Sunday, August 29, 2010

Adam in India!

Hello again!

I know, I know. Two updates in under a week is a little much for this blog to handle. However, I think that I'll be able to update a little more regularly now, since there is to be no more hard labour in my life for the time being (lots of work, yes, but none of it quite as physically taxing, I hope). Also, this post is kind of a 'part two' of the last one, since I'm really in the same position as I was when I wrote the last one.

The difference is that while that one looked back at the summer, this one will look forward to the year that is about to happen.

I'm about to leave on a ten-month placement to Dharmapuri, India with Puvidham Rural Development Trust. This is a part of my university international development studies co-op program, where students undertake a work placement for their 4th year. As with many of my colleagues, I will get on the plane on September 4th not knowing what will happen, or what exactly my job will entail. I'm worried, but I know that that is part of the experience, so that's okay.

What I do know comes mostly from Puvidham's website ( and a series of excellent e-mails that I exchanged with Meenakshi, the organization's co-founder and the founder of the school. I learned that Puvidham is an organization that integrates a commitment to sustainable agriculture and community development with a passion for teaching. They operate a school on their farm, in which the young children from the surrounding community come to study for the first few years of their schooling. Some children live in a hostel, also on the farm, because their parents often travel into the cities looking for work.

Since my coming to Puvidham is a bit of an experiment, for them as much as for me, I don't know exactly where I'll fit in. So, rather than go into much detail about my job there, I'll update this blog regularly with information about what I've been doing so that you can discover Puvidham, and Dharmapuri, with me over the coming months. I look forward to it!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The last of the farming!

Well, I'm back! Back in Toronto from my summer experience on the farm, that is. Well, I'm really sort of on a stopover in my home city for a couple of weeks while I prepare for my next move, namely my departure to Dharmapuri, India for my co-op placement. That's on September 4th, a date that seems to be getting rapidly closer.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. I haven't written on this blog for over a month, and a lot has happened in the meantime! I think I'll use this opportunity to write a bit about my last few weeks on the farm, as I should have been doing all along.

About two days after my last blog post, I worked my first day on the garlic farm. Some of the guys I was working with had already transferred there, others had gone back to Mexico (I drove those two to the airport, which allowed me to have a nice couple of days off).

My first shock at the garlic farm was the sheer scale of the operation. I suppose it wasn't quite justified, since the fields weren't much bigger than the asparagus field we worked in. But with asparafus, you take whatever grows each day for two months and that's your harvest. With garlic, everything in the field needs to be taken off in as little time as possible—that means we were working with, literally, tons and tons of the stuff every day.

There were also a whole lot more people. In addition to me and the six Mexican workers, we also had crews of a few dozen Indians come up from Brampton several times. So every day, a small army of workers would attack the garlic, laying in massive pearly-white rows that the harvester had dug up. We would take a wagonload or three into the barn, while the Indians would go right into the field and work there all day. We would cut the roots and stems off of the garlic, and then separate it based on size before sending it to a barn on another farm to dry.

This was, more or less, how I spent every day for a good three weeks. In between cutting, I would also go on trips into the field to pick up the garlic that the Indian workers had cut, often practicing my poor Hindi with the workers that I saw. They were all from Punjab, so they spoke Punjabi, a sister language of Hindi. It meant that they could understand when I said things like “chaar basket” (four baskets), or “bahut accha hai” (very good), or “mai panjabi nahin bolta hu” (I don't speak Punjabi). Some of them would reply, in rapid-fire Punjabi that I hadn't a hope of understanding, or in loud, thickly accented English.

In short, garlic harvesting is intense. We would go at it for 12 to 14 hours every day for the better part of three weeks. By the end of it, our hands were well-calloused from the clippers we cut the roots with, and I had done more reps of lifting those 60-pound bushels than I even have – or ever will – in a gym.

By the beginning of August we were about ready for a change, and what a change we got! We moved into the garlic factory to process and ship out those tons upon tons of garlic that we'd gotten off the field. The garlic had been dried in the meantime, in a massive barn that pumped hot air through the bins of garlic.

The factory was an experience: most of the guys were further upstream on the conveyor belt, peeling the outer layers of skin off of the garlic bulbs that came through. I was near the end, picking garlic off of the assembly line at what felt like breakneck speed (I'm told that it looked like something considerably slower to the outside observer). We then sorted the garlic into bins depending on what customer they were to go to.

The teaching stuff was pretty cool, too. Because of the work, we didn't do a lot of formal, sit-down classes, but we had a lot of informal classes throughout the last month and a half—especially when we were working in the barn, we talked and learned a lot from each other. Leaving the farm last Friday, I really couldn't believe that it was all over, as much as I had been counting the days all the while. I think the biggest stress on me in the last few days was knowing what a short turnaround time I would have between getting off the farm and getting on the plane to India – from my last day on the farm to my flight is just over two weeks, and as I wrote before, it seems like no time at all.

So that's what was going on for the last little bit! It was great and I'm looking forward to what is coming up next, which I will write about very soon!