In Australian aboriginal, ‘Windarra' means ‘A place to live where I can express my soul.' For eleven years in Windarra Farm, Friederike has been trying to live up to its meaning.
Driving up past Ganesh Bakery and Saracon, and then bumping over a cattle grid, I immediately feel as if I am entering an ‘old' Auroville. A feeling of spaciousness and calm greets me as I walk slowly down the path between an avenue of flowering trees and rosella fields. Two ammas greet me. Like a Biblical scene, they are winnowing dusty brown sesame seeds through a big sieve. Sacks and piles of seeds fill the storage room behind them. The tool room has an abundance of ancient tools as well as a western spade, lovingly polished, looking well-used.
“I brought that from Germany years ago,” said Friederike. “Once the Tamils got used to it they loved working with it.”
Over a glass of guava juice in the keet-roofed kitchen, Friederike shares her story. “I knew on my first visit to Auroville in 1986 that this is the place I wanted to be. My partner and I came in 1987 and we stayed in various places, the longest in a capsule in ‘Horizon'. I loved the simple life. I worked in the Matrimandir Nursery and went everywhere by bicycle and never felt happier. But after a year, I used to have the same dream every night that I was a bird, flying to my home and the forests in Germany . Although all was perfect for me here and I totally felt content with my growth in yoga, the simple life style and the work close to nature, I needed to go back to Germany .”
It took Friederike seven years to finish all that needed to be completed before she was ready to return. The year was 1996 and she and her husband now had two daughters. “In seven years a lot had changed,” she continues. “Things were not as tranquil as before as Auroville was beginning to grow. We stayed for two years in a Newcomer house and as a trained geriatric nurse I took care of Lieske, an old Aurovilian lady. Then one day Jeff asked me to take care of the vegetable garden in Discipline Farm. I took it up enthusiastically. That year I learned a lot and made many mistakes, like planting seeds too early which were all washed away by the monsoon. But I realized that I loved working with my hands in the soil, seeing things grow and being in contact with nature together with the Tamilians.
“When my husband and I separated in 1998, I decided to start a farm community. I met David and Karen, two Australian newcomers who had a similar interest, and Pratibha, an Indian woman from Kerala. Soon the four of us were allocated the stewardship of 22 acres of farmland between Kottakarai and Alankuppam. We shared the work. One looked after cows, another after administration, one after infrastructure and I cared for the chicken house and the vegetable garden. We worked hard, planting trees, installing a windmill, building storerooms, sheds, a chicken coop and capsules for us to live in. But living this challenging life proved very difficult and after half a year the Australians left. Pratibha left two years later.” Friederike with her daughters Leela and Priya stayed on. “I enjoyed the simple life every day, waking up early morning, milking the cows, bringing the children to school, working in the gardens and seeing everything grow.”
Yet she too had thoughts of giving up. “Sometimes things were unbearable. Here I was with two little girls aged four and seven, inexperienced in farming and life in the tropics, and in charge of 22 acres of land. But I always had this trust that the Divine would lead me on and show the way, and that helped to sustain me. I am still here, 11 years later.”
Friederike became the moving force behind the farm. Slowly her vision of the farm took shape. “I always wanted to run a mixed organic farm to grow food for Auroville. I wanted to grow rain-fed crops in order to not be dependant on ground water and technology, grow a diversity of crops and have some animals. And I wished to inspire and educate the local villagers to reconnect to their old knowledge.”
Those first years alone were focused on the daunting task of protecting the land from erosion and cattle. “In the beginning I followed the advice to grow live fences with thorny shrubs and trees. But they proved to be useless against cows, goats and people. A herd of cows ruined our first crops in one night. It was heartbreaking.” Eventually Friederike got funding for a wire fence around the land. “It took me three years, but it made all the difference.
At Windarra, all ploughing is still done the traditional way.
In those years, many people joined Windarra but then passed on. “I learned not to wait for new people to come, but to do what I could myself with the help of the employees and volunteers. I became strong – I had to, otherwise I could not have stayed.” Tamil Aurovilian Kumar joined in 2001 but left in 2008. Indra, a newcomer, joined in 2007. “She supervises the ammas, helps me to understand the Tamil way of thinking and inspires us to create a good relationship with the local people and improve their lives.” Windarra also attracts students from the American Living Routes programme, and Civil Workers and volunteers from the German Weltwärts organisation. “They have been enormously helpful, not only in the work, but also to stay connected to the ideals of Auroville – aspiring to the highest goals, and at the same time ready to face the daily realities by doing the work on the land.”
With the growth of Auroville, the pressure on the farmers to increase production is increasing. “I often felt criticized,” Friederike admits. “People saw untilled fields, but they didn't see the work done in the orchard and the vegetable gardens. And they did not realize that all that work was mostly done by a woman on her own, who has also to deal with the recurring crisis of broken pumps, failing irrigation systems, leaking roofs and setbacks like the rains coming at the wrong time or not coming at all. An assessment of all the Auroville farms is being made and three farm specialists have been giving helpful suggestions to improve production. The lowest fields at Windarra will soon be farmed by my colleague Moorthy who will grow rice. The introduction of Food Link, which coordinates supply and demand through its distribution centre, has also helped to improve our efficiency.”
Reflecting on the deeper meaning of her life in Windarra, Friederike has come to realise that farming is her tool to do yoga. “Every morning before starting to work I sit quietly to centre myself and connect, and with this guidance I start the day. Without this tuning-in things would soon fall apart. I discovered that by facing the difficulties of farming I am facing the difficulties in myself. I have developed trust and faith, strength and perseverance.” And she admits, “Sometimes I think it may have made me a little hard.”
Windarra's free-range chickens lay chemical-free eggs
She sees the need to bring her sides of ‘doing' and ‘being' into balance. “The farm is mostly about ‘doing'. I'm enjoying ‘being' when I'm involved with waterwork (Aqua Wellness) at Quiet. That gives calm and peace. I also do Compassionate Communication in a weekly group where I find an opportunity to express the other side of myself in a supporting and accepting atmosphere.”
And the future? “The pioneering phase of Windarra is over. I hope that many young Aurovilians will come and spend time at Windarra and learn about farming and enjoy the beauty of this place. I dream that all the energy which we have put in will soon blossom and Windarra show its full potential of abundance and beauty.”
Windarra has large vegetable gardens; orchards with guava, mango, citrus, cashew and sour sop trees; rosella, tennai, and sesame fields; a forest with timber, oil-seed and work trees; and a small field of sunflowers. There is a chicken yard and two bullocks to plough the fields.
Windarra sells its products through FoodLink as well as through the Farmer's Market. Every morning people from nearby communities come to get vegetables and eggs. Surplus fruit and rosella is made into jam, and sold through FoodLink.
New developments at Windarra are the spirulina farm run by Hendrik and the mushroom project of Anbu, while Moorthy will soon start growing rice.