Swayyam team – Aug 2019
Malvikaa spent her early years in a village, rearing silkworms, milking buffaloes, sowing paddy, growing melons and bananas. Later on, she lived in the city working with nonprofits at the policy and grassroots level with women and children on issues of ecology, environment, livelihood, health and gender. She also worked as a research scholar, studying the ecology of lakes and water bodies at the Indian Institute of Sciences, Bangalore.
She strives to live life conscientiously and in harmony with the environment. Towards achieving this, she realized that she couldn’t do it alone. That is when she started to look at various possibilities of building communities that are progressive, inclusive, self-reliant and sustainable. That was the birth of ‘swaYYam’, an idea that lingered for years but came into formal existence on Dec 2nd, 2011. After years of wading through the city life she realized it was time to move back to the land, back to the roots in 2014. Open Shell Farm was started since and today in its 6th year is a fully functional and a demonstration farm for regenerative farming using Permaculture principles.
Malvikaa completed her 1st Permaculture Design Course with Geoff Lawton in 2013 and subsequent PDC’s with Rico Zook and Narsanna Koppula. She took her Permaculture Teachers’ Training with Rosemary Morrow in 2018 and holds regular workshops on Permaculture and Regenerative Organic Agriculture drawing from her real-life experiences at the Open Shell Farm.
She was highly inspired by Masanobu Fukuoka’s ‘One Straw Revolution’ and Schumacher’s ‘Small is Beautiful’. For over a decade she has been inspiring people to discover their inherent strengths and gifts to live with integrity and in harmony with nature. She conducts regular trainings, drawing from her real-life experiences at Open Shell Farm and across the country Introducing Permaculture, and Regenerative agroforestry for aspiring ‘city refugees’ who are increasingly becoming aware of their unsustainable ways of living and aim to take charge of their lives, starting with food, soil and water. She has volunteered on several organic and permaculture farms and brings with her a diverse range of experiences. She is a certified Permaculture Designer, teacher and consultant, a yoga therapist, an excellent cook, and a farmer who prefers to dig her hands in the soil. In addition to this she also consults on farm designs for clients and designs subsistence model farms for marginal farmers.
She has lived on Open Shell since its inception and is currently engaged with the local village working with small and marginal farmers on the 1000 Tree Project which aims to ensure food, fodder and livelihood security through regenerative practises that in turn reduce the stress on the fragile forests and prevent biodiversity losses.
Geetha, is best known for her magnetic smile and her divine cooking skills. She has evolved with swaYYam as a gardener and works on home composting, growing our organic vegetables and training on healthy Indian vegetarian cooking. Her curious, energetic participation in the work of swaYYam makes it a lively experience for anyone living on the land. Geetha has been greatly inspired by the ‘Ondu Hullina Kranti’ – the Kannada translation of the Masanobu Fukuoka’s book The One Straw Revolution – and has had so many curious questions on our current systems of agriculture and answers to many of our current crises as well. She contributed more actively onsite in the formative years of the project and continues to support swaYYam’s work remotely from Bangalore now.
Nagappa is our neighbor farmer on Open Shell Farm in Yelachatti. He is a marginal farmer and practises rain-fed, non-chemical agriculture on his 2 acre land. While he helps us out with his wisdom – a result of his years of living in the village and around the forests, he also is an eager learner. His valuable experience lends itself to rich learning and understanding of the local culture, forest ecology and the village life. He is a keen observer and a patient teacher. He is one of our first beneficiaries of the 1000 tree project. He has implemented rainwater harvesting earthworks on his farmland and is ready to start planting trees while switching over to climate resilient tree-based regenerative farming. He has been with us since the inception of Open Shell Farm and we continue to learn from each other.
Levi Mataga, a native of south Texas, USA, is a former educator and school administrator. He started planting trees when he was 13 years old working in his father’s landscaping business. Always an advocate for localizing food sources, he began working with Community Garden Projects in Chicago and Texas in 2000. He has been involved in gardening initiatives for students in San Antonio, Texas while a teacher at the Circle School. As the founder of Firefly Learning Academy, a Montessori-based preschool for financially disadvantaged kids, he included gardening as part of the curriculum, used the produce for the children’s meals, designed and installed rainwater catchment systems for irrigation as well as a composting program to handle all organic waste from the school. In 2005, he was a member of the Rhizome Collective and their Urban Sustainability Training in Austin, Texas and worked on soil restoration projects with the group in New Orleans after hurricane Katrina.
Levi traveled to India in the summer of 2012 as part of a group of volunteers to work with Thakkar Bapa Grama, a privately run school for rural and marginalized children on the outskirts of Bangalore. It was here that he met Malvikaa and learned of the mission for swaYYam and became directly involved with the pioneering efforts at the Open Shell Farm.
He is primarily interested in permaculture methods to create healthy biospheres, natural farming for producing food without chemicals and rainwater harvesting techniques to address the coming difficulty with managing the world’s limited water supply while integrating all of these actions with the education of the next generation.
Shravan is another member of the founding team and has been visiting the Open Shell Farm from the start. He spent many a month on the farm climbing and pruning trees, taking care of the animals, setting up the micro irrigation systems, watering the saplings, and helping with workshops and trainings on the farm. He loves to work with kids and lends a great deal from his experiences of living on an off-grid organic farm that housed his residential school. He is deeply interested in appropriate technology, and simplifying the irrigation systems on the farm. He loves making music and plays percussion.
Krishna joined us as a caretaker on the Open Shell Farm with his wife and two lovely young daughters in 2017. An all-arounder who dabbles at everything is also our handyman. He is a marginal farmer with less than 2 acres of dryland that cannot feed him and his family. He, like many other marginal farmers migrated to the city and tried his hands at masonry working on daily wage and selling vegetables on carts on the streets while living in a small house in a ghetto before he joined us. He takes care of the Open Shell Farm, the animals and the trees.
Meena joined us early in 2019 and has become our main woman lead. She is gentle in her ways and most suited for the nursery work, in the vegetable gardens as well as cooking some local dishes.
Meena is a young widow and a daughter of a carpenter from our local village. It surprised us that widows are still not allowed to remarry even in this modern era. She is one of our local women ambassadors of tree planting in the village. She carries saplings made in the Open Shell Farm nursery back into the village to share with other farmers and for the backyard kitchen gardens of her women friends.
Bhagya joined swaYYam early in 2019 and lends her hard work to the tend to the soil, harvesting of crops, handling of the cows, de-weeding, and growing food along with Meena.
She is a divorcee who had to raise her 2 children on her own and marry them too. She has huge debts on high interest rates to repay from these marriages, again another social issue. She is now taking care of her daughter and her two children who are abandoned by the husband.
She has no land nor education which has left her to work only as a daily wage worker, and for a pittance. Despite all the hardships she’s gone through she rarely complains and continues to hold that lovely smile. She’s slowly begun to repay her loans and swears never to fall into that trap again.
Volunteers and Interns
Volunteers and Interns are an essential part of swaYYam and its projects. Volunteering is an excellent way to gain and share knowledge and gain valuable life experiences. Volunteers work along side the host while experiencing life as a farmer and living with the local community. Interns stay long term (6 months to a year) and contribute significantly in areas of research and documentation.