We just came back from our first training programme for farmers living on the Gujarat-Maharastra border. The field trip was an eye-opener: Organic honey doesn’t just come with a bottle. It also comes with a story, a wrap of lives in our natural environment, the knowledge of which makes me appreciate my Certified organic bottle even more.
To share: visiting the homes of the farmers who supply Under the Mango Tree was key to my perspective. We drove for miles through clusters of villages spread out between large areas of hilly, arid landscapes that looked all the same to me, a city person.
The dry heat, of course, didn’t faze the farmers who squatted under the chaya (shade) of the trees around sucking on caju, the fruit of the cashew tree. The red softness of the skin was like an entree for the yellow juicy flesh inside – a treat for the palette when dipped in salt!
I found the juice energized me enough to climb a hill in search of a natural beehive (although I was not quite at the pace of the farmers who strode through effortlessly.) At the top of the hill, inside a rock, we found our treasure: a beautiful home of the cerana indica, a local bee of Indian origin who prefers to hide in the dark. How were we going to harvest the honey and transfer the bees to a new home (the bee box) in an ahimsa-ic (non-violent) manner? Attar-ji, our scientist-trainer, demonstrated ways that did so with minimal confusion to the bees.
Domesticating a bee colony, I learnt, involves first capturing the rani (queen bee) whose hormonal powers are enough to suade the rest of the colony into following her helplessly into her new home. While identifying the rani was easy – the biggest and fattest of all the bees – catching her was hard. Only the bravest of the farmers, Manik Aiyer, felt ambitious enough to extend his hand all the way inside the rock while others retired to watch him. Manik’s nonchalance for the bees that swarmed all around him and his well-oiled hair (a guaranteed bee irritant), won him the prize and, a crowd of fellow-farmer admirers who ran in exclaiming, “rani pakad gaya! Manik ne rani pakad gaya!”(the queen has been caught! Manik has caught the queen!)
Though the pride of our conquest was high, we were humbled by the beautifully intricate beehive the bees had created with pockets of exquisite tasting honey and pollen all mixed together. After Attarji transferred it into the bee box in the gentlest manner possible, I excitedly reached out for a taste of the remainders; only to find the flavour and texture quite delightful and very familiar – much like fruity bubblegum from my childhood days!
The farmers too were very familiar with this taste but because of a long relationship with these gifts of the land. I admire the closeness they share with the earth: such that they can tell, even with eyes closed, the type of flower the bee has fed on just by tasting the pollen. Or even, the way they can tell a beehive lies inside a tree trunk just by listening closely to the sounds around them. The farmers know every inch of their land as we know our homes and it is this long-developed connection that makes them the region’s best custodians. Going green in our developmental policies, I realized, is inextricably linked to going local; protecting our environment over the long term requires everyone to be a part of the process. The farmers, Under The Mango Tree, and me, as a consumer of that bottle of single origin, organic, gourmet honey…