Sidhartha Blone and Sweta Pradhan, a couple in their early 40s, came up with the idea of building Petrichor, a forest farmstay. The birth of this concept took place when they started questioning the food on their plates. Located between the foothills of the Neora Forest and the tea gardens in Kalimpong district, Petrichor is not just a farm but a way of sustainable living. Here are some excerpts from a conversation with Sweta. By Kasturi Das
1. You call your forest farm Petrichor Regenerative Living Shala. That’s an intriguing name for a farm stay. Tell us a bit more.
We call ourselves a shala, which means school, because more than a tourist space, our aim is to impart education towards the conservation and preservation of not just our natural habitat and planet, but also ourselves through yoga, meditation, detox and fasting.
Earth care and self-care coexist here. We believe that one cannot thrive without the other. That’s why both Sidhartha and I have made it our mission to teach what we know about permaculture, natural building, natural farming, plant-based food, herbalism, wildcrafts, and yoga — all things that connect us to the Earth and other beings around us.
We work in harmony with farmers of our region to build a healthy alternative, where we strive to live sustainably and responsibly. Ecological sustainability is the primary focus of our long-term vision.
2. When and how did Petrichor come into existence?
The year 2013 was when we planted the first of many trees on a barren and compact paddy field of yesteryears in Gorubathan, the small town where Petrichor is located.
It started with the food on our table. We started questioning our choices, ingredients, preservatives, unnatural shelf life, and plastic packaging that we brought into our homes. We sought accountability from growers and producers, which led to seeking out local farms so that we could make healthy food options available to our local community. Unfortunately, there weren’t many such farms around, so we decided to take up the shovel and get to work ourselves.
3. What was life like before Petrichor?
I was working in advertising and Sidhartha in real estate. I left my job in 2013, and Sidhartha still engages in real estate work since it is his self-owned business. The only difference is that he is more involved in conservation and reforestation of the land and estate wherever he is involved.
4. How would you describe a day at your farm?
Farm life begins and ends early. We rise with the warm sun and ease into the day with yoga, meditation, or a barefoot walk around the food forest, spending quiet time with our plants and crops before people start coming in.
We harvest produce, make and eat breakfast by 09:00 am, and everyone is ready for the day. We all have our chores chalked out. I am mostly in the kitchen or garden; Sidhartha is on the farm or working on some home project. The staff and volunteers are mainly doing farm or building work. Everyone is useful, productive and learning something new every day. Nature has so many stories to tell, so many miracles to experience. We feel lucky to be a part of that wisdom every single day of our lives.
We break for lunch and rest from 01:00 pm to 02:00 pm where everyone eats a well-deserved hearty farm meal and lounges on hammocks. We read, listen to music, or do something of our interest until it’s time to show up again. Four in the evening is our tea/coffee time, and the end of a productive, soulful and mindful day. We gather around for dinner and share the day’s achievements and shortcomings, always giving ourselves a pat on the back, no matter what.
5. What makes Petrichor different?
There are so many wonderful places and people are doing good work everywhere. I don’t know if we’re any different. To point out one difference, I guess it’s our focus on imparting regenerative and sustainability education to our guests. Also, the fact that we are vegan, and our menu is a delicious celebration of all our local plants and food forest offerings. Guests can expect food for the soul and the planet here. Our mission is to change the way people eat and view their food — the unhealthy and emotional attachment one has to it, and the connection between chemical agriculture and our declining health. The food here is served as medicine.
6. What are some ways to start living in an environment-friendly lifestyle?
By now, we all know what to do. People just need to come out of their comfort zones. We have digital access to all the required information for leading a regenerative lifestyle. I say regenerative because being sustainable is not enough anymore. We are at a tipping point.
The future can be good if it is local. The solution of all the world’s problems lies in changing the way we eat, how we grow our food and how we access it. What we do to Mother Earth, we do to ourselves.
Chemical agriculture is killing our soil and us. We have to stop buying what they’re selling. Start growing your own food. If you can’t, then support a local, natural farm.
We must begin functioning from a higher level of awareness, a place of spiritual consciousness almost, a place of compassion. When we do that, we want to make it better for everyone — soil, plants, waterways, animals, the air we breathe, the microorganisms, our families and ourselves. It’s only then we realise that we are not the only species in this vast universe. This splendid planet that we call home belongs to everyone and no one.