Students at Dr P Dayananda Pai and Satish Pai Government First Grade College in Mangaluru were beaming as they ate their usual mid-day meal on Wednesday.
The meal was the result of a five-month endeavour during which the students cultivated rice by themselves on a four-acre plot of land in Konaje on the outskirts of the city.
A cumulative effort involving over 200 students, teachers, local gram panchayat members and residents of Konaje saw a fallow plot of land turn into a thriving hub of activity.
The students, who are also National Service Scheme (NSS) volunteers, began cultivating in the plot on August 15, 2017.
â€śWe felt that the students had no idea where the food they eat was coming from. To make them more aware about agriculture and to instill a sense of love for farming, we started this project in August,â€ť explains Rajashekar Hebbar, Principal of DPSP Government First Grade College.
A six-acre plot of fallow land in Konaje was identified as the ideal place for the project. The land was lying fallow for years as efforts by the Kittel Church to grow crops there had failed. NSS coordinators Naveen Konaje, Jeffrey Rodrigues and Nagaveni coordinated the extensive operation starting from August 15. â€śIt was our way of contributing to the nation by saluting our farmers,â€ť recalls Naveen Konaje, who also held conversations with local residents and gram panchayat members in his hometown to orchestrate the group effort.
â€śThe students began by first clearing the land by removing weeds and then sowed the seeds. For 12 consecutive Sundays, students took turns to go to the plot and tend to the crops," says Hebbar.
While the students cultivated rice on the four-acre plot, the rest of the land was used for other plants and trees.
Students were initially apprehensive about getting their hands dirty in the field.
â€śI had never worked in the field before,â€ť says Nikshita, a student and NSS volunteer who participated in the farming activity.
But, her initial apprehensions were dispelled when she took to the field and found that she enjoyed working there.
â€śMany of us were apprehensive about getting our hands dirty in the fields but when we started working, we enjoyed ourselves and we understood the difficulties of a farmerâ€™s life,â€ť she says.
Nikshita, along with over 200 other NSS volunteers, set aside their Sundays to work in the fields, travelling the 17 km road down to Konaje on the outskirts of Mangaluru. The students took turns to tend to the fields in batches every Sunday.
â€śI went countless times. I donâ€™t have a track of how many times. I planted seeds, sprayed the pesticide and finally helped in harvesting,â€ť she says with a smile.
The students also went to over 250 homes in the area, spreading awareness about the ill-effects of plastic.
Narsu Gowda, a local resident of Konaje, came forward to provide the students with food on the days they were working in the fields.
The endeavor saw the students harvest 8 quintals of rice earlier this month.
â€śWe will now be self sufficient with rice for the mid-day meals programme in the institution for the next two months,â€ť says a beaming Hebbar.
But he is quick to point out that the project was never about feeding the students but instead about making students aware of the effort that goes behind growing crops.
â€śWe donâ€™t know if they will get a job in the future but if they know agriculture, at least they can grow crops in a small plot of land,â€ť adds Hebbar.