Dairy article

An organic co-op is born
Thirteen neighboring farmers showed up at Gamcha Farm’s first community meeting, and Chase’s dream to turn her operation into a Nepalese-run co-op that would benefit indigenous farmers began to look feasible. Feasible, that is, if she could convince the farmers that organic methods would, in the end, yield more crops. To do this, Chase set aside one-quarter of her farmland to donate to individual farmers, and she organized workshops to teach organic practices with local conditions in mind. “We gave each person a plot of land on our land,” says Chase. “Each person divided their plot in half and used biointensive, double-digging processes on one side and their traditional way on the other.”

Chase knew she had to appeal to the specific needs of local farmers, so the workshops focused on techniques that would benefit small plots of land such as those in the Kathmandu Valley. “We looked at various non-Nepali approaches to soil fertility, such as permaculture, and integrated those that were most appropriate for the Nepali farmer,” says Chase. “The main strength of our project was that we didn’t use any one technique exclusively. We learned from the Nepalis. We integrated whatever was useful, and we considered a number of techniques and perspectives.”

Chase started working with the Nepalese farmers to introduce organic gardening ideas, but she feared they might return to pesticides when they encountered insect or disease problems. To remedy this, Chase visited a renowned Ayurvedic doctor in the town of Patan and asked him if Ayurveda had any section for plant protection. “A woman sitting nearby leaped to her feet and said, ‘I’m Kaminee Vaidya, and I can do this,’” recalls Chase. It turned out that Vaidya, the doctor’s daughter, was not only a student who had studied Ayurveda with the doctor for many years, but she also had a master’s degree in entomology and was teaching at Tribuvan University in Kathmandu. “Kaminee’s studies in Ayurveda provided insight into insect behavior, which enabled her to analyze which plants would repel which insects,” says Chase. “She designed systems of interplanting based on four principles: color, odor, leaf texture, and leaf shape. Using these systems over the years, the gardens repelled many insects, most impressively aphids.”

Vaidya also concocted a variety of pest repellents and pesticides using locally available components, such as wood ashes, mustard-seed cake, neem oil, and cow urine. “She was very successful in analyzing the problems and developing appropriate solutions,” says Chase. “For me, this was our project’s most significant contribution.”

Along with the farm’s successes came problems, too. For example, water issues arose. “A large irrigation ditch ran from the hills where there was a reservoir, through all of the villages, then down into the river,” says Chase. “Irrigation ditches went in different directions, and smaller ones flowed into private fields. When the water level was low, and people couldn’t get enough water during the day, they would go out at night and shift the ditches so water would come onto their land.” More than one night, someone from Gamcha Farm had to trudge out to the irrigation ditch to open a sabotaged line and reclaim the water. “Skirmishes in the middle of the night [were common] out there,” Chase says gamely