Permaculture: How to grow a climate-resilient food forest with edible wild plants

Krishna McKenzie runs a six-acre permaculture farm in Tamil Nadu’s Auroville

Published: Monday 02 March 2020

Farmer and musician Krishna McKenzie runs a six-acre permaculture farm in Tamil Nadu’s Auroville. He grows around 150 varieties of plants using natural farming techniques. Many of them are local and edible wild plants, considered to be ‘super-foods’ with medicinal properties.

A permaculture farm has different layers of vegetation and a diverse range of crops. This biodiversity provides nutritional security and a climate-resilient farming system.

McKenzie said his farming practices are inspired from those of Japan's Zen master farmer Masanobu Fukuoka, famous for his experiments with natural farming techniques.

A healthy soil is the first requirement of natural farming, according to McKenzie. One of the sustainable farming practices used by him include non-tillage, in which soil is not distributed by the process of tilling.

McKenzie mixes leave and crop residues to maintain soil health. These biomass components decompose and work as soil nutrients. He also abhors the use of machinery, generally used in traditional farming.

“The first step of natural farming is returning organic matter back to soil,” according to McKenzie.

Flowers, fruits, vegetables, oilseeds, cereals and millets are grown by him this way.

To financially support his farm, McKenzie also provides services to the local population. This includes running a popular restaurant and a weekly subscription-based basket service.

McKenzie started a farm-to-plate restaurant in 2011. The restaurant’s motto is to promote and serve the local bio-region’s delicacies.

With his basket service, McKenzie gives customers the option to subscribe and make advance payments for the same.

McKenzie believes the way we grow and consume food is a major cause of global warming. Industrialised food production, transportation and distribution worldwide are responsible for at least one-fourth of total greenhouse emissions.

As a teen, he went to J Krishnamurti School in the United Kingdom, where he discovered his passion for farming and a life close to nature. He wanted to live close to nature and grow his own food. A school teacher inspired him to go to Auroville.

When he eventually reached there in the 1990s, he fell in love with Tamil Nadu. He then began his ‘Solitude Farm’ along with other young residents in 1996.

His fellow farmers left after some time but McKenzie stayed on, gradually implementing permaculture in ‘Solitude Farm’. 

Around three million farmers currently practise permaculture across 140 countries.

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