After months of lockdown, people are travelling again. But now, instead of package tours and overcrowded destination travel, they are opting for more laidback holidays in rustic surroundings. Discover the luxury of working from a farm
Lockdown has done what years of social conditioning could not: make the outdoors great again.
People are now looking for places to commune with Nature while staying remotely connected to their office in wifi-enabled ‘anti-resorts’ in villages.
Describe this new normal of domestic travel as you will — work-from-farm, revenge tourism or day-tripping, it is clear that the joys of a simpler life have become evident to a growing number of people.
The people behind this revived interest in agri-tourism are new-age farmers and Nature lovers keen on creating eco-friendly green spaces within easy reach of the city.
Farm-based restaurants curating ‘locavore’ menus (with locally grown food), have also sprung up during lockdown.
“There has definitely been an upswing in the number of people interested in farm holidays during the lockdown because they want to stay in a naturally socially distanced environment away from crowds,” says Kiruba Shankar, a Chennai-based digital professional and public speaker who runs Vaksana Farms in Rettanai village in Tindivanam.
Farm stays are meant to be about getting immersed in the rhythm of village life. “The beauty of staying in a working farm is that you can get your hands dirty, and participate in the daily tasks. I always encourage guests to make the most of the farm, and not consider it like some timeshare where you just come and go,” says Kiruba, whose 13-acre organic farm grows fruit trees and millets and also maintains cattle and a shelter for abandoned pets.
Vaksana can accommodate 15 to 20 people in their current premises, and a ‘big tiny house’, called Pico has recently opened for bookings. A Miyawaki forest of fruit trees is among the attractions here.
Families as customers
With work-from-home becoming a common practice, more rural resorts are creating experiential holidays with families in mind.
Business innovation consultant Shammy Jacob and anthropologist Charlotte Van’t Klooster, who moved into their ‘lifestyle farm’ with their kids in Thalambur (20 kilometres from Chennai) after shifting from Amsterdam in 2013, have seen a significant change in their visitor demographic this year.
“Before lockdown, we used to have many IT professionals as volunteers; for them, farming was both a way to relieve their stress, and a chance to live their dream of working in the fields. Now, we see more families, especially those with young children, venturing out for picnics on our premises. For many residents of gated communities, the drive to get the morning milk directly from our farm is an adventure in itself,” says Shammy.
The farm’s sustainability is underscored by the use of solar power and a catchment system to nourish the water table and build up biodiversity.
For city-dwellers itching to get started in agriculture, Shammy has started leasing out one ground (4,800 square feet) of land within the three-acre farm, which can be used as test plots. “We provide the seeds and relevant guidance on growing crops; it helps people to find out all about farming before they take it up full-time,” he says.
“There is a real transfer of knowledge taking place between generations when families use these mini farm patches, because it is usually the parents or grandparents who teach the children how to plant saplings,” says Charlotte.
Making agriculture attractive to the younger generation is one of the key goals of Kadambavanam farm in Cheyyur, 102 kilometres from Chennai. Run by photographer Amar Ramesh with activities curated by Ratheesh Krishnan and SS Sriram of SPI Edge, the farm is open to visitors only by invitation through its Instagram page.
“Kadambavanam is the opposite of a typical village getaway spot. There’s no staff to wait on you, no in-house restaurant, or swimming pools. We want to inspire young people in their twenties to understand what farming is, and then we group them to learn leadership skills in agriculture. People who come here have to be ready to work hard,” says Amar.
The latest moos
Among the many attractions of working farms are their livestock, particularly their young. Tending to the animals is a way for children growing up in urban areas to discover the intricacies of the natural food chain.
For bovine companionship, head to the Karma Dairy Farm at Chikkamaranahalli, Nelamangala town near Bengaluru, that rears its 150 indigenous cows according to Israeli techniques. “The cows are milked by automated pumps in the early hours of the morning,” says the farm’s managing partner Vishwanath Murthy. “The farm sells regular milk and its by-products such as yoghurt and ghee. We also use the milk to prepare traditional sweetmeats that are sold through our India Sweet House outlets.”
Originally from a family of agriculturalists in Vijipura, Murthy was involved in medical transcription and other BPO ventures, before he launched the Karma Dairy Farm in Madikeri in 2013. The 39-year-old entrepreneur co-founded India Sweet House with Shwetha Rajashekar.
Besides dairy training programmes and outreach initiatives such as calf adoption, Karma Dairy Farm also offers overnight stays in luxury cabins made from converted shipping containers.
“Guests can see how the cows are milked, and the sweet making process from farm to fork in under 12 hours, so that they can understand how fresh and good food can be prepared on a commercial scale,” says Murthy.
Farming, bicycling and sightseeing are all part of the package at the Nannilam Farm House, a 10-acre property in Acchukattu, in Tamil Nadu’s Vellore district. Started by former tour guide Sudhakar Selwyn, in 2015, the resort has reserved five of its 10 acres for organic farming (coconut, mango, millets and fodder crops).
With compressed bamboo wood cottages and tents on offer as accommodation, guests can enjoy their stay in Nannilam, while occasionally encountering ‘uninvited guests’ from the forest nearby.
Maintaining the agri-tourist facility has been a fruitful experience, says Selwyn. “We are trying to revive an interest in traditional cooking. While exchanging ideas with our guests, I am also learning from them about eco-friendly agri-tourism.”
Home away from home
To make the stay truly memorable, many farms opt for buildings that are as architecturally distinctive as they are sustainable in the long run.
Karthik Padmanabhan and his wife Shyla set up Yash Farms four years ago in Narayanaghatta, six kilometres from Electronic City Phase II in Bengaluru, for personal reasons. “We wanted to improve our quality of life, which we measure by how much food we take, the kind of environment we live in, the water we drink, and more importantly, the awareness that we are part of a larger ecosystem,” says Padmanabhan, who works in the IT industry in Bengaluru.
Their one-acre property, which accepts guests on the weekends and is used as a venue for photo-shoots on workdays, is an example of sustainable living — the main house has been built with mud and stones, and only 10% of the entire construction has cement in it.
“We have not used modern building materials, and not shifted things too much to avoid generating pollution while we built the property,” says Padmanabhan. “The idea is to help people who come here experience concepts such as rainwater harvesting, water conservation, agriculture, or using solar energy, so that when they return home, they too can practise sustainable living.”
Transferring the creature comforts of an urban hotel to the rural landscape in the name of tourism is not really the way ahead, as Amar points out. “The pandemic has made us aware of the damage that our cities have suffered,” he says, adding “If we have learned our lesson, we must now take good care of our rural areas and preserve vegetation rather than turning them into luxury real estate.”