By Pattabi Raman
There‚Äôs pin-drop silence when Krishna McKenzie picks soil in his hand to explain to visitors from South America and Europe his idea behind the Solitude Farm. He uses multilingual terms to refer to earth. Life in the soil is directly proportional to its fertility, he adds to his explanation on permaculture and the methods of natural farming at the farm in Auroville.
Japanese farmer Maonoby Fukoaka, known for his natural farming and re-vegetation of arid lands, inspired McKenzie. Solitude Farm is deeply committed to a sustainable vision of community-supported agriculture, eating locally and natural farming, and permaculture.
Auroville, the city of dawn along the East coast of India near Puducherry (earlier called Pondicherry), also has the reputation of being one of the most important demonstration sites for renewable energy technologies in India. It is a microcosm of the world where citizens from more than 25 countries live.
Auroville has the highest concentration of alternative and appropriate energy systems in India, including solar, wind and biogas generating systems. Of particular interest are the huge 15-metre diameter solar collectors installed on the roof of the kitchen, designed to generate enough steam to cook over 1,000 meals a day, and the Matrimandir Solar Power Plant, believed to be one of the largest stand-alone systems in India, comprising 484 photovoltaic modules with a total capacity of 36.3 KW. Some 750 homes and offices operate entirely or mostly on solar power.
Apart from solar energy, the Auroville community is also a world leader in compressed-earth building techniques, rainwater harvesting, reforestation, plant-based sewage treatment, wind energy, and effective microorganisms, dry composting toilets and grey water systems, permaculture and organic farming, natural dyeing and so on.
The sustainable lifestyle promoted at Auroville has been captured on camera to provide a photomontage of a climate-friendly community. All photographs are by the author.
The community kitchen for Auroville. The giant solar bowl on its roof provides a part of the steam for cooking on all the sunny days of the year. A diesel-fired boiler provides the other part of the steam. On sunny days, two-thirds of the diesel is saved.
Employees cooking at the solar kitchen
A bamboo house being constructed by volunteers at Bamboo Centre during a vocational training programme
Bamboo Centre in Auroville is run as a socially responsible enterprise, providing work opportunities to school dropouts and women from the rural areas surrounding Auroville.
The Sadhana Forest community is focused on water conservation and the indigenous reforestation of severely eroded Auroville land. Sadhana Forest is based on volunteers coming to work there around the year from India and abroad. Volunteers live in eco-huts and the community relies entirely on solar and wind energy.
Mobile ladder house at the Sacred Groves community
Aquaponics at the Sacred Groves community that uses recycled water to rear fish and grow food
The Auroville Botanical Garden has been established in August 2000 in response to the disappearing tropical dry evergreen forest of the Coromandel Coast, the southern end of India‚Äôs east coast.
Solitude Farm is an Auroville centre for permaculture and natural farming. The farm produces over 100 indigenous plants, including wild greens, flowers, fruit, vegetables, oil seeds, cereals and grains, grams and pulses. Soil ecology is maximised by valuing all biomass.
Part of Solitude is an organic restaurant that serves vegan meals made with local produce from Solitude and other Auroville farms.
Local villagers are employed to produce fabric with natural dyes.
A prototype house built out of locally and naturally available materials like construction and demolition waste, wood, straw, coconut fibre, lime and other natural materials at the Sacred Groves community.
Auroville constructions have experimented with appropriate materials ranging from stabilised earth blocks and rammed earth to fired bricks.
A house built with eco-friendly material.
The Pour Tous Distribution Centre acts as a distribution point for a wide range of food items, without any direct exchange of money and based on cooperative participation.
This article was originally published by India Climate Dialogue. The original article can be accessed here.