Main story: A cloudy, rainless weekend, a perfect day to step out for a bit of fresh air.
In one of the apartments in Thimphu, JB Basnet, 58, gets ready to head outside. He calls out his wife and sister-in-law to accompany him. On their way out to the vehicle, they carry a big basket, a flask of hot tea, cold water and some snacks.
Instead of heading out to a recreational park, they drive towards Wangsisina, which is about 25 kilometres away from Thimphu.
The weather is pleasant with cool wind blowing. The hustle and bustle of Thimphu gradually gives way to a serene place with a view of majestic mountains and Thimchhu meandering slowly as they head outside the perimeters of the city.
After a calming drive of about 30 minutes, they reach Wangsisina. There they make their way towards the integrated agriculture technology farm, located about a kilometre away from the highway.
A signboard of the dzongkhag administration office greets them as they enter the 25 acres farm, which is surrounded by electric fencing. There are a few vehicles parked near the entrance.
With an eager smile, JB Basnet steps outside. It is a lovely day indeed. He puts his cowboy hat on and heads towards a stall where agriculture tools are kept. There he takes out a few sickles and spades.
Carrying the things, they head out to the 10 decimals land, which have been allotted to 85 civil servants and corporate employee since 2014. It takes another ten minutes’ walk away to reach the plot of land where they have planted various types of organic vegetables.
JB Basnet sets the tools and basket down near a shade. Taking a spade in hand, he starts digging and uprooting weeds in the land where vegetables and fruits such as maize, broccoli, chillies, Japanese pumpkin beans, common pumpkin, radish, turnip, cabbage, strawberries and quinoa are growing. His wife starts collecting broccoli, chillies, beans, Japanese pumpkin, cabbage and potatoes filling the basket to the brim.
They go on with their gardening silently, each in their own world, for an hour. They break for tea. JB Basnet takes a seat in the shade along with his wife. They are sweating but each has a content smile.
Gardening provides a much-needed break from work and from the daily routines in life, JB Basnet said as he sipped cold water and munched on snacks.
“It’s a good initiative provided to the civil servants and corporate employees where they forgot about nature in the midst of their daily work. It’s like I’ve completely forgotten about the joys of gardening until now,” JB Basnet said.
It has been five months since JB Basnet’s family members and his cousins last visited the vegetable market.
“It’s an achievement in itself when we are self-sufficient growing and consuming organic vegetable at my home,” JB Basnet said who has been a civil servant for the past three decades. “I feel happy when I get to spend some time away from the daily monotonous life in the city. It’s gives me a much-needed breath of fresh air in life.”
But reaping the benefits from the plot is not easy, JB Basnet said. “I realised how much care and attention is needed for vegetables to grow. It’s not easy to grow healthy vegetables and I appreciate farmers more from this experience.”
Travelling and working in the farm has also benefitted JB Basnet who has been suffering from diabetes for a few years. “Working in the farm also keeps me healthy and diabetes at bay.”
There are, however, other plots that are left barren and bereft of any fresh vegetables growing on the land. Despite the free supply of seedlings, agricultural tools and water supply, a few plot owners have lost interest in gardening over time.
A corporate employee, Sonam Zangpo, 32, said he hasn’t been able to plant any vegetables this year.
“I missed the planting season since I couldn’t make to Wangsisina due to the distance. It’s hard to reach the farm since it’s far and time consuming so I’ve left gardening for now,” Sonam Zangpo said. “I hope I will be able to plant plenty of fresh organic vegetables from next year because I get to learn new gardening techniques such as the integrated agriculture technology farming methods.”
Spread over 28 acres of reserved forestland that has been leased for 20 years, the land has been divided into 85 plots. The civil servants and corporate employees have leased each plot measuring from 10 to 15 decimals.
Dzongkhag agriculture officer, Dhodo, said the plots were allocated through a lucky draw from the 150 applicants.
“Those who got the plots will grow organic vegetables using modern farming practices. Facilities such as water supply, green houses for nursery and power tillers among others are available for use at the site,” Dhodo said. “One of the objectives of the initiative was to encourage civil servants and corporate employees to grow their own food and produce surplus vegetables for sale.”
What was initially a vast dry and rugged government land, the area is now a mix of arable farmland with recreational facilities. About Nu 5 million was spent on setting up the integrated agriculture technology farm. The farm also displays a series of innovative technologies on integrated farming.
The sun is setting. JB Basnet and his wife are heading back home.
“I don’t mind the tiredness at all. It was a fruitful weekend and I can’t wait to come visit the farm next week to see the changes. Today, I’m going to have a delicious dinner and a good sleep,” JB Basnet said.
JB Basnet carried a satisfied smile as he drove his way to Thimphu.