A SowGood way to know how
food travels from seed to plate
Delhi-based environmental enthusiast Pragati Chaswal aims to build
a community-based lifestyle through farming.
What started from Delhi-based environmental enthusiast Pragati Chaswal’s terrace garden in a small way has today become a green movement of sorts to help grow a nature-aware society. Founded in 2017, her organisation SowGood works to connect children to nature despite their urban lifestyles – a journey that starts by asking the simple question: where does my food come from? SowGood has already begun the movement to build a nature-aware society with their weekly farming sessions, School Farms in government schools in Delhi and workshops that range from natural farming to making zero-waste soaps, forays into urban ecology, bird watching and much more.
A good beginning
After spending a little more than a decade in advertising, Chaswal pursued a course in organic farming for her love for nature and went on to grow organic vegetables in any container she could find on her small terrace. Soon she started experimenting with upcycling and waste segregation with her family, and from there on to helping her friends and extended family do the same – so they could enjoy the magic of clean, naturally grown food.
However, Chaswal found that there was a lot more to learn from farming than how to grow food. “Understanding the systems of nature, facing the challenges that come with raising a crop, and respecting food and the resources that go into producing it proved to be a profound learning experience that I was eager to share – especially with my young son, and many other children,” she says on how SowGood was conceptualised, and eventually formed in 2017.
Slowly things started falling into place. A horse-riding school that her son attended in Vasant Kunj allowed her to use a section of their land for farming, in exchange for a regular supply of vegetables. Chaswal started conducting regular farming sessions for her son and his school mates, and slowly a community grew around this little farm in Vasant Kunj. “Inspired by their children, parents would visit regularly, and it sparked their interest in all things green. Supported by the community, the children were able to explore all sorts of different projects at their farm. To save water, they designed a drip irrigation system. With the help of a parent who is a practicing green architect, they designed and built mud and bamboo huts, which hosted a library and the farm’s schoolroom. Most of these ideas came from the children,” she recounts on the early days of SowGood.
Learning it right
In 2018, SowGood started weekly farming sessions for children at a larger farm belonging to a conscious member of the community in Chattarpur. Workshops on different topics – music, art, biodiversity, cooking and much more – are conducted by experts from a variety of nature-related fields and SowGood has grown into a space for nature lovers, young and old, to gather and share knowledge.
“During the weekly sessions at SowGood farm, children learn more holistically – using their senses, getting their hands dirty (both literally and figuratively), and pursuing enquiries. They also have the freedom to explore nature through their other skillsets – music, art, craft and all other creative approaches are used as learning tools,” says Chaswal, who now hosts children from more than ten popular schools in the Delhi NCR region.
At the farm, each child is given their own little space to design and manage the way they want, and they are entirely responsible for their khet and the produce that comes from it. “Understanding how to grow their food instead of picking it up at a store cultivates respect for their food, their health, and for the natural system that their food comes from. Through farming the children also learn how their actions affect the environment, and how given their privileged position, they have the potential for positive, sustainable impact,” she cites on the impact that these farming sessions have on children.
Pakhi, who is 13, has just learnt how to make zero-waste toothpaste, and Shanaya who is 6, has influenced her family to stop using plastic and find other alternatives. Divya, Pakhi’s mother, has been visiting the farm with her daughter since the organisation’s inception. According to her, Pakhi’s learning has impacted her life outside the farm as well. “Things have changed at home too,” says Divya, “Pakhi has started eating new vegetables because she brings home what she has sown and harvested from the farm. We are now more careful about waste — we carry bags everywhere we go. Our kitchen waste is partially composted and carried to the farm.” Working with children has had a ripple effect – as each child teaches their friends, their parents and even their teachers about what they are learning. And so, more and more people continue to become a part of the SowGood community. Today, the community includes hundreds of children, working professionals and families from schools, offices and homes across Delhi.
When Team SowGood is not at their Learning farm in Chattarpur, they are working with children from government schools in Delhi – bringing holistic learning to those who need it most. “In 2017, the principal of MMTC Colony Girls’ Senior Secondary School, Begumpur, invited me to collaborate with the school. Being short of space within the campus gates but eager to involve her students, the principal suggested that they adopt a nearby dumping ground and convert it into a farm. Team SowGood, field experts, teachers, students, and volunteers designed and developed the farm from scratch as an Open Classroom for holistic learning,” she says with pride. This collaboration led to a direct partnership with three other government schools as well.
Two years later, the students of MMTC have just harvested their second winter crop. They are now in the process of implementing a school-wide waste management system to make compost for their farm and have consciously begun eating less of their favourite chips to avoid generating plastic waste.
The principal of the school is overwhelmed at the change. She says, “It is perfect for our students because not only is it a hands-on practical experience, it is related to their curriculum…the theory and practical together gives them a good learning experience.”
Explaining SowGood’s concept of Open Classroom Learning, Chaswal adds, “We take a three-pronged approach of nature connection, values building and academic learning.” The organisation has succeeded in reaching out to 800 children and are working to expand further in the upcoming months.
SowGood follows a similar farming-based approach in all four of the Government Schools it works with, encouraging the holistic development of each child. However, the team of experienced educators are careful to adjust modules to the specific developmental needs of each school. “For example, at the MMTC School, the students are at an age where their academics are becoming increasingly important – and farming class serves as a supplement for their curriculum. During four successful seasons full of harvests of both crops and learning, students have explored concepts like pH testing, plant physiology, home economics, waste management and water conservation through practical applications in farming,” says Chaswal.
Green to go
Through working with children, SowGood hopes to bring the joys of nature awareness to our society as a whole. They conduct regular workshops for children at their Chhatarpur farm and their newly opened centre in Gurugram. These workshops range from natural farming to making zero-waste soaps, forays into urban ecology, bird watching and much more.
Many nature-lovers also attend these workshops, with or without their children. For office going nature-lovers, SowGood conducts farming-based corporate training programs, which are currently underway in two offices in Noida. Not only does this provide fresh produce for the entire office, but it also brings greenery into urban spaces and the lives of busy working professionals.
“SowGood believes in a community-based lifestyle, and that farming is the perfect way to develop a community. For them, the best way to form a connection with others and the larger ecosystem we are all a part of is through growing together, in both senses of the word. We also welcome enthusiastic volunteers with time to spare and passion for the environment,” says Chaswal in parting.
(To visit, volunteer, contribute or enrol to be a part of this community, you can contact SowGood through their Facebook or Instagram pages, or get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org)