Yoga master Tara Laju on why the natural way of life helps her be a successful weekend farmer
It could well be one of those picturesque farms you come across in the hill stations, luscious and green, complete with the occasional moos, quacks and clucks, to add to the rustic charm. But Papa’s Dairy farm, where yoga master and weekend farmer Tara Laju is mistress of all she surveys, is just 13 or so km from the hustle and bustle of the city, in a quiet vale in Mulayara, down the road from Vilapilshala. And Tara is quite unlike any farmer you may have come across in your old James Herriot books. There are no tweeds or gum boots in sight but petite Tara does pack a punch as she traipses up and down the well-tended farm in her heels, instructing farm hands as they plant a new season of vegetables, overseeing the milk processing unit and petting a cow here and a hen there.
“There’s something refreshing about seeing something grow or drinking a quart of fresh milk,” says Tara, proudly pointing to the morning’s harvest of snake gourd. “We are a completely organic farm, and because of that the yields are often quite low. Also, you won’t get the kind of super-size vegetables that we’ve all become used to. The snake gourds are small and the red amaranthus over there won’t grow much bigger than it is now,” she explains.
Papa’s Dairy is three–and–a half acre organic farm where they rear some 80 Holstein Friesian cows, farm eggs from their 50 hens and ducks and grow all manner of vegetables, from bitter gourd and yams to runner beans and brinjal. “It’s a self-sustaining farm. We breed the cows here itself – we have a bull for the purpose. Cow dung is used as fertilizer. We have a water treatment plant on site, the slurry of which is also used as fertilizer,” says Tara.
The farm was started in 2006 by Tara’s husband, Captain Laju Cherian, a commercial pilot, who took voluntary retirement from the Air Force. “He grew up in Angamaly drinking fresh cow milk and wanted our daughter, Sruthi [who is in class 12 in St. Thomas] to grow up on healthy food. That’s why he named the farm as Papa’s Dairy,” explains Tara, who took over the running of the farm in 2010. “I was actually very reluctant to take it all on. I was more or less a city girl. But the farm and the animals grew on me and now it’s become my passion. I am living my husband’s dream!” says Tara.
Things weren't always this smooth, though. “It took me five years of day-night toil to get it running smoothly like this, labour issues being the chief concern. We initially had 150 cows but had to cut down the number to a more manageable size. Now, it’s a completely mechanised operation and we produce some 1,500 litres of milk a day, supplementing the supply by sourcing milk from small time framers in the locality,” she explains. Apart from retailing milk under the Papa’s Dairy brand, they also produce pure ghee, both of which are available in select stores across the district. “The most challenging thing about running a dairy farm is hygiene. You’ve got to be vigilant 24x7 [there are surveillance cameras all around which she can access on her phone] and we have to ensure that the milk processing unit and its surroundings are cleaned top to bottom at least three times a day,” she says.
Tara attributes her success at farming to the natural way of life. She’s been “living and breathing” yoga since she was a child and is a well-known yoga guru, having taught over 3,500 people, since she began taking classes in the city in 2001. “Yoga makes me happy, energetic and confident, which in turn helps me run the farm with a positive outlook. I think the farm is successful because my husband and I don’t think of it as a business as such. In fact, I supply most of the vegetables and eggs to my clients themselves,” she says.
Tara will soon open a vegetable counter at her Yuj Wellness centre in Kanaka Nagar, Nanthancode. “I want to inspire people to take up weekend farming. It’s very rewarding,” she adds.