Sharanya Misra

Kalpana Manivannan

Environment & Food Safety Activist. Owner & Farmer @ Kalpavriksha Farms. Blogger.

Kalpana Manivannan on #IInspire

We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already. – J.K.Rowling

A successful Biology teacher loved by staff and students alike, on the brink of a big step up the career ladder. Then about 5 months back, everything changed, as Kalpana Manivannan stepped off the beaten path and decided to pave her own way. Today, a new-age farmer and an environmental & food-safety activist, Kalpana is slowly but steadily making inroads into changing the world around her, one choice at a time. Here’s me in a tete-a-tete with a woman on a remarkable journey!

My acquaintance with Kalpana Manivannan, surprisingly, began in a completely different sphere. The prolific blogger that she is, Kalpana drew me in with her nuanced writing and mature thoughts on parenting and relationships. Little did I know that she was set to inspire me in more ways than one!

Farming & Eco-Consciousness. What inspired the big step?

Teaching Biology played a huge role, Kalpana recollects. “I think that’s what brought about my love for nature and made me more eco-conscious. But it was also the guilt, of teaching children to reduce and refuse, but not actually incorporating it in our own lives.” There was also a gnawing concern growing on her – she didn’t trust the food her family consumed. “I was worried about the food we ate and how it had been treated, what pesticides and chemicals had been used.” With time, Kalpana found that she had an irresistible urge towards an alternative lifestyle. After years of living life as a teacher, Kalpana quit to explore her dream of becoming a farmer!

Kalpana Manivannan @ Kalpavriksha Farms on #IInspire

The Birth of “Kalpavriksha Farms”.

About an hour away from Chennai is a small piece of land blooming under the nurturing warmth of Kalpana’s dreams. She has lovingly named it “Kalpavriksha Farms”.  “It was love at first sight”, she shares. But there were challenges galore from the go. “It was financially a stretch procuring it. Not to mention the challenges of owning a land in a tiny village. There was no electricity and terrible shortage of water. But I knew I had to chase my dream of creating a self-sufficient and sustainable living model!”.

Kalpavriksha Farms on #IInspire

Discovering Farming.

Kalpana has been meeting with pioneers in the field and attending seminars to make sure every action on the farm is environmentally friendly. She has replaced chemical washing solutions with innovative eco-friendly options that enable waste water to be reused for plants. Rain water harvesting is already on the cards and her big dream of installation of solar panels has recently been fulfilled, an option that she admits was a huge investment to begin with, but would let them reap benefits for life. With an abundance of natural sunlight in the country, Kalpana believes we have ample opportunities to use this resource productively. Her farm abounds in fruiting and flowering trees, making it a haven for birds. Having overcome her initial skepticism, she is now looking at setting up biogas to use all the vegetable and kitchen waste. Kalpana is also using organic farming techniques on the farm which, in itself, is replete with challenges. “When you go organic, there is a possibility that 100% of the produce is not harvested. But we have no plans of even using natural pesticides. Pests have their own way of contributing to the ecosystem that we refuse to recognize.” With a feverish passion, Kalpana has thrown herself into using the best techniques in her home and farm, that she often documents and shares on her FB page. While going commercial may be a distant dream, if at all, Kalpana is now content with creating a space that would make her family as self-sufficient as they possibly could be. “I want to reach the point where everything we need would be home-grown or home-made. We all think in this fast-paced life that this isn’t possible, but we can at least try!”.

Kalpana Manivannan @ Kalpavriksha Farms on #IInspire
Kalpana Manivannan @ Kalpavriksha Farms on #IInspire

Refuse. Refuse. Refuse.

Kalpana strongly believes in the immediate need for us to pay attention to the impact of our actions on our surroundings. “Environmental deterioration isn’t far away. Gone is the time to Reduce and Recycle – we have burnt that bridge. Now, we need to Refuse. We are habitual creatures with a fear of change. But what needs to be understood is that it needn’t be ‘all or nothing’! Every small bit counts. It’s all about building new habits and pushing yourself till it becomes normal, till it’s no longer a hassle!”. Becoming environmentally conscious needn’t be a very difficult choice to make, nor a time taking one, Kalpana shares. In a few simple everyday ways, we can make a remarkable difference to the world around us.

  1. Carry your own water bottle. Avoid purchasing use-and-throw water bottles on the run.
  2. Always carry a light cloth bag in your handbags and a few jute bags in your vehicle. This way, you are never caught off-guard on impromptu shopping trips and don’t need the plastic bags.
  3. Stainless steel straws, spoons, forks are great and extremely easy carry-alongs. They completely eliminate the need for plastic use-and-throw cutlery.
  4. Keep your own coffee mug on your office desk. Why buy those plastic/paper cups?
  5. Carry your own stainless-steel lunch boxes.
  6. A cloth handkerchief is a perfect alternative to the numerous tissues we throw away.
  7. Use old cloths instead of paper/kitchen towels.
  8. Make a conscious effort to segregate the waste from your household. Wet waste goes for composting while dry waste is recycled. You could even try composting and recycling at home.
  9. Use the plastics you have already bought and stop buying any more. We can avoid landfills with a little effort.
Home-Made Body Butter by Kalpavriksha Farms on #IInspire
Home-Made Soaps by Kalpavriksha Farms on #IInspire

Watch what you Consume!

Be it creating her own soaps and detergents, baking her bread or home-making pastas and jams, Kalpana makes every effort to be conscious of what she and her family consume. “Food safety is very close to my heart. We don’t know the contents of what we consume, aren’t aware of the pesticides and chemicals used…A good meal isn’t just a loaded plate. What we need is healthy, nourishing food. While we cannot forego everything from outside, we can achieve a balance.” Kalpana has cut down on packaged food and products, consciously shops from local farmers’ markets and is home-producing wherever possible. She has begun to incorporate organic vegetables in her family’s meals, often produce from her farm, and tries to consume native varieties of crops rather than hybrid.

Home-Made Burger Buns by Kalpavriksha Farms @ #IInspire

Toils of the Eco-Conscious!

“We do not live in a society that could enable a zero-waste living”, Kalpana laments. “Plastic is cheap, and alternatives are not always accessible, nor is information on them readily available. Certain food products are always packaged in plastic. While one can try for farmers’ markets, not everything is necessarily available there. The convenience that supermarkets provide cannot be found elsewhere.” And what about the farm? “Farming cannot be a hobby that you can do in your free time, it needs physical presence and efforts. It wasn’t something I could manage to do alongside my career as a high school teacher.” How difficult has it been to convince family and friends to adopt an alternative lifestyle, I ask her. The farm is a product of her partnership with her supportive husband, she reveals with a smile. “In the beginning he wasn’t as enthusiastic as I had been, but the dream has grown on him. Today, he is very excited to work on the farm over the weekends. All of this wouldn’t have been possible but for his support.” But there have definitely been instances when people, especially the younger generation, have looked down upon some of the eco-conscious methods she advocates. “Being eco-conscious needs to be given an image makeover as something cool!”, she laughs.

Produce From Kalpavriksha Farms on #IInspire
Home-Made Lasagna using Produce from Kalpavriksha Farms on #IInspire

The Woman Behind the Actions….And the Words!

Farming and eco consciousness aside, Kalpana is also defined by her writing. An avid blogger on her page, she is also renowned on platforms like Women’s Web and Momspresso for her thoughts, especially on parenting, relationships and women’s issues. She voices her strong thoughts on the need to change the patriarchal mindset and the significance of beginning early to do so. “There is a need for gender sensitization, and to start with children. Children look up at you as role models. But it’s not preaching that they need. We need to be the people they can look up to and learn. Every household has years of conditioning that we aren’t even conscious about. It’s time to rethink and get the next gen ready!”. As we part, she has a few final words “We have exploited much, and it’s time we go back and correct the wrongs we have done. Every bit counts.” And that is the mark of a true change maker!

Kalpana Manivannan has been featured in the ‘I Inspire’ series of this blog.                                  To know more of and purchase the wonderful eco-friendly, home-made items she produces, do visit her FB page.

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The ‘I Inspire’ series on Sharanyas blog www.la-dolce-vita.co.in intends to bring to the fore stories of common women around us who inspire with their life, work and thoughts. The series seeks to encourage women to stand by each other and quell the wide spread misconception that women are women’s enemies.

Disclaimer: Views or opinions represented in the linked blogs/websites of people featured under the ‘I Inspire’ series are personal and belong solely to the owner of the blog/website. They do not necessarily reflect the views of Sharanya’s www.la-dolce-vita.co.in.

All image copyrights are held by either Kalpana Manivannan/ Kalpavriksha Farms / Sharanya’s www.la-dolce.vita.co.in

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