I recently received a letter from Eranda at Sarvodaya in Sri Lanka. He wrote: "It's a great pleasure to tell we got our very first harvest at Sripura Farm after 35 years. I think you already know about that. This was a team work effort, as you know Dr. Vinya, Ravi Ayya, Tharindu, Thennakoon, Malani Akka, Surasena, Monlar, Sripura villagers and specially you and Sarvodaya USA sacrificed their time, money, knowledge and efforts and were behind this successfulness."
My deep appreciation goes out to all of you who came to the party in January and celebrated the beginning of this endeavor. We all have made something beautiful happen! The farm in Sri Lanka is growing and crops are being harvested.
The last time I wrote you all with an update on the project, Shamila of the Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR) and I were meeting up to brainstorm about what needed to be done to make this happen. At that point, we had identified members of our steering committee and hosted the first training at the farm. So much has happened since then- the steering committee met, composed of leaders from Sarvodaya and MONLAR, which includes leading experts on the science and practice of ecological farming. Our shared understanding and commitment to this farm proved to be an anchor in overcoming the challenges associated with bringing together a new group of people, finding a manager, coming up with a project plan, and organizing the logistics of budgets and financing. The steering committee had a day in Colombo where Mr. Soorasena, our ecological farming consultant, guided us through the process of creating a project plan and budget. We then made a visit to the farm where we surveyed the land and planned how to use it. Candidates were interviewed for the position of farm manager and Muthubanda, with previous experience in starting ecological farms, was hired.
We organized a kick-off event, where the local Sarvodaya coordinator invited 60 people from the community, including 3 school principals, youth group leaders, farmer group leaders, school teachers, police officers, civil defense force members, women farmer leaders... she truly invited everyone to come. Mr. Soorasena spoke to the people about the importance of ecological farming and how we have to work together to help ourselves, not rely on external help from the government or companies. He has the gift of being able to communicate with anyone, including rural people. We served tea and snacks, and the people spoke of the need for youth development activities, and asked if we could have programs at the farm where youth come to take some tutoring classes and learn about agriculture.
On one occasion I was sitting alone in one of the semi-destroyed buildings on the site. The roof was blown out and the rubble still lay on the floor. I hadn't really understood prior to that moment, that this place was heavily bombed during the Civil War, and that most people living in this area now had left during the worst of the fighting in the mid-2000s. People are now there, rebuilding their lives, and facing the new threat of kidney disease. It was a moving moment for me- I can still see the way the bright sunlight fell on the floor in that room. I knew in that moment that this farm was bringing peace and new life to this far-off corner of the island.
So what's next? Eranda continued in his email to me: "We will be soon starting the 2nd round of training for farmers on sustainable agriculture. However, we are still at the very preliminary and critical stage and we have a long way to go. Next month we plan to cultivate another 2.5 acres.Then we can continuously supply our organic products for local people. Still we are facing some critical issues, like water. We need to install a sprinkler water system as soon as possible. It is little bit expensive but as before we can design it and install by ourselves in a cost effective way. Actually now we need to find more funds to fully develop another 2.5 acre as soon possible. After that we can survive without any fundings that is our main goal. I hope you will visit us as soon as possible to see this successfulness. I hope you are with us always and will be good encouragement for our team always. We already applied for organic certification and plan to supply the products to the local market while we promote organic farming through training and education."
Dr. Vinya, the General Secretary of Sarvodaya, recently called this farm a "flagship project" and notes that people in Sri Lanka are paying attention. Dr. Vinya is a nationally known and respected figure and has a voice at the highest echelons of Sri Lankan politics and society. Sarvodaya's commitment to ecological farming through the efforts of this farm matters.
At the heart of Sarvodaya philosophy is the act and spirit of Shramadana, or gift of labor, energy, time and resources. There were many Shramadanas that went into this farm: in June 2015, a group gathered at the farm to bring this idea to the community. A few months later, hundreds of local people gathered there to clear the 5 acres which are currently being cultivated. In January, we came together in this spirit, and look at all that has come out of that. What a celebration! Being together in January was great fun for me, and the outcomes of that effort are a joy to share with all of you. I hope you enjoy the photos of the farm.
With gratitude and love,