Going Back To The Farm

AN AGRI-VENTURE by Smita and Mahesh Patil, named after the initials of their daughters, this farm at Dabhal is an attempt to blend trails of spice plantations, organic farming as well as adventure activities. Claiming to be the firs of its kind in the state, it comprises of over 125 species of trees, more than 55 species of butterflies, rich bio-diversity and a multitude of horticulture and plantation crops.

Determined to put their ancestral property to good use and preserve the existing agricultural plantations, the infrastructure was conceptualised with the help of architect Yogesh Pednekar, to function as a full-fledged 'agro and eco tourism' destination. "Instead of selling ancestral land and creating yet another concrete jungle, we decided to convert it into a place where people could rejuvenate amidst nature, while also providing an educational way to spend an entire day productively. Catering primarily to locals and then tourists, we introduced the concept of day tourism," comments Smita Patil, Founder-Director, N V Eco-Farm.

Smita hails from a banking background while Mahesh has acquired a Masters in Agriculture. Mahesh used his expertise for infrastructural planning, as well as to procure licenses and permissions. Seeking the aid of various botanists and taxonomists, an accurate inventory of the flora and fauna at the site was made. Provisions for rain water harvesting, poly house cultivation, solar fencing open  wells and irrigation have also been made.

"We developed a master plan for the entire area to make it a self sustainable business over time that would also enable development of the existing agriculture. We consulted nature and bird watchers as well as butterfly enthusiasts who told us that the place had huge potential to be developed into a grand butterfly park, where even a lot of migratory birds also visit. We also consulted adventure expert Prasad Joshi for adventure activities, and we laid out the overall plan," informs Mahesh.

Spread over 60 acres of land and equipped with 25 employees, including trained guides for the adventure activities the farm provides a variety of experiences. It has a nature trail across the plantations marked with signs providing botanical as well as commonly popular names, organic vegetables grown in-house, which are sourced for food available in the property's restaurant. There is also a farmhouse with modern amenities for the elderly to rest. The adventure activities include wall climbing, rapelling, cycling and trekking, amongst others.

"Our staff comprises of locals who live in the vicinity. We made a conscious decision of not bringing in trained staff, in order to allow our visitors to experience authentic Goan hospitality. People find the approach and ambience more homely. The basic construction of the restaurant began in May 2015, and by October 2015 it was commercially open to the public. Over the last six months, we have received great response from the locals; we are open to feedback that will help us to improve the experience for our guests," says a genial Smita.

When the initiative commence, the area was dominated by mining and the duo believed that their venture would help provide employment to mid-level educated individuals. They wanted to creeate awareness about the differences that lie between agriculture and tourism, and have also allocated a free space for local self-help groups to sell their products. Some of the village locals also present local art and culture through entertaining cultural performances.

There is a natural swimming pond and a scientifically designed Indian astrology-based 'Nakshatra Garden'. "Besides building curiosity and interest, when you identify a plant with your zodiac, you sub-consciously want to have one in your backyard. We have identified some of the rare endangered plants under zodiac signs that would also encourage people towards plant conservation. School and college students have been coming to the farm for excursions and picnics. We also had zoology and botany students who have stared and worked at the farm as a part of summer internship programmes", adds Mahesh.

The farm has recently tied up with a local cashew processing factory that allows visitors to witness the process of cashew harvesting and distilling. Post October 2016, they also wish to begin with short training programmes on virgin oil extraction, along with kitchen gardening, bird identification, and other such nature-linked activities. After constructing residential cottage facilities, they hope to make it a full-fledged tourist spot with accomodation, conference as well as spa facilities.

Explaining how majority of the visitors yearn to see different and exotic plants, they have begun sourcing a few from the Forest department as well as from Dharwad and look forward to spreading agro-eco tourism culture by joining hands with tour operators. N V Eco-Farm is listed on the Goa Tourism Development Corporation's web portal as well as on Just Dial.