In a quiet little village of Thally there is a revolution in the making. Mapletree Farm is literally ‘plot’ting and framing farming ideas and processes that are ethical, sustainable and to’Thally game changing in the long run (sorry but I had to begin with a pun).
Thally is near the town of Hosur in the Krishnagiri district of Tamil Nadu, India and the produce of the farm is marketed in the neighboring state of Karnataka.
When I first heard about Mapletree farm on social media, it automatically brought visions of Canada and I was puzzled as to what its produce was doing in the land of Kannada 😀
Well that is a mystery I have not really solved and though such things are terribly important to me 😀 I will not dwell on it now because I have a lot of other exciting and fascinating information about this organic farm which I want to share with you.
Mapletree farm has rapidly risen to considerable proportions in a short span of 3 years and plans not to stop until it conquers the entire country with its principles and converts as much of the land as possible, into ethically farmed regions, which as we all know, is definitely the need of the hour.
Pay the farmer today or pay the Pharma tomorrow … ominous but highly likely. So read on and see how you can contribute to the success of the farmer, the benefit of your health and the general well being of the entire land.
The people behind Maple Tree Farm –
Mapletree farm is a joint effort by ex Infosys co founder and CEO Shri Shibulal, Smt. Kumari Shibulal, ex OnMobile founder and CEO Shri Mouli Raman and ex founder of Hillview Organics, California and organic farming teacher Shri Shankar Venkataraman who has 10 years experience in deep organic farming.
Shankar is the hands on person on site and oversees all the activities of the farm.
The Mission –
The goals are multiple and are all connected by the commendable desire for clean farming.
Purging arable land of toxic chemicals, rejuvenating the soil with healthy and natural nutrients and growing produce that is safe to consume, is the prime objective of the farm. This in turn will naturally lead to making available dependable, organic food to urban residents.
Training and educating youth from villages and cities in order to excite them about correct methods of farming.
Helping to build state of the art farms that combine various scientific methods of deep organic farming practices using zero chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
Training urban residents and gardeners to pursue their hobby better and help their farming dream materialize.
Inviting customers and potential farmers and actual farmers to visit Mapletree Farm and view and learn the workable practices being employed.
Assuring transparency of practices by such visits.
Incentivizing people to invest in farming land instead of multiple urban properties.
Giving invited talks regarding organic farming and creating online training material to propagate organic farming concepts.
And last but not the least, creating a huge social impact across the nation and transforming mind sets, so as to create a healthy nation through organic food.
About Shankar –
Lead farmer as he calls himself, Shankar is passionate to the point of being all consumed in his mission to ‘cleanse’ Indian farms of chemical and potentially hazardous farming practices. He is onsite from dawn to dusk, shoulder to shoulder with all his workers and leads by example and action.
A BITS Pilani engineering graduate in Electronics and Electrical who went on to a Masters degree in Physics specializing in microelectronics, Shankar’s career was in the realm of chip design and networking in California in the early 2000’s.
He has now directed his energies towards designing scientifically managed farms and spreading the network of organic practices.
As he says, he was never a formal student of agriculture but he now dons the noble role of teacher of the same.
Even as a techie, farming was always his passion and hobby. His enviable 5000 sq ft garden in his backyard in Sunnyvale was his paradise where he used to experiment with chemical free practices and grow produce for his home.
In 2007 he bought 23 acres of land in Vacaville, California and had a flourishing business for a few years, wherein he supplied fresh organic produce to vegan restaurants that specialized in organic, raw food based dishes. One can imagine how important it would be to maintain the quality and safety of such produce that is consumed uncooked.
In 2015 he was drawn back to India and being a disciple of Ramana Maharishi, he feels that his guru brought him back and showed him the path to his future. Happening to meet like minded people who led him to this farm, he decided to become a consultant at Maple Tree, dedicating all his time and expertise to cultivate the land and expand operations. Ever since he took over, the graph of the farm began its rise and continues to soar by the day.
His 3 main objectives are to make sure farmers are successful, to make sure that the organic sanctity of the farmland is preserved through correct practices and to consequently ensure that customers are healthy.
His future plans include online training sessions that will benefit thousands of existing as well as potential farmers by educating them in safe, ethical and scientific methods of farming.
His own personal quote says that – Knowledge is like compost. If you do not spread it, it is not of much use 😀
The concept of clean and healthy farming –
Shankar feels that the word Organic is very loosely defined and he believes in a holistic system where the soil is not only chemical free but also healthy. Having intensely researched the various factors that play a role in soil health, he calls himself a Deep organic farmer and explains that merely using organic sprays and manure is not the entire solution. The first challenge is to define organic holistically, also including the various factors contributing to soil health. Soil should also have a certain amount of nutrients, measured by Soil organic matter which should be a minimum of 3 percent.
Instead of adding supplements like vitamins and minerals to food, he says it is commonsense to add fortification to the soil which will then produce naturally hardy plants that are disease resistant and high in nutrients and hence healthier for the body. Increasing plant immunity will reduce the need of any added sprays chemical or organic.
Our health depends on soil health and plant health and therefore there should be a strong focus on improving the same. Chemicals will only destroy the fertility in the long run and be the cause of several diseases.
Shankar wants customers to question, to trace their produce, to have conversations with farmers and find out their level of knowledge and he feels that by being inquisitive and interactive, there will be an enhanced awareness everywhere and will also increase the incentive for farmers to adopt correct practices and be knowledgeable about their own produce.
At Mapletree farm, the soil, the water, the compost etc are all tested by labs on a frequent basis to maintain quality.
Shankar also maintains that land can be easily converted to organic and healthy within a short period of a few months by the usage of biochar and by the practice of Navadhanya which is intercropping the same land with a variety of plants instead of a monocrop.
The Staff –
Besides Shankar who leads the show, there are 8 people who work in the office in various roles.
I interacted mainly with Ranjith who manages the place. A graduate of Microbiology and barely 2 years out of college, he performs a commendable job of running the place and is well versed with all the systems on the farm. He took me around all 3 farms and gave me a lot of valuable data.
He even clicked my photographs for me since I am hopeless at selfies 😀
The farmers – Labeled Bruce Lees of the farm by Shankar, there are 90+ farmers and other helpers on the farm.
Mostly hailing from the town of Tirunelveli where they were originally using chemical farming, Shankar recruited them and firstly converted them to organic agriculture. He then trained them into becoming skilled team leaders, whom he says will be the bearers of his message and will propagate it to the new workforce as they expand.
With a dedication that is unforced and exemplary, the workers toil for 6 days a week right from dawn to dusk and cheerfully carry out their various duties with a lot of responsibility and integrity.
All the workers have been taught the various aspects of farming like making plant beds, seeding, planting, weeding, making compost, tractor driving, etc.
There are several lady employees too who are involved in the packing and other activities.
The Farms –
The farm was originally created in 2011 and was taken under Shankar’s wing in 2015 after his return from California. It now occupies 3 locations of 45, 18 and 7 acres respectively, separated from each other by barely a few kilometers.
The first farm is the largest with 5 greenhouses and a nursery. The largest greenhouse is as big as 2.5 acres.
The hallmark of the second farm is a gigantic and gorgeous banyan tree that spreads its green cover in a show of grandeur, right in the middle of the farm. A little temple is seen at its base.
Potatoes, onions, carrots, watermelons etc were being harvested when I visited this place. The thrill of ripping fresh produce from the root, is a good kind of violent sensation that should be experienced by everyone 😀
The third farm is a fresh acquisition and is being readied for cultivation. An already existing cow shed with several Gir cows and calves, a couple of turkeys, some hens and roosters and their families and a huge Kankrej bull are the pre fixed residents that came with the farm:-D
The farms flourish under a divide and rule policy 😀 where mini farms of 4 acres each are created and further divided into plots of 25 cents (not the USA ones) which are equal to a quarter acre and hence each mini farm consists of 16 sub divisions.
The farms are software driven (but naturally) and the data from each plot is tracked on spread sheets. Every farm is strictly monitored for both quality and variety.
The farms are quite self sufficient where equipment and processes are concerned. Tractors, delivery vehicles, composting pits, water tanks, greenhouses, nurseries etc., are a part of the infrastructure.
The staff and their families are taken care of with training, accommodation, all meals and other benefits. They are paid well in comparison with what they would earn elsewhere and they have a strong bond with the farm and their employers.
There is a neat and simple bungalow where Shankar stays and this also functions as a guest house for visitors.
Various departments –
The farm is well organised into various departments like operations, production, quality control, packing, delivery, billing, accounting, marketing and customer support. There is also a team to look after the cattle and team that takes care of the cooking and meals.
The seeds are planted in trays containing a specific mixture that consists of cow dung, vermi compost, cocoa peat and soil. The seeds germinate and the saplings remain for varying durations depending on the plant type. Labels are attached to the beds indicating dates and names. Sticky traps are installed to capture insects that might harm the baby plants.
Once they reach a certain relevant size, the ready saplings are then transplanted into the outfield or green houses until they eventually yield.
Cow shed –
Maple tree farm is also home to over 50 heads of cattle including bulls and cows. There belong to the indigenous breeds of Kankrej, Sahiwal, Gir and some also cross breeds.
The animals are fed organic green fodder grown in house, along with dry fodder, pulses, vegetables and fruits.
Apart from milk that they sell commercially, the cow dung is the most valuable thing they obtain from their cattle, from which they prepare compost, jeevamrutha and panchagavya.
Several tonnes of extremely good quality cow dung is also bought to make up the deficit, since their requirements are very high.
Over 60 varieties of vegetables are grown in house for commercial purposes. Certain fruits and vegetables that are not grown at the farm, are sourced from farmers contracted to Mapletree or other sources that are strictly verified to be following all the norms set by the farm.
A large number of greens like palak (spinach), Basale (Mangalore spinach), Dhantu (amaranth), methi (fenugreek), chard, varieties of lettuce, basil etc are a common sight in the greenhouses.
The other produce consists of fennel, cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, ladies finger, brinjal, beans, snake gourd, ridge gourd, pumpkins, potatoes, onions, garlic, carrots, bitter gourd, corn etc.
A veritable heaven for a vegetable lover like me 😀
Of course I was tempted to buy quite a bit and I took home chard, cherry tomatoes, grapes, snake gourd, greens etc.
Fruits are currently limited to watermelon, papayas, bananas and such but other fruits like grapes, carambola, sweetlime etc are available albeit outsourced. However, plans are afoot to plant several quick yielding fruit trees in the near future.
Grains and pulses like ragi and tur (pigeon pea) are grown for in house consumption.
We massacred a ripe watermelon fresh off the vine and ate juicy slices of it which were so refreshing in the searing heat.
The staff kitchens use as many of the locally grown vegetables as possible. The meals are simple and flavorful.
Of course when guests (like me) visit, the chef does get a bit more excited and produces quite a spread 😀
I had very nice dosas with chutney and potato palya for breakfast.
The mid morning farm visit in the blazing heat did not diminish my appetite for the fresh organic meal that was prepared for lunch 😀 and the red rice, white rice, chapathi, gourd sabji, salad, fruit salad etc were washed down with a glass of cool watermelon juice.
Have you experienced the pleasure of feasting on freshly plucked vegetables ? Well you definitely can if you can make that short trip to Thally to partake of their Thali. Or better still, learn to grow your own vegetables 😀
A typical day at the farm –
The day begins early at pre dawn with workers engaged in various activities like tilling, tractor driving, making plant beds, weeding, sowing, transplanting, making compost, adding compost to the beds, harvesting, milking, cooking etc.
Packing begins after lunch on all working days and there is a flurry of activity at the shed from around 2 pm to 4 pm.
8 teams of 4 people each, work in tandem and the produce is cleaned, sorted, weighed, graded, packaged, accounted, loaded into their 5 delivery vans and dispatched to Bangalore which is currently the market for the farm. At present, an average of 250 orders leave the farm everyday.
This activity happens from Monday to Saturday every week and Sunday is a day of rest for everyone.
Customers place prior orders and receive door deliveries that are obviously quite convenient for them.
There are also winged visitors who come in to feast on whatever they can get 😀
Farm Visits –
As mentioned earlier, Shankar has always been open to sharing his knowledge and expertise and the farm sees quite a sizable number of visitors who come there either to merely view the plants or to learn some of the practices. The visitor profile ranges from customers to students of agriculture to farmers to wannabe farmers etc.
It is a very enlightening experience to go around and understand how the various systems work.
Of course, the meal is quite the incentive too 😀 and is charged for at very nominal rates.
One can connect with them and fix up prior appointments for farm visits.
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 as well as interesting creatures like frogs, turtles, rabbits, snakes etc.
I was quite pleased to capture some of the birds on my camera. Indian roller, drongo, black winged kite, cormorant and barn swallow were some of my trophies.
The other creepy crawlies are more likely to surface in the rains and I did not meet any of them so I will use one of Ranjith’s pictures to give you a glimpse of a crawlie 😀
Traffic jams also take on a much nicer avatar here and one has their path crossed by sheep, goats, donkeys etc.
Would male sheep cause traffic Rams ? (Sorry but the heat has affected the quality of my jokes :-D)
Distribution systems –
Believing strongly that door delivery is a great way to enable the customer to easily avail of the produce, Shankar made sure to facilitate this right from the start. From 1 apartment 3 years ago, they now deliver to over 200 buildings in Bangalore and that number is growing rapidly.
The current localities of delivery are to the South and East part of Bengaluru covering areas such as –
JP Nagar, Jayanagar, HSR layout, Electronic City, Koramangala, Bellandur, Marathalli, Indranagar, Whitefield, Kanakpura road, Bannerghatta road, Sarjapur road and BTM layout.
The produce is also available at weekend farmer markets that are set up at fixed locations exclusively for them.
- 01 Vespers, Eagle Street, Langford Town
Timings: 10:30pm – 1pm
- Ragi Kana
20, Gottigere, Kengeri road,
South avenue, Kalena Agrahara
Timings – 10:30pm – 2pm
3. Adarsh Palm Retreat
Devarabisenahalli, Varthur Post,
Outer Ring Road, Bangalore –560103
Days – Deliveries on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and farmer’s market on Sunday.
So what are you waiting for ? Oh the contact details ? Yes well, they are right here below 😀
Mapletree Farms Private Limited, Devaganapalli Farm, Denkanikottai Taluk,
Krishnagiri, Tamil Nadu, 635113.
The customer care and distribution systems can be contacted at –
Shankar – 91136 88239
Vikram – 97403 15066
Ranjith – 70199 85151
Customer support – 9790948235
Mail at – firstname.lastname@example.org
More details about them are available on the –
Please Note – This is a collaboration with Maple Tree Farms. The narrative is based on the inputs that I received from various sources as well as my own experiences.
March 19th, 2019