By Manchin Hangzo (Ph.D.)
As long as I could remember, my mother has always maintained a kitchen garden – a small patch of land cleared of grasses, weeds, pebbles ,twigs and dried leaves. It is an organic space where only ashes leftover from ‘meiphu’ and cow dung are added to enhance the nutrients of the soil. Season after season, she grows all kind of vegetables in her kitchen garden .When I come home for holidays my favourite pastime was to take a tour of her vegetable garden, pluck and put them on the kitchen table fresh and ready to be cooked . Oh, the divine taste that home grown vegetables produce is not comparable to the commercially grown vegetables we get in big cities .My nose could still smell the unique taste of a mustard leaf, (Hanggam) cooked with some chilli and dried fish. The smell permeates the whole house and signals the arrival of winter too. I see some hanggam plants grown as tall as three feet ( the height of a three to four years old child ) and leaves as big and as round as a child’s umbrella. Another favourite item is hawai mubi ( fava beans) where in one single plant ten bunches and more of them grow ( and it is an important item for eronmba ).
I enjoy watching mother as she goes through the process of growing coriander. First, she throws the seeds into prepared soil and cover it with a wet jute bag (the one in which rice is transported). Then, she waters the bed everyday till the seeds start sprouting. Once they do, the jute bag is removed and it takes just about ten days for them to be fully grown and ready for consumption. This was an interesting process! I thought. All types of vegetables such as broad beans, potatoes, onions thrive in my mother’s organic garden. This little patch of earth is a sight to behold – the green vegetables sprouting from the ground make you realize that life can begin at such a simple procedure, from a single seed.
The best part of the whole purpose is the joy my mother gets in distributing the produce from her own garden to neighbours and relatives .It was not to supplement the family income but for the sheer joy of giving life to a plant. I asked my mother why she wants her vegetables patch to be maintained year after year and this is what she told me, “I get so much joy in seeing the green plants grow. It gives me intense satisfaction and it makes me happy.” So simple a reply and yet so true .I know of many mothers like mine who maintain a vegetable garden that provides organic and fresh vegetables healthy for the body and mind.
Now my mother is in her late 70s and cannot dig and clear her patch but she still hires labour to dig and prepare the soil for planting. Even then, she could not stay away and sitting on a low stool, she breaks the soil into pieces while chatting with the man or woman whom she hires to do her work .This is one of her favourite pastime. I could say it is a time well spent doing what she loves.
To me my mother’s vegetable garden highlights the need to grow fresh vegetables organically. The need has come to campaign for organic products without toxic fertilisers, which destroy our health as well as the environment.
I remember my sister who lives in the United States ordering organic fruits and vegetables online at triple the cost from the market. And believe me, they look smaller than the ones sold commercially and less appetising, like the kind we get at our local markets here in Imphal. She and her husband are a frequent visitors to the Farmers’ market where they source products of organic nature for the health of their two little girls .People the world over are so health conscious and here we like to buy the reddest tomatoes, the biggest cabbage or cauliflower and other fertilised enhanced products, while in our own backyard we have home grown tasty vegetables and fruits.
Every village home in Manipur has a backyard or front yard kitchen garden where the only manure used are ashes, cow dung, chicken poo and brunt dried leaves. All are organic manure. Post rice harvest, when we drive away from Imphal city towards the other districts, we’ll find paddy fields with burnt straws and tractors or cow ploughing the field’s clearing it for growing fresh vegetables for commercial purpose.
The best part of keeping a kitchen garden is to sustain the family fresh vegetable’s demand. But what I love best is the practice of sharing the produce with relatives or friends who visit. The usual refrain here is, “take some vegetables from our garden for one meal at least” and the lady or the daughter- in- law of the house will go pluck them before we could utter a protest. The cost of those vegetables might be just 20 rupees or so but the desire to share is what counts and make it so meaningful .You then enjoy eating the food which is given to you freely with a pure intent of joyful sharing. Manipuri and other people of the northeast have this tradition, code of ethics known as “tlawmngaihna”( Mizo term equivalent to philanthropy ) when one is duty bound to be hospitable, kind, unselfish, caring and helpful to each other This joyful sharing is what it is !
This brings to my mind the need to strengthen organic way of growing vegetables and fruits in our state and to explore its application for addressing health problems of our people. It is also time to consider vermicompost. Vermicompost is the use of earthworms for composting organic residues. Earthworms can consume practically all kinds of organic matter. Earthworms have the capacity to eat as much matter as their own weight and produce the same amount of manure per day in the form of castings. It has become imperative to adopt earthworm farming for sustainable agricultural production and for the economic prosperity of the farmer.
Along with organic farming, issues like proper drinking water, food habits, education, social customs, nutrition, etc. also need to be given serious consideration in view of the kind of food we are consuming today. Women are the original owners of their kitchen garden and should take a lead in spearheading the need for growing vegetables and fruits organically at the village or community level by addressing the issues of poisoned vegetables and fruits grown commercially in ours and other states. We need to find innovative traditional methods of growing plants and vegetables in a unique way for example lemon is cultivated on large scale by using “Ngari” as fertiliser in a farm in Canchipur .I don’t know how true this is as it is just hearsay .
To improve and increase availability of organic food and plants there should be more villages and houses in Manipur adopting nurseries, backyard gardens, and village herbal gardens to grow vegetables, fruits and herbs. Traditional ways of growing vegetables will come into force and we will be a healthier state. Women have always used herbal treatment for common ailments and malady which are localised and besides growing organic food, herbal medicinal plants can be added. This will hopefully lead to replication of the idea in other states and help evolve a focussed strategy on organic farming in a large scale. We are already practicing it on smaller scale in my mother’s kitchen garden.
In big cities and developed countries the trend now is to opt for locally produced natural food and farmers are being trained on holistic farming techniques .We have it in our own backyard , why not make the most of it for a healthy you? Eat healthy and live healthy!