I lift the the lid of an old wooden chest looking for Harry’s tape measure. A fierce buzzing starts-up like an angry lawnmower.
Harry is waving his arms like a mad man and making a jabbing motion with his thick, leather finger. He is still smiling.
Hannah can’t resist the opportunity and points her camera into the chest to capture the moment.
The flash sets off another alarm and pretty soon kamikaze soldiers are throwing themselves at us to save the hive and more importantly the Queen. Harry is quick to react and runs down the driveway towards the kitchen. We follow suit but Hannah is hit.
At a safe distance we assess the damage. Above Hannah’s right eye its already throbbing. A stinger protrudes, discarded venom. Sushma runs out of the kitchen with a lump of fresh turmeric and rubs it on the wound, changing it from red to yellow.
The picture didn’t even come out well.
Harry and Sushma
We’re in Wayanad, Kerala and staying at The Green Gardens farm near Ambalavayal. The farm is being developed into an eco-resort and sustainability project by our host, founder and Chairman of the TGG Foundation, S.V. Laiju.
Laiju and his family are incredibly warm and genuine. His hospitality is a credit to years spent working in the industry and he has an infectious, school-boy giggle which makes him all the more endearing.
We arrive in the early evening after a long trip from bustling Cochin through to Calicut and into the mountainous expanses of the Western Ghats.
We are high up and all around is rich green. Tall forest jungle, tea plantations, spice farms and market towns. Kerala truly is Gods own country and Wayanad its agricultural epicentre.
Pretty soon opened coconuts are in our hands and a man with a cheshire smile and tufts of black hair sprouting from his ears is working chapattis on an open fire. This is Harry.
We hear a mobile go off in the kitchen. A catchy south Indian tune. A woman answers and speaks fast Malayalam into the handset whilst handling multiple pots containing the evenings dinner. This is Sushma.
Together Harry and Sushma take care of the day-to-day management of the farm. Harry organises the labour and Sushma ensures that everyone is fed and in check.
Over the next two weeks, along with our fellow volunteers we become a tight clan. A visit to the UNESCO approved Eddikal Caves, yoga classes, pepper dancing, cleaning turmeric, wood-fired pizza, watching films under the stars and discussing the differences between India and “The West”.
Though each day for us was different two constants remained: Harry’s unstoppable working ethic and Sushma’s ability to cook amazing homely food.
It comes to light that Harry has not only had a big impact on the farm, but also built many houses in the local village, supplying the village with a water supply and was part of the construction team responsible for The Ambalavayal Heritage Museum. We are in awe.
As we sit together in their house on our last night, looking through photo albums and watching Sushma’s favourite soap, I am struck by their kindness, humour and love in what many would see as “humble surroundings”.
Although we are far away from home and many of our comforts, we have certainly felt part of a unit.
Sustainability has become a buzz word. A way to improve a brand image, increase profit margins and boost market share.
It didn’t take us long to realise that for Laiju and his team this was not the case.
The TGG foundation is a not-for-profit NGO which aims to bridge the gap between producers in Wayanad and their end customers.
Because of its focus on rural India, many projects are agricultural but the foundation also work on social issues such as equality for women, education and effective waste management.
Our main project whilst staying on the farm was to create a volunteer/recruitment recruitment video to help spread the word of the TGG Foundation. We’ll share that video too once it’s online.
It was both our privilege and our pleasure to be able to learn more about some of the great work that they are doing and if anyone reading this wants to know how to get involved just click here.