Fellow: Saumya John
Parindey: Jeewika Bhat
Alivelihood: Self-taught Permaculturist and Eco-preneur
Region: Bir, Himachal Pradesh
Jeewika Bhat (Photo: Saumya John)
It is often rare to meet someone who aptly suits their name- “an aptronym!” Jeewika (Hindi for livelihood or the one who gives life) is one such being. As an educator–ecofeminist–farmer–ecopreneur, she has been practising permaculture, natural farming, and nature-based healing for over 3 years now. Presently, she resides in a small village in Upper Bir, Himachal Pradesh. Her decision to move from urban life to a mountainous rural one was not just about romanticising the view, clean air, or slow life but about growing her own food, uphill hikes to fetch supplies, and encouraging the locals to sync with their roots in the village. Tenacious tasks, yet worth the effort!
Jeewika is qualified in ecology and environmental management coupled with experiences in sustainability and carbon reporting, community mobilisation, training and facilitation, natural farming, and an eco-friendly lifestyle. Her endeavours at Bir include working and learning at Shunya Farm – a dedicated place for permaculture and natural farming. Permaculture, in practice, is an amalgamation of conscious design and maintenance of agricultural ecosystems that follows principles with the potential of being useful to humans across different domains. The design philosophy can be replicated to create layouts for organisations, and businesses and/or even one’s life trajectories.
Jeewika’s painting of her vision for the World (Photo: Saumya John)
The dissemination of the knowledge of the philosophies of permaculture, and natural farming as well as of indigenous food systems among the local people have been Jeewika’s purpose of being. She envisages communities delving into egalitarian, and ecocentric thoughts; a place where decisions are taken keeping in mind the values of the rest of nature and abundance in nature is respected. Her outlook considers families as a unit that is not bound by strong gender norms and practises equitable division of labour among the individuals while being spaces for learning. This vision is inspired by the concept and theories practised in permaculture – earth care, people care and fair share. Her vision is a culmination of experiences at the farm on three levels:
- Building of perspective that moves beyond just crops and food, in fact, moves towards soil life, balancing groundwater, and more.
- Understanding the social aspects of the region, the dynamics and gendered space while navigating the challenges of existing in a culturally diverse community,
- Inputs on the health-based parameters on the what, how and when to eat.
Shunya Farm, Bir, Himachal Pradesh (Courtesy Shunya Farm)
Shunya farm was started in 2013, on the principles of permaculture and natural farming by an American couple, Dr Spero and Robin. Over the years, the farm has transitioned through several farmers and has evolved through each person’s ideas and perspectives. The work at the farm has been influenced by Masanobu Fukuoka’s natural way of farming and permaculture design. The belief in a holistic culture that considers the dimensions of spirituality, social relationships, and ecology has been at the foundation of this work.
The only constant contribution since the inception of the farm was of Matasharan, a local farmer. He is a city-returned family man, who has been instrumental in organising and managing Shunya farm. His discord with the city life made him return to the village and engage in farming as a way for a slow-paced routine- an example of reverse migration or as Jeewika calls it ruralisation. Matasharan has been a source of inspiration for Jeewika; for her to return to her Kashmiri roots including the practice of food systems inspired by her grandmother and several other women she met during community visits. This spirit made her add aspects of learning space to the farm.
Matasharan conducting a session during farm tours at Shunya (Courtesy Shunya Farm)
The farm is located in Upper Bir- Over the years, non-local urban residents and foreign nationals practising Tibetan Buddhism, have become the main consumers of farm produce. In addition to this, the farm invites volunteers to develop their own understanding of food systems and to support the day-to-day activities of the farm. The basic techniques of farming are taught to visitors and volunteers by them, along with constant additions to theoretical aspects supported by resource readings. The tours conducted within the farm by her have been impactful, as many visitors either contribute to the farm or incorporate elements of organic farming, herb gardens, permaculture, etc. into their own food gardens and daily lives.
Winters are a time to bask in the sun and dry and store vegetables for the coming year. (Photo: Saumya John)
These experiences, insights and learnings from volunteering, observation, community interactions and imbibing theories of permaculture in life decisions have added to the quality of life of Jeewika. She shares how the farm has made her more empathetic, patient, and helped her let go of things outside her control. The use of hands whether for cooking, plucking weeds, and knitting, working with compost or soil have taken a therapeutic form. There is aliveness and increased consciousness to daily existence, and that has led to the birth of ‘Seeds and Deeds’.
“Seeds and Deeds is an outcome of all the short- and long-term learning experiences I have had, ranging from exploring the worldly concepts of development, education, politics, economy and societal constructs to the ecological concepts of biodiversity, health, wellbeing, geography, and growing food, to diving deep into the world within. It originates from a personal desire to seek truth and wisdom of both the inner world and the outer.”
Seeds and Deeds is being built on the idea of promoting ecological intelligence by tapping into the existing knowledge of individuals and communities. It looks at aspects of expanding eco-intelligence by involving the body as well. It is based on Jeewika’s deeper sense of the need to initiate conversations about less spoken issues surrounding environmental sustainability, ecological systems, eco-consciousness, living in sync with nature.
Traditionally, women have been associated with roles that are ecocentric or nurturing like bearing a child, taking care of the household, ensuring the health of the family, etc. The intersections between food and feminism and ecology, referred to as the eco-feminist aspects of food is one of the central themes at Seed and Deeds. Herein, nature is synonymous with feminine attributes that are life-giving and sustaining. This ecocentrism is reflected in the organisation’s values where the focus is health, education, seed sovereignty and equal decision-making power.
There are two main educational and reflection-based workshops that translate the values of the organisation into a tangible form: ‘O ri Duniya’ and ‘Orzuv’. These workshops combine elements of the theory, spirituality and physical rigour to cultivate ecological intelligence.
- O Ri Duniya is focused on the exploration of the outside world and connecting with the inner world among the participants. It uses a blended model (offline and online), to allow space for inner voice keeping an emphasis on reflections on the themes of the surrounding air, water, food systems, health, biodiversity, and regenerative development.
- Orzuv is a Kashmiri word used as a blessing by elders for good health. The workshop intends to conduct in-depth discussions on health and wellbeing, specifically the reproductive health of women. The holistic approach is a combination of social and scientific aspects and helps participants explore the relationship between health, food and inner self.
The workshops have become a platform for individuals to explore the unexplored aspects of their routines. In addition to being safe spaces for them to reflect. The spirit of volunteerism, eco-feminism, ecology and exploration lies central to these initiatives.
Jeewika explaining composting to a participant at a session by Seeds and Deeds (Photo: Saumya John)
Jeewika continues to bridge the urban-rural to re-energise their relationship with the rest of nature, together with extending learning space beyond physical confinements. Her thoughts and practice break the gendered glass ceiling while she embraces her interest in being a nurturer, ecopreneur, traveller, and farmer. Though her journey till now was arduous and continues to be; is channelled by belief in the self, and guided towards the journey of truth.
Jeewika can be reached at: email@example.com
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Written by: Saumya John
Originally published on Travellers’ University, part of the 52 Parindey Fellowship:
Teaser/SEO description: Journey of Jeewika as she sets up safe spaces to converse about wellness, food, societal constructs and the world within.
Location for geotagging: Shunya Farm, UPPER BIR, BIR, TEHSIL BAIJNATH, DISTRICT KANGRA, Himachal Pradesh – 176077
Coordinates: 32.04629365481956, 76.7260026393695
Tags: permaculture, farming, seed saving, food systems, traditional knowledge systems, feminism, eco-feminism, ecocentrism, ecopreneur, entrepreneurship, health, self-reflection, alivelihoods, 52 Parindey, Shunya Farm, Seeds and Deeds, Bir, Himachal Pradesh