Creating a sustainable way of living amid growing consumerism and adulteration, two siblings from Srinagar have come up with a food forest in Kashmir.
At the summit of 2016 seething summer, he left home for the dense woods of Mahawara on the outskirts of district Budgam. He was long planning that ‘far from the maddening crowd’ move.
But that year, as protest put off everything, including his job, this “wannabe nomad” from Srinagar went to create his second home.
Six years later, that home is now a self-sustaining food forest.
Standing in the middle of that farm now, Muneeb Nazki, 33, looks like an urbane shepherd seeking to recreate the lost meaning of the natural way of living in the valley.
Even as naysayers dismissed his idea as a futile pursuit, the bearded man in long-boots and modern-wear chose to slog at the farm echoing with bird chirping and animal sounds.
The resilience, it seems, has paid off.
Living with his livestock and eating from his self-grown crops, Muneeb along with his sibling has found his comfort almost 50kms away from his city home today.
On an early brisk winter morning with the warm sunrays cheering up the lives in the farm, Benji (the bakarwali pup) and Sami (the barn cat) are at the door to greet their master. The birdsong is settling in quite perfectly. The chilly weather is the last thing sending chills down one’s spine.
A cheerful Muneeb wakes up at 7.30 am sharp, and goes straight to check on his animal friends and feed them.
After feeding the flock of around 200 flightless birds of different kinds, he lets them range about unrestricted aka free ranging.
He then goes on to guide his domestic waterfowls to a small pond set up by his older brother, Saim.
When done with feeding and catering to the birds, Muneeb goes on to feed his flock of sheep including one Changpa—Ladakhi goat.
About an hour later, the dedicated homesteader has his first meal of the day in the company of Sami and Benji. The remaining part of Muneeb’s day is spent with his flock of sheep and working in his organic farm.
Regardless of the weather, the passionate nature-lover never gets tired of tending to his flora and fauna.
But what once was a pathless brickyard, now lays as a heartwarming sight of birds, poultry, a variety of species and a compact food forest.
“Setting up a homestead was the last thing one could possibly think of,” says Muneeb, recollecting initial memories of his farmland. “No one can fathom the pressure that homesteads deal with.”
Years before his farm was established, the land had come to naught. The soil was infertile and offered only dead plants.
The journey began back in 2011, when Saim came up with the idea of using Permaculture—the practice of developing an agricultural ecosystem in a way that is sustainable and self-sufficient—after having spent a few years in London.
Although the brothers had theoretically understood the concept, applying it didn’t come easy. It took them nearly 6 years to learn about the techniques and processes involved.
“But since this had always been our idea of an ideal life,” Muneeb says, “it was an easy decision to make. It was worth every sacrifice.”
The brothers started feeding the soil with animal manure for about 6 years to make it fertile. It was a slog under sun, shower and snow.
“We worked hard day and night to get the suitable soil for growing crops and make a living on the barren land,” Muneeb continues.
Today, the soil is fertile enough to grow large varieties of organic greens.
Besides veggies like kale, lettuce, collard greens, chard, spinach, peas, peppers, eggplant, corn and broad-beans, Mubeen’s fairyland is home to unsurprisingly 28 varieties of tomatoes and various varieties of squash and pumpkin. There’re several plantations of spices, herbs and fruits too.
The homesteaders religiously pay attention to their heirloom varieties which implies that they do not use any hybrids in the farm.
Mindful of the global warming, Muneeb does not incorporate commercial techniques in his farm.
The main motive, he says, is to help the Mother Nature from getting polluted.
And for that, he even uses No Dig technique—a non-cultivation method (in which the crop seeds are directly sown in the soil without digging) used by only a few organic gardeners in Kashmir—to set up the food forest.
“Our primary objective is to give something back to the nature,” Muneeb says.
“Ironically, with the increase in technology, we tend to neglect nature, forgetting that we’re very well a part of it. But in our farm, we attempt to keep everything organic and natural, just like how it should be.”
While Muneeb is away, two of his well-trained watch-dogs—Sparky and Kiba—take care of the farm.
As soon as he enters his farm, his beloved animals pounce on him with the inability to contain their excitement.
The siblings are satisfied with their current lifestyle even though the journey had not been a cakewalk for them.
Muneeb, who had been working in an IT company for three years, lost his job due to protests in the valley in 2016.
“After that,” he says, “I decided to come here and live my life. This is how I always wanted to live.”
But his ‘nomadic move’ didn’t go well with his family. They wanted him to find another job. But Muneeb didn’t let the external pressure change his mind.
“My heart was in it,” he says, “and I’m quite content with what I am doing.”
Apart from managing perceptions, Muneeb had to eventually manage the farm financial stability. And for that, the siblings together came up with the idea of selling their free-range eggs.
Some 200 poultry birds produce around 100 eggs per day which are then sold to the costumers directly.
The income generated by the sale of these eggs plays a vital role in managing the farm operations.
The finances also help the homesteads in buying grains for the animals and maintaining the farm to keep them healthy.
Eating from their self-grown food forest has also come handy in numerous ways. It has helped the siblings to stay healthy in woods.
“It’s a cycle where nothing goes to waste,” Muneeb says. “When there’re extra greens left, the livestock eats it and what remains from that is then used in growing more crops.”
Taking care of every small thing that might affect the nature has always been their priority.
And due to this sustainable way of living, the Nazki brothers have become an example for others.
In the time of growing consumerism and food adulteration, their initiative is being hailed for making the world a “pure place” — not just for themselves, but for everyone around them.
But for creating this path, the homesteader had to refuse a spoon-fed life.
Leaving behind the comfort of their home, the brothers are grateful for what they’ve achieved and where they’re today.
Muneeb now plans on setting up an institute for everyone to learn about permaculture and the different techniques used to take care of the environment and recuperate sustainably.
“Understanding the very importance of nature will take us to levels we can’t fathom right now,” the homesteader concludes.