In this era of technology, where rural life is getting sidelined and villagers migrating to cities in search of greener pastures, a Bollywood celebrity story is refreshingly taking us back to our roots.
Mansoor Khan traded his Bollywood lifestyle in Mumbai for the idyllic pastoral life in Coonoor in his Acres Wild farm, nestled in Coonoor in the Nilgiri hills in Tamil Nadu, situated at 6,000 ft above sea level and 20 kms away from famous Ooty.
The Acres Wild farm is a 22-acre family-run property belonging to the celebrated director who made memorable Hindi movies like Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar and Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak.
Living amid nature tending their own cows, growing vegetables and fruits in the backyard, engaged in farming and making their own cheese was a dream fulfilled for the celebrity film director who shifted from Mumbai 15 years ago with his wife Tina and 2 kids.
Recalling those days in 2003, Mansoor Khan says, “I always had the urge to live out of the city even while I was in college in the US. I was very clear that my preference was for a non-urban lifestyle. The only thing was I was not at all clear was how I would earn a living.”
Though over the years they have set up five cottages for guests in the Acres Wild but the farm was developed mainly for their own living. Guests interested in participating in farm activities are welcome.
The property has carved a reputation for itself, not only for its gourmet cheese making more for its hands-on-approach and warm homely hospitality. Guests staying here or spending the day are made to realize that it is an active farm and they are allowed to experience the farm life in its raw form.
It is a biodiverse farm running on sustainable lines with solar heating, rainwater harvesting, biogas plant, dairy, organic farming, pond eco systems, cheese making units and farm stays.
Mansoor says that the guests who stay here are free to explore cow milking, cheese-making, tending goats, farming at vegetable patches, walking and spotting birds and immersing themselves in doing nothing if they wish.
“I speak to the guests on a variety of subjects – like moving out of the city, the madness of the idea of perpetual growth, energy and growth, energy and resource limits, etc.,” he says.
The animals and birds housed in the farm include cows and goats, hens, guinea fowls, ducks and geese and fishes in the ponds. Mansoor elaborates, “You will find herd of cows, mix of Holstein Friesian (HF) and Jersey breed, frisk in the rolling meadows, while guests will be feasted with the sight of skeins of birds”.
According to him, animals like boars, elephants and deer can be seen ambling around the farm. “We removed the tea plantation that was here when we bought the land and now maintain it as a pasture with a variety of trees planted, both fruit bearing and wild,” says Mansoor.
“We believe in the balance of nature and not cultivating every part of the land. We have left large patches to grow back as a forest. That is the way we can ensure a healthy level of wild life amongst other ecologically healthy things to happen on their own,” he says.
The Cheese House
The Cheese House is at the heart of this farm. Every day the milk produced is about 50 liters. Milk is for their personal consumption as well as for making gourmet cheese. It is his wife Tina who manages cheese making.
Mansoor says the hand-made, gourmet or artisan cheese in small quantities are sold locally. “Different varieties of cheese like as Gouda, Colby, Feta Monterey Jack, Cheddar, Parmesan, are rustled up. They are made of microbial rennet and therefore fully vegetarian,” he says.
Tina conducts cheese-making classes and many guests come specifically to learn cheese making. She has taught well over 250 students since 2010. They keep only 10 cows considering the amount of pasture they have.
“We are trying to plant many fruit trees like pear, guava, pomegranate, lime. Many have started fruiting. We make jam for our guests from the fruits that we serve in the morning with the complementary breakfast,” says Tina.
Acres Wild grows its own food organically including all the herbs for the cheese and also maize, oats and wheat. Mansoor, however, is honest about organic farming being the gateway for healthy living.
“Organic farming is just a label. There is much more that we need to correct for a healthy eco-system. So it is not the gateway by any means but one of the components of a much wider belief system,” he said.
Mansoor has also written a book – The Third Curve – The End of Growth as we know it – which, according to him, helps www.acres-wild.com understand the ways in which we have been fooling ourselves.
But is the farm organic? “We don’t put chemicals or pesticides and we try not to do intensive farming. We grow a diversity of tree and do not burn the undergrowth and let it compost. But beyond that we get the chemical run-off from our neighbors and the acid rain that our complete industrial system produces. So no one can be completely organic,” Mansoor says.
The couple sell the farm products under the brand name ‘Acres Wild’ locally at a shop in Coonoor and Ooty or guests can buy them from the farm itself. Guests can visit the farm or stay at the five cottages with cosy interiors built with sundried bricks and get soaked in the bliss of serenity.
A stay at Acres Wild farm helps one to connect with nature and its wonderful creatures, both wild and domesticated. “It also exposes one to the laborious daily routines of the farm life and helps us understand the art and dedication required to run a successful farm first hand. It also let us sample the delectable cheese and jams besides exposing us to the flavors of rustic life,” he says.
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