Son, father farm to feed neighbors during lockdown in India

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Sijo Zachariah

In this photo provided by Sijo Zachariah, Zachariah stands behind an elephant ear plant on Sept. 20, 2020, on a farm that he and his father started during coronavirus lockdown in the southwestern Indian state of Kerala. Guided by a combination of online videos and techniques Zachariah's grandfather passed down to his father, they began a garden that eventually helped feed 20 neighboring households during the pandemic. (Sijo Zachariah via AP)

The garden that Sijo Zachariah and his father planted was a desperate measure in response to the pandemic.

But it became so much more: sustenance for a community, and a great inspiration for Zachariah to make a major change in his life.

A 22-year-old aircraft maintenance engineer living in Dubai, Zachariah was visiting the southwest India state of Kerala for a family wedding when a lockdown was declared. “That’s when the whole thing struck me. ... What's going to happen?” he said. “You know, how are we going to feed ourselves?”

Store shelves were emptying and plant nurseries were closed, so Zachariah and his father collected seeds from whatever fruits and vegetables they could find at the grocery store and planted them on their family’s plot of land. Coconuts, jackfruit and rambutan, a lychee-like fruit, were already growing there.

Using YouTube videos and techniques Zachariah’s grandfather had passed down to his father as a guide, they began a garden that eventually helped feed 20 neighboring households during the pandemic.

“We started teaching others how to grow their own crops so that everyone can have some sort of crop growing in the land,” he said. The tropical climate of Kerala, he said, provides plenty of rain and sun, making farming relatively hands-off until it’s time to harvest.

That laissez-faire style of farming jibes with Zachariah’s growing interest in permaculture, a movement that promotes working with nature instead of imposing man’s will on the land.

Zachariah said he learned permaculture techniques by watching YouTube videos and by listening to the lessons his dad passed down from his grandfather, who once owned rice paddies.