By Corinne Almquist
We rose before dawn this morning to greet one of the most exciting days of the year: the 350 International Day of Climate Action. Sunrise found us huddled on the station platform in Chandigarh, awaiting our train to Delhi. Hours later, our journey continued by bus into Rajasthan, with the landscape transitioning from chaotic city streets to the pink, sandy hills whose glow characterizes this region’s famed charm and beauty. Traffic jams caused by auto rickshaws and brazen bicyclists turned to roadblocks of goats and shepherds, and the final stretch of bumpy road to our destination would have precluded any visitor with even the faintest vulnerability to motion sickness from venturing any further.
We finally arrived at the Satya-Jyoti Trust, an organic farm and cooperative community in the Alwar district of Rajasthan. It is difficult to fully describe the mission of this organization; its holistic vision of empowerment coupled with social and environmental change is so all-encompassing that to refer to Satya-Jyoti as a farm seems a bit diminutive. The Satya-Jyoti community has transformed a barren piece of desert land into a lush farm that takes in female victims of abuse and domestic violence and trains them in organic agriculture and handicrafts.  The organization also runs a school for local children, and teaches anyone, woman or man, who wishes to learn about sustainable agriculture.
We were greeted by Kakoli, co-director of Satya-Jyoti, who immediately invited us to enjoy a meal prepared by the Satya-Jyoti family. Sitting in the community kitchen, eating a meal straight from the farm (which was served to us on biodegradable plates of banana leaves), we all felt as though we had entered a slice of paradise. As we breathed in the aromas of our meal, an audible groan of delight erupted from everyone at the table. When the freshly prepared salad came around, our eyes met for a split second of hesitation; avoiding raw food is one of the cardinal rules of traveling unscathed through India. With a shrug, we unanimously decided it was worth it: if our digestive tracts failed, at least we were all going down together. [For the record, it WAS worth it, and no one has reported any indigestion thus far).

After the meal we took a tour of the farm and spoke with Kakoli about Satya-Jyoti’s dream, which includes empowering the village’s women, building a local health center, and training both boys and girls in sustainable enterprises like organic agriculture and fair trade handicrafts. Yet even this enclave of success and progress bears its fair share of frustrations. The peace of the farm is interrupted by very frequent explosions from the nearby mountains, where mining companies are blasting away the hills to extract stone and dust for construction in India’s cities. Kakoli’s pain from witnessing the assault on the hills is shared by the pain of people everywhere who are forced to watch their homes and land destroyed by outside forces, from mountaintop removal in Appalachia to the rising seas pushing islands underwater. Yet we are reminded on this farm that as we are connected in our struggles for peace and justice, we are also united in hope and in a shared vision of a sustainable future.
Before we left Satya-Joti, we made sure to gather with some of the people living in the community to take a group photo for the 350 International Day of Climate Action. Today, thousands of people are gathering all over the world to demand strong and bold solutions to climate change. 350 parts per million is considered the safe level of carbon in the atmosphere, and we have a lot of work to do to achieve this goal. Today, we are honored to add our voices to the other citizens all over the globe who are taking action for a healthy planet. Everything we have been discussing on our trip is of course intimately connected to this movement, and leads to many important questions: how can farmers adapt to a changing climate that threatens water shortages and crop damage? Will we lose the value of the traditional knowledge that groups are working so hard to preserve if growing conditions become erratic and unrecognizable?
These are some of the questions that sprung to my mind during our 350 action, and our group delved into many more challenging questions on the way back from the farm. In our visits so far, it has become clear that certain legal and cultural obstacles stand in the way of the women’s organic agriculture movement in India. The right to own land is one of these obstacles; many women throughout India cannot claim land ownership, which obviously prevents them from pursuing sustainable agriculture independently. Government subsidies towards chemical agriculture also prevent aspiring entrepreneurs from making a living from organic farming. The presence of these obstacles sparked a group discussion on the importance of advocacy: while it is incredibly important to initiate change at the individual and village level, it is also crucial to fight for policy change. In this way, too, we share a strong bond with the thousands of people demanding climate action today. We must absolutely work to help our neighbors reduce their energy consumption and eat local food, but we must also fight for fair agricultural policies that benefit the land and the farmer, and unite together to call for a strong international climate agreement in Copenhagen this December. Kakoli’s parting words to us today included a simple affirmation:
“You are all incredibly special people. That is what connects us.”
She could not have expressed it better. Every single person who took action for climate solutions today should be immensely proud of the movement we have all helped to build. This movement calls for a just and equitable future on a thriving planet that can feed and nourish each one of her inhabitants, and we at WEA and the Satya-Jyoti Trust are proud to be a part.
To see our photo, alongside thousands of photos of other actions
across the globe, please see below and visit www.350.org.
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Corinne Almquist is a 2009 Compton Mentor Fellow and recent Middlebury College graduate. Working in partnership with the Vermont Foodbank, Corinne is spending her fellowship year promoting gleaning around the state of Vermont, the act of harvesting and distributing surplus produce from farms. Corinne organizes volunteer crews to head out to local farms to harvest crops for local food shelves in an effort to provide low income families with fresh, healthy produce. She studied Environmental Studies and Religion at Middlebury and is a passionate food justice advocate, as well as a devoted gardener and farmer.
This is part of a series entitled From The Fields which follows WEA’s Women and Agriculture delegation on their 10 day journey through Northern India. Read more about this initiative here.

1 Comment

  1. Roz on October 26, 2009 at 5:38 am

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us. I am excited to hear about the work of the Trust and your impressions. Hugs to the delegates!!!
    Malia Everette

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