it to an organic farm. The use of all chemical pesticide was stopped and organic processes were developed and in due course the farm obtained its organic certification.
The Mission –
The goals are multiple and are all connected by the commendable desire to be a model to spread the principles of clean and sustainable farming via skill based training, which will empower farmers in all aspects of organic farming systems.
Thus C-SOF aims to be an exemplary learning and resource centre for organic and sustainable agriculture, promote healthy and safe food and improve livelihoods of farmers.
It is planned to make it a full fledged training and demonstration center for organic cultivation which runs on processes that combine various scientific methods using zero chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
An ideal organic farm should be ‘Integrated mixed farming’ diversified with a healthy blend of livestock that exists along with the plant life. Hence, training on managing the animal component like cattle, poultry, aquaculture etc is also a part of the agenda.
As a model farm, it also aims to teach the farmer how income can be maximized because economical viability is what will sustain them in the long run.
A strong organic system is created by the formation of a farmer groups rather than individuals. Hence a cluster of 50 farmers from the villages around the farm have been registered to be a part of C-SOF’s organic farming system. Apart from creating a healthy environment, this also results in being able to provide the consumer with a basket of offerings from a cooperative, rather than a limited number of products, since a wider range can be obtained from so many sources. These farmers are encouraged to visit and experience their processes and C-SOF also procures and markets on their behalf.
Apart from agriculturists, it also aims at training urban residents and gardeners to pursue their hobby better and help their farming dream materialize. People are invited to visit and take part in and learn the workable practices being employed. This will also help to incentivize them to invest in farming land instead of multiple urban properties.
The Farm –
C-SOF is spread across an expanse of 10.5 acres.
The farm is divided into quarter acre sectors (1 acre = 100 cents = 43,560 sq ft) that are labelled for administrative ease.
The farm is equipped to be self sufficient and has its own tractors, composting pits, water tanks, nurseries etc, as a part of the infrastructure.
There is a simple and basic bungalow where the manager stays.
The farm is blessed with a huge open well with a permanent supply of water. The area itself is fortunate to have a high ground water level at a convenient depth of 180 feet.
The mainstay of the farm is its lush orchard that bears 470 mango trees. Yielding varieties like Mallika, Badami, Neelam and Sindhura, the canopies of these beautiful trees are spread over 4.5 acres of the land.
The other fruits that grow here are guavas, chikoos, papayas, jackfruit and newly planted litchis, pomegranate, ramphal, custard apple etc.
There are 31 coconut trees and a few tamarind trees of which the oldest one stands majestically, spreading its fruit laden green canopy in a show of grandeur, right near the entrance of the farm.
A lone jamun tree also towers up grandly in the middle of nowhere.
They also have a 3/4th acre piece of land that happens to naturally be located in a low lying area where the stagnation of water makes it highly conducive for the growing of paddy. C-SOF was the first farm to introduce paddy cultivation in this region and they are now successfully producing organic Sona Masuri and Jeera rice variants.
Intercropped in the space between the trees of the orchards, are the seasonal short term greens and vegetables that are grown in rotation. Coriander, several varieties of spinach, fenugreek, basil, beans, lady finger, varieties of curcubits, corn, chillies, etc are some of the products of the farm.
Following the philosophy of holistic organic farming that entails a mixed diversity of plants and animals, they also have cows, poultry, fish and even dogs on the premises.
C-SOF is home to 7 heads of cattle that belong to a mix of cross-breed as well as indigenous breeds like Kangayan.
My little Bambi, the new born calf who was the head of my welcoming committee, is the latest addition to the cow population.
Apart from milk, the cow dung and urine is the most valuable thing they obtain from their cattle, which is used in the preparation of compost and fertilizers like panchagavya.
The Poultry –
Starting with a humble number of 250 birds of the Gramapriya breed of chickens, C-SOF is now on the way to owning 2000 hens. Tiny chicks are bought and reared in poultry sheds custom built for their well being and growth. Housed and nurtured in free range and organic conditions, these Layer birds are reared only for their eggs and not meat.
What was very entertaining, was the presence of one single duck which lives in harmony with the rest of the hens. With an identity crisis that works in its favor, it seems to be totally at home with its companions and it is quite amusing to watch its seeming unawareness of being different.
Fish tank –
A large tank was created as a result of the excavation of soil which is being used in the upcoming construction of their guest house and training venue. This is the home to the fish fingerlings that they have introduced. The water also provides a bed for azolla cultivation and these multipurpose water ferns are used as animal feed, biofertilizer, water purifier, mosquito repellent etc.
Lucy, Rocky and Rambo … are not the names of the actors in an action movie but are the 2 Labradors and 1 Rottweiler who are the spoilt brats of the farm 😀
These friendly dogs are the darlings of all visitors and even those who are initially petrified (like yours truly), get used to them very quickly.
Sustainable and organic practices –
Though there is a generous supply of ground water, their principles entail a judicious use and hence they have installed sprinkler systems and drip irrigation.
Their cowdung and farm waste are used for generating compost through various processes. FYM (farm yard manure), biodynamic compost, vermicompost, organic sprays from compost etc are some of the methods that are adopted here.
The Staff –
All the workers have been taught the various aspects of farming like making plant beds, seeding, planting, weeding, making compost, driving the tractor, etc.
The day to day operations and Agricultural Practices are managed by the farm Manager Yuvaraj. Other support hands are Muniraj and Bhuwaneshwar Joshi.
For the regular upkeep of farm, harvesting, dairy unit maintenance etc they engage daily/monthly basis workers.
Zainudheen M, guides in the Technical aspects of farming and poultry.
There are several lady employees too who are involved in the farming activities.
A typical day on the farm –
The day begins as early as 4.30 am with the transportation of farm produce to ICCOA’s Bangalore office for supplying organic outlets in the city.
The various other activities include –
Livestock maintenance such as milking the cows, cleaning the cow shed, taking the cows for grazing, cleaning the poultry shed, checking feeds and drinkers in poultry shed, collecting eggs, cleaning dog kennels, taking the dogs out, fish tank cleaning and feeding the fish.
Compost and Bio input preparation and watering compost pits/heaps.
Crop related jobs like transplanting and sowing, irrigation, application of compost and Bio inputs, gap filling, weeding, pruning, etc
Harvesting of greens, vegetable and coconuts.
Cleaning, grading and packing of harvested produce.
My day at the farm –
We reached the farm after a comfortable 1.5 hour drive from central Bangalore. The January weather was very pleasant and the verdant countryside past vegetable fields made the scenic ride very enjoyable.
I spent the morning exploring the various elements of the farm. The 10.5 acres took a couple of hours to cover in detail and when I was done, it was time for lunch.
The pleasure of feasting on simple but flavorful food in rustic environs, is quite unbeatable. The fresh air automatically enhances the appetite (of course some people’s appetites are always at an all time high and need no enhancing :-D).
We had a very tasty meal prepared by the on site manager who managed quite a spread of spicy chicken curry, perfectly circular rotis, steamed rice, cabbage and beans stir fry, sambhar and papad. Being the festival of Pongal that day, we were also treated to a fruit salad and a very delicious payasam.
I indulged in some more photography after lunch and after gathering a few vegetables and fruits, I eventually left just in time to witness a glorious sunset, as the flaming orb sank behind the folds of the distant mountains.
Infrastructure for Training center and Farm Visits/Stay –
The farm will shortly be opened to the public where they will be able to spend a day or more in the heart of nature and experience the thrill of rural life.
The infrastructure for a training center is underway and also that of a guest house with a few rooms.
The construction uses eco friendly material and the bricks are made from the soil of the farm itself. The buildings are earthy and natural in appearance and are coated with natural mud paint with a sealing of Cashew Nut Shell (CNS) liquid.
The training center will have a couple of office rooms for the administrators as well as a hall that can accommodate around 45 people. Short and long term training sessions are being planned.
There is an interesting use of colored glass bottles in parts of the wall.
There are a number of exciting activities that one can indulge in where people of all ages can come for a day’s visit or stay overnight in the comfortable accommodation.
Visitors can take part in various farm activities that have been mentioned earlier. They can also be a part of seasonal events like harvesting or transplanting.
One can even climb a tree or ride a tractor or just hold a new born chick, which many children of today have not had the pleasure of doing.
There will even be options offered for adopting a piece of the farm.
More details will follow soon so stay tuned for the upcoming excitement.
For now, here is a glimpse of what lies in store –
Of course an added bonus while visiting rural areas, is the sighting of birds and animals. The farm and surroundings play host to several varieties of winged visitors like parrots, herons, egrets etc.
There are hiking trails that take you into the surrounding forests which have a high density of elephant population.
The innate beauty of the environment with its lush green cover, brilliant blue skies, dramatic sunsets and clear night skies that are a star gazers delight and of course the crisp clean air, are the wonderful perks that come naturally with the territory!!!
Also a mere 60 kms from the village, is the famous Hogenakkal waterfalls which is a great tourist draw.
Getting there –
C-SOF farm is a mere 80 km from the MG Road which is the CBD of Bangalore city and it is barely 35 km from Electronic City. The roads are excellent and one can do the drive in less than 2 hours from MG Road.
The king of fruits holds sway over the farm and the largest production is of the mango, albeit seasonal. Apart from this, there are guavas, chikoos, papayas, jackfruit etc
Coriander, several varieties of spinach, fenugreek, basil, beans, tomatoes, lady finger, varieties of curcubits, corn, chillies etc are some of the products of the farm.
Sona masuri and Jeera samba rice is also available.
Their livestock of 7 cows produce milk that is currently insufficient to sell commercially but their free range poultry generates eggs that are available to the consumer.
Distribution systems –
Currently the produce of the C-SOF farm is packaged and brought to Bangalore city 2-3 times a week. This is then distributed among certain organic stores under the C-SOF label.
They also have a F2C (farm to consumer) which caters to some direct consumers in the localities of Koramangala and JP Nagar via a private network of Whatsapp groups that are managed by the ICCOA staff.
The rice is available in packs of 5 kgs, the greens are sold in small bundles and the fruits and vegetables in small packages.
In the mango season they harvest nearly 5 tonnes of fruit and these are packaged in 2 kg boxes and retailed. These boxes even make it to the German and Swiss embassies in Delhi due to ICCOA’s connection with Biofach Germany and some agencies in Switzerland.
The products are available at the following locations –
Organic outlets of 24 Letter Mantra
Organic State at Mallewaram
Grameen Angadi in Jayanagar and its other outlets in JP nagar
Aurovika Organics Jayanagar
Anemane Organics, Jayanagar
Gated community in Koramangala, Jayanagar
Home delivered to their regular customers.
C-SOF, Ommadanapalli Village, Kolatti Post,
Denkanikottai Taluk, Krishnagiri District, TN 635107
Phone – 9746362682
More details about them are available on the –
For more pictures see My Facebook – C-SOF Farm by ICCOA
Please Note – This is a collaboration with C-SOF by ICCOA. The narrative is based on the inputs that I received from various sources as well as my own experiences.
Jan 15th, 2020