Archive for June, 2012

by Sukumar Kavanoor

Growing vegetables in your backyard is a fun hobby and can be good for your health and the health of the environment. Here are some gardening tips for beginners.

Why grow vegetables?

You might ask why grow our own vegetables, why not buy from a grocery store? The main benefit is that when you grow your own food you get a really fresh harvest. When you buy your vegetables from the supermarket, you are probably buying produce that is days old. Secondly, you know what you are putting into or on your plants. I have read reports that many vegetables and fruits sold in the produce section of the supermarket are loaded with a variety of pesticides and other chemicals (The alternative is buying organically grown produce). Thirdly, you can grow vegetables that are not commonly available in the supermarket or even in ethnic stores (Indian/Chinese).

The fun and exercise you get out of gardening are other factors you might want to consider. Gardening is definitely healthier than sitting indoors on a couch watching television. If you want to grow vegetables to save money, you might be disappointed. You are not likely to save much. Professional farmers are a lot more efficient and benefit from economies of scale which home gardeners lack.

What to grow?

You might have seen in the garden sections of Home Depot or Lowes or Walmart tomato, eggplant and pepper plants plus some herbs. In some nurseries, you might also find cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, lettuce, cucumber, zucchini, okra, onion, Swiss chard and Collard Green plants. But you don’t need to limit yourself to just these. A lot more varieties can be grown from seeds. I have grown or growing the following that are not available in the area garden stores: radish, beetroot, turnip, kohlrabi, spinach, fenugreek green, mustard green, Malabar spinach, red amaranth, green amaranth, three different leafy Chinese vegetables, Indian drum stick (for its leaves), lemon grass, green beans, wax beans, yard long beans, Indian flat beans (paapdi/avarai kai/chikkadi kai), peas, bitter gourd (karela), ridge gourd, bottle gourd (dudhi), snake gourd, strawberries, water melon and cantaloupe. Most of these are disease resistant so you don’t need to spray pesticides. The only plants that are really vulnerable to pest attack or diseases are eggplant, cabbage and cauliflower and broccoli. I have stopped growing the last two.

Okra plants on a raised bed in my garden this season. The pipes are my attempt at building a small greenhouse over the beds (I removed the plastic cover a few weeks ago). It was effective in raising the temperature by several degrees in April and May – this elevated temperature lets you plant earlier. The small green things are germinating Pak Choy (Chinese greens) from seeds produced earlier this season in the same bed.

When you grow from seeds you not only have greater choices in terms of types of vegetables but also in terms of subtypes of a vegetable. For example, you may buy seeds for sour tomatoes which are good for South Indian cooking. You will not find it in garden stores. You may buy seeds for okra that has good flavor instead of buying the plants available in a nursery. Basically, grow plants from seeds so that you can grow what you really want to grow.

If you have limited space, you may not want to go for vegetables and fruits that grow on vines because the vines do take up space. What you can grow also depends on how much sunlight you get. Most vegetables and fruits listed above need many hours of sunlight. If you have only two or three hours of sunlight or even less, try the greens, tomatoes and peppers.

Also, if your garden is vulnerable to deer, rabbit or ground hog invasions and you can’t construct a suitable fence you may want to limit yourself to hot peppers, bitter gourd, herbs such as mint, oregano and basil. I have found that zucchini and tomatoes are fairly resistant to attack by these animals. If you want to take a laidback approach, you would want to avoid certain vegetables. Okra, cucumber and beans mature very fast and you need to harvest/check them every couple of days. Most other vegetables and fruits are less demanding.

When to grow?

When to grow depends on what you grow. Cool season crops such as spinach, radish, beetroot and turnip can be grown in early spring (April) and again in late summer or early fall. Most other plants can be planted or sown outdoors mid May. Long-duration plants such as peppers and eggplant need to be raised indoors before transplanting outside in mid May. For early harvest, start growing plants 4 to 8 weeks before the transplant date. What you grow indoors for how long depends on the plant. You don’t want to start fruit and vegetable plants that grow on vines (such as cucumber and watermelon) more than 4 or 5 weeks before the transplant date of mid May because they will grow too big for indoors. Seed packets come with instructions on when to plant.

How to grow, protect and care for your plants in the next part.

About Sukumar: Sukumar grew up in a small village in Tamilnadu, India until he was seven where his father owned farm lands. This early exposure to agriculture and plants is responsible for his interest in gardening. In this country, Sukumar has been gardening for the last twelve years and growing vegetables at his backyard for the last four years.



Read Full Post »

The challenge in bringing about change in underprivileged communities is to help them in a long-term, sustainable way that brings out their innate potential. With this vision of lasting change, Art of Living has, for more than 30 years, been running free schools for underprivileged children enabling them to participate fully in modern society while retaining their rich cultural heritage. Most of these children are first-generation learners. Care for Children is the Art of Living project that supports these schools.

The Tribal School Project, started in 1999, is part of this educational initiative. The project is currently running 20 free schools in the rural areas of eastern India which have a predominantly tribal (indigenous) population teaching about 3000 children. There are 18 schools in the Jharkhand state and 2 schools in the West Bengal state. The education system is holistic and value-based combining arts, science, mathematics, yoga, meditation, agriculture, sports, healthy living, preserving the environment, vocational training etc.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar‘s vision is to have a “broad-minded education accompanied by a warm heart. Education is not just information. It is culturing of our behavior and attitude. It is our ability to perceive things better. We need to bring in creative ideas. We should empower village youth, and bring them self-esteem.”

The Tribal People

Brij Chawla, coordinator of the tribal project explains the background, “Indigenous People by definition were and are an integral part of the land, which they inhabit. They were in the forest, and they have had their freedom. Now, not only in India, but most of the governments all over the world, are trying to take control over forests. The state supported vested interests feel that indigenous people are an impediment to the free operations of the forest and mining mafias.

India’s 84 million tribals (Indigenous people), that is, about 8% of population, are on the verge of destitution. In order to promote our supermarkets, we are destroying their forests. For the tribal people, the forest provides for a very self-sufficient model of life. Is it not essential that we protect this kind of a sustainable model, which is already there? Are we not destroying all the sustainable models in the world in the name of globalization? Why are we systematically destroying a particular culture, which is close to nature, which is so work-centered and value-centered?

In the name of development we want to get into the forest and do mining, construct a big dam etc. It is wood, it is mining, it is a bit of “resources”; we all look at the world as resources; we have come to a point where we see human beings as resources. The ‘bottom line’ culture does not understand what is happening to the tribal culture and its people.

The Art of Living Foundation initiated the Tribal Project to protect and equip them to adjust to the changing scenario as a consequence of globalization. To help the tribal people is one of the most effective ways to save the environment. The first step is to impart basic education to the first generation learners.

Tribal Schools

Brij Chawla explains the aim of the schools, “The aim is not to replicate a typical urban school model but to groom the kids to be mature individuals who care for their fellow beings as well as respect the environment. A well-balanced curriculum combining the practical aspects of education of languages, arithmetic, moral education, yoga, meditation and games – the regular aspects of the school routine – develops a child who cares and shares.

People from local tribal villages are recruited as school teachers.
The local teachers are very effective since they easily relate to the children and speak their language. There is a teacher training program to give teachers exposure and improve their skills. Recently, a Teacher’s Training Institute was set up at Hindoljuri.

“Jharkhand has unique arts and culture in consonance with their surroundings. When they move, they dance and when they speak they sing.” The tribal art which is widely accepted as full of rich artistic expression and aesthetic emotion is now facing threat of extinction due to globalization and exploitation. The Art of Living tribal schools encourage this cultural heritage and imbibe confidence in the tribals to cope with the changing scenario that is threatening their survival and way of life.

How it Started

Brij Chawla shares how he got inspired and how the project began. He says,” It was 1993 December when I had my first encounter with a tribal community living in a village Bhadua in Ghatsila Block. The first look of the village and the inhabitants convinced me that either this is not a part of India or we as a society do not own our responsibility in helping them to lead a life which may have some semblance of human living. The total apathy towards their own existence (not living) and unaware about their own potential made me think can we assist them in some way?

Then it was spontaneous reaction may be because of compassion. There was no plan of action. The seed was sown and who knows when our sankalpas (intentions) start germinating. I kept visiting few more villages and in one of my visit I was asked by a young tribal boy “ama ke ki dhibi” which in English translation means ‘what will you give me’. That struck me as a bolt. I was clear that what these people need is not charity but a sense of pride in their own ability and confidence that they are capable of achieving whatever is required for a honorable living and thus be away from the mercy of government and some NGOs (non-government organizations)

After this visit the action plan started taking shape in my mind that the basic education is necessary though not sufficient condition to alleviate their situation. The opportunity came in 1999 when in a chance conversation the tribal subject came up for discussion with Guruji and because of some knowledge on this subject I was fortunate to be chosen to coordinate the project.

Three Art of Living volunteers pooled 15 thousand rupees (US $400) and started a small school in a government built community hall in village Chhatradanga inhabited by a tribe. The beginning was made with fifty children of nearby villages and one local youth, as teacher, and we ventured on this long journey of literacy for tribal children. In the following year we had 5 schools in place with about 300 children.

natural farming

The march continued but with a shift in the approach. We asked ourselves a question – is literacy is adequate to tackle the problems of the tribals? It was convincing that literacy is not sufficient condition to improve conditions of 84 million people. From the third year the approach was to integrate the entire village in terms of hygiene, health, chemical free farming, income generation, vocational training for children as well as adults.

After about 13 years we know the direction and we are slowly but surely moving towards our goal to bring awareness in tribals that they are capable and can take charge of their own destiny. We have 20 schools with about 3,000 children covering about 60 villages.”

Future Plans

Future plans are to build on the success of the schools and grow both horizontally and vertically. Plans include
• a children’s park in each school
• income generation schemes
• education for school dropouts and for those who never had a chance to go to school
• adult education

About Brij Chawla:

Brij Chawla is associated with the Art of Living Foundation for the last 22 years where he is a volunteer social worker. He is a graduate Electrical Engineer by profession. He was Motor Control Gear specialist and was General Manager Marketing till 1987 with Cutler Hammer (now Eaton Corporation). After his voluntary retirement he dedicated his entire time for the cause of Indian Tribal people who are on the verge of destitution.

He is actively associated with many service projects of Art of Living. He is working full time as coordinator on the Tribal Project ever since its inception about 13 years ago. He held senior volunteer positions in governing bodies of few NGOs like FTS (Friends of Tribal Society), Bharat Seva Ashram Sangh. He was also associated with Mother Teresa for about a decade in one of her early projects (Home for Dying Destitute), which she initiated in 1950 in Kolkata. UN, in association with Art of Living, is working for achievement of eight millennium developments goals. One of the goals of the United Nations is Universal Education. In year 2007 he was awarded for his substantial contribution to achieve this goal reaching the most difficult region of tribal villages in India.

More about the project

For more on the tribal school project and how to participate visit the website

Care for Children is the Art of Living organization which supports schools for underserved communities. Visit to donate or participate.

Here are photos by Vikas Chawla and Brij Chawla.


tribal dance












breathing technique






in front of the class


in front of the class


in front of the class








Sri Sri Vidya Mandir, Ghatshila


creativity section




tribal dance


tribal dance


tribal dance


tribal dance


tribal dance


tribal dance


school garden


computer lab donated by Juniper networks


school garden


school garden


school garden


school garden


school garden


school bus


area around the school


tribal dance


school teachers


new Teacher Training Centre


teacher training


teacher training


teacher training


teacher training


teacher training


teacher training


teacher training


teacher training






Read Full Post »

Here are photos of the June 3rd concert by well-known singer, Sachin Limaye in Edison, New Jersey. Congratulations to Manoj Warrier, Nandini Warrier, Hasit Bhatt, Chanda Bhatt and the entire team for organizing this very enjoyable concert. The photos are by Prabu Vijayan.




Read Full Post »