Urbanite's Choice Farm 

Best balance

Sujata Devadas September 26, 2020

More than theory

Some have true expertise in startup ventures. Thomas Mathew has a real talent for it. He left the strictly academic ‘bookish’ education to graduate school with THSLC or Technical High School Leaving Certificate in Kerala state’s Kannur district. 

He began earning by the age of 19 after completing a Polytechnic diploma in computer engineering. Recruiting 14 employees to assemble personal computers, his company sold them profitably to thousands of customers in Bangalore. When branded computers became more affordable, he closed this company to start a new one in software engineering. 10 of his employees moved to other companies. The remaining 4 continued giving technical and warranty support to the customers for 1 more year.

Thomas Mathew: instinct to do challenging projects

Knowing what works

Direct and contract staffing for the software engineering industry was his next business orientation. His strength in identifying the market potential, providing tailor-made services ( like the IT infrastructure) to customers, knowing when and how to exit brought excellent dividends. One instance of Thomas lifting out the problem was when he helped an MNC find out why Indian Institute of Technology graduate engineers precipitously left them.“I figured out that these professional engineers were assigned monotonous repetitive tasks at testing centres and solved the problem by hiring diploma engineers to do these jobs 24/7.”

Now, several years down the line, Thomas’s company with a strength of 80 employees develops software product for a large MNC based in the United States.   

Implementing wish fulfilment

Tied by childhood memories and sentiments to cultivation, his grandparents occupation,Thomas’s mind dwelt on spending his leisure hours on lush green open land, on raising his children that way. Reading books on sustainable and permaculture cultivation by Bill MollisonMasanobu Fukuoka and Shripad A. Dabholkar just immersed him further into his vision of a closer connection with nature. But where was it successfully implemented?

A food forest cultivation video motivated him to attend that workshop in Sreekrishnapuram, Kerala. Their outright success, recently documented by Kerala's Mahatma Gandhi university in Malayalam, gave him an excellent practical view of his ticket out of a metropolitan apartment, leisure time on open land diametrically opposite to the confining, constricting ambience of office walls.

Piled compost used for soil enrichment

The start of his new agricultural venture clinched when he purchased 2 acres farm land suitable to cultivate a fruit forest leaving a sufficient area for a farmhouse, at a village in Bangalore’s suburban Kanakapura Taluk. “The whole cost - purchasing this land, building a compound wall around it, 40 tonnes of compost to fertilise that acreage, hiring a JCB to make 642 pits - I cannot buy a middle-class apartment for that total cost in Bangalore, nor do I want it. My preference is to be fully involved in creating the ideal lifestyle using both the urban and rural setup, then enjoying that result.”

Building up the dream

“Many spurious claims over the land were successfully countered since my purchase was perfectly legal,” says Thomas. Despite meticulously mapping the whole cultivation plan on a chart, “making the pits to sow his target crop required my close supervision because JCB work in urban Bangalore is connected almost exclusively to construction activity and is far removed from agriculture” he explained.

Rich thriving soil

“Since I had no plans to alter the land’s topography, in 5 days the land was prepared for organic cultivation: 3 days to make the pits; 2 more days for a couple of farm labourers to add and mix compost into these pits.”

By July 2020, while his pre-schooler son romped around happily in this vast open area, Thomas was fully engaged in clearing doubts with food forest experts Reji Joseph and Suryaprakash at Sreekrishnapuram while instructing where each of 642 plants  - 306 different big, medium and small grafted fruit saplings; 336 Papaya, Banana and Drumstick (temporary) plants - should be sown. The central tenet of food forest or fruit forest cultivation is the excellent practice of intercropped cultivation diametrically opposite to mono crop cultivation which indisputably causes disastrous desertification.  

Live mulching and live shading was soon completed. His wife Merlyn, their cousins, friends, colleagues now gravitate to this vibrantly green farm for a picnic or to barbecue some food. Teresa, Merlyn’s mother, who retired recently from the healthcare industry, loves the farm. “I come here often,” she says, “I know the organic cultivation methods used. So, like his friends and colleagues, I take home herbs, guava, different kinds of spinach and papaya.  Cultivation is still in its initial stage, just the beginning …”

Aiming for the next startup in agri-space

“You don't have to be a farmer by profession to cultivate food.” says Thomas with a grin. “I am the best example. The suspense factor is true in every venture. Hidden risks in cultivation brings in the excitement. Risks are true for life too. So apart from running a successful business, I pay great attention to my hobby. My physical involvement helps identify real problems.”

All set to raise a fruit forest

Stepping between the saplings on his farm, Thomas talks of how interacting with village farmers “… in my farm’s vicinity brought me directly to their community and individual level real time problems. I spotted problems while networking with them. I see potential to solve them by investing money, technologies and expertise in the agricultural sector. Right now, these farmers do not have access to artificial intelligence, robotics and IOT. If it is scalable enough to solve problems for other farmers across India, then it is a proper business proposition.”

Challenges may emerge in his own cultivation. It definitely looks like Thomas has plunged into a very “happening” hobby. His larger aim to orient agriculturist neighbours residing close to his farm towards less harmful sustainable farming methods that produce more returns and start agrarian businesses with them using his business expertise and technology, will unfold to bring more results in the coming years. 

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