Nrityagram: Dancers for Sustainable Living

Hello everyone.

This is Lynne Fernandez from Nrityagram, a community of dancers located in Rural Bangalore.

Our mission is to nurture dance professionals through the gurukula system, perform on a global stage and forge a community through outreach.

Dancers have a close relationship with the Earth and every session of dance begins and ends with “Bhumi Pranaam” - paying respect to Mother Earth, seeking her blessings and asking for forgiveness for stamping on her.

At Nrityagram our relationship to Mother Earth has manifested itself in also farming and growing our own produce. In the early years, as do most people, we followed popular methods - clearing, weeding, planting annually, spraying, And even though we used “organic spays” and had modest harvests, we realized that our soil was dying.

In 2019, our friend Abhishek Tiwari (who had been a volunteer and supporter for many years) became actively involved in our farming efforts. Through him, we invited several experts / people from the field to advise us on the way forward. While we were implementing changes that were suggested, we realized that sustainable living is very challenging for ordinary people like us - our focus is dance and what we needed was an “ordinary” role model, involved in a profession / activity but also managing to live sustainably. Successfully. And we also realized that this is true for our neighbouring village folk too.

So, we decided to create a Food Forest and share produce, seeds and saplings, in the hope that our neighbours - Villages and Farms - will be inspired to Restart Seed Sharing and Diverse Farming practices. And hopefully, along the way, we would be able to expand our sharing of seeds and saplings and become a nursery for the wider community of Bangalore.

Activities which would also fit in well with our mission to “forge a community through outreach”.

They’re dreams, but we’re working hard to make them real…

This is our first update and now that we’ve kind of gotten the hang of it, we plan to update more regularly. Advice and suggestions are much needed and invited :pray:t3:

  1. Overall updates (since the last update)
  1. Food Forest wise, we started with soil building for which our first step was mulching widely, planting nitrogen fixers extensively and using mud-pots for passive irrigation; we started with 100 mud pots and seeing the success we achieved, we have extended this to 400. As we continue to plant, we will continue to scale up the use of these wonderful Water dispensers.

We plan to also automate our food forest with pumps and drip irrigation to use water optimally.

The diversity of food that we grow has increased significantly. We have added a large number of Perennials in addition to the usual Annuals.

We plan to keep adding to the biodiversity here in the upcoming planting cycles and will need significant help with sourcing them at reasonable prices since the usual prices are too expensive for a property our size.

  1. Community seed exchanges are picking up really well. We have started collecting seeds and saplings that people bring and those from the varieties that have matured. We have collected a few kilos of seeds this season but most of them are of a few types. This should diversify as we have more plants at home here. We aim to send a ton of seeds to schools in Bangalore and are well on our way on this.

  2. We contracted a permaculture design agency Ananas, to help us design the land to enable water holding capacity of a million litres of rainwater every good rain.

This is what was completed by Ananas:
a) Environmental Study

  • To study the context and various other aspects of the site
  • Environmental study document
  • Identifying functions and creating elements and tentatively placing them
    on site : Zoning
  • Verify element place and linkages.

b) Design

  • A design masterplan for the site with the location of all the built spaces, details of landscape, water elements and other elements that are determined based on our requirements and the demand of the site.
  • A sequence that is tailored for the elements that they designed. And an implementation schedule based on the final agreement of the masterplan
  • Earthworks & passive irrigation for managing water.

Once we had a design and plan, this is what we have done with Ananas through Volunteer Days and Workshops:
● Initial Pond P1 correction (the finer finishing to be completed in a later phase during the dry
season given the risk posed by the electricity pole. The decision regarding whether to line the pond, the method of lining and its implementation is also part of a later phase)
● Creating Basins B1, B2, B3
● Pond P2 correction
● Creating Boomerangs in the grasslands
● Bioswales along the pathway (up to the Kula) {To be Completed}
● Fruit patch design and planting plan
● Fruit patch earthworks and implementation {Planting to be Completed}
● Initial northern bund relocation with the help of JCB

  1. Slowly started opening Nrityagram for small socially distanced groups of people. We had a few volunteers who helped us plan the community engagement with their villa complex on outskirts of Bangalore. They learnt the composting basics and took seeds and cuttings back to their community.

They wondered what they could do beyond composting and we are connecting with people we know on a climate positive balcony, house, farm, apartment complex checklist. We also plan to publish parts of this over our social media once we are a little sure of it working well for a few. A small list of communities and individuals have come forward to learn and teach us things they know around sustainable food, water and energy.

  1. One of our dancers who is interested in sustainability, designs curriculum for schools in several cities. We are supporting her to compile an open source climate curriculum that schools could run on their own or assisted via an open list of volunteers.

A teacher who visited us works with a program from green school Bali and took some learnings to schools around her in north Bangalore.

A professor from a nearby college has offered to bring student volunteers to take up a few projects in our land.

Like these examples, there are a few dozen more people who are connecting on sustainable seeds, water and food practices.

  1. We are trying to shortlist the feasible small projects and are fermenting aloe vera, avocado, lemon, neem as bio-cleaners. A group of active green people keep visiting us and moving these projects forward and we recently reused the kitchen waste water to basic banana patch. Up next is to move to more sustainable soaps, treat this grey water via a channel of plants and direct it further downstream.
  1. Progress on the goals listed while on-boarding
    Year 1: Set up systems to build a Food Forest

Soil Rejuvenation and Economical Water usage in a desert ecosystem
Significant Progress has been made on Soil rejuvenation. Most of our property has been mulched, we have planted nitrogen fixers, we make and use Jeevamrutha and compost from our wet waste.

We have successfully used clay pots for passive irrigation, and have started adding sprinklers and drip irrigation in limited areas.

We have dug ponds, built swales and boomerangs in a large part of our property. We have to refine them in the next season and add more as we go along. At present at least 50% of our land has been covered.

Plan the layers of a Food Forest and plant Perennials, native varieties and diversify food crops
The diversity of food that we grow has increased significantly. We now grow these Perennials in addition to the usual Annuals:

Ground covers
Sweet potato
Wild Coriander

Chaya / Tree Spinach
Katuk / Chakramuni
Pigeon peas
Turkey Berry / Wild Brinjal

Tapioca / Cassava
Taro / Colocasia

Air Potatoes
Chayote / Chow Chow
Wild Strawberries
Winged Beans

Herbaceous Greens
Sissoo Spinach

Edible Plants

Small Trees
Curry Patha
Moringa / Drum stick

Fruit Trees and Plants
Citrus - Clementine, Tangerine, Sweet Lime, Lemons, Grapefruit, Pommelo, Galgal (Citron)
Custard Apple
Dragon Fruit
Ramphal / Wild Sweetsop
Star Fruit

  1. Any challenges
  • A challenge has been getting an on ground team with permaculture experience so that they setup the right practices at first go.

  • A major challenge is finding workers (with or without experience) who would like to work on the land.

  • Having enough funds is always a challenge - specially since our main focus is dance.

  1. Any new avenues of collaboration (with other Grantees of RCF or other NPO/NGO)

We continue to work with them on our Earthworks and hope to extend this collaboration by working with them on a Food Forest Tour of Nrityagram using QR Codes, etc.

Farmers for Forests
They brought 70 people from Sonata Software and conducted a Workshop on Permaculture principles followed by a session on “How to plant a Miyawaki Forest”; the group Donated Trees and Tools; and before they left, we gave seeds to the group.
Following this engagement, a 5 member team from Farmers for Forests returned to Nrityagram to help us plant Trees.
We hope to continue to engage with them in future.

The Association of People with Disabilities
We have given jobs and trained several people from this association and hope to continue in future.

Lions Club
Noor Fatima (a dear friend and supporter, who has shared her expertise on edible perennials and wild edibles) brought a group of 40 people to plant trees in Nrityagram.

Wildlife Conservation Society
We are working on creating 2 programmes with them:
(1) Citizen Scientists: A local school kids program catered towards awareness and sensitization of the different ecosystems and biodiversity in the Hessaraghatta region
(2) Season Watch: A weekend registration-based program for urban adults and children, on birds / trees / butterflies - in the area - anchored in Nrityagram. (
(3) We are also exploring an oral history project in the area going back to the history of the grasslands and its transformation.

We would like to work with
Pradip Krishen to create a ready reckoner of Nrityagram’s Flora

  1. Highlights from the initiatives being undertaken as part of your organization
  • Ponds are filling in the Monsoon

  • Our garden is turning into a Food Forest

  • Increase in the bird species

  • Our soil is alive

  • Community Seed Exchange and Learning Events

  • Making Compost, Kitchen Cleaners, Pickles and Chutneys within Nrityagram

  • Helping local farms transition via seeds, saplings and knowhow

  1. Outcomes you are chasing for the next 6 months (these can remain the same if unchanged since the last update)
  • Expand food diversity

  • Complete the Earthworks and Ponds

  • Extend the use of Clay Pots for irrigation

  • Increase in Community Activities and Workshops at Nrityagram. We hope to put into place a Regular Schedule.

  1. KPIs (please use this section to let us know of the impact and reach of your work since the last update)
  • Reduction in Food Expenses: Our monthly expenditure on food has reduced to half.

  • Reduction in Labour required to accomplish tasks in our Food Forest

  • Reduction in Water Usage: Earlier we used 10 litres of water to grow 1 kilo of food; we are now able to do this in close to half that quantity through the use of mulching, claypots and earthworks.

  • Increased Delicious Diversity at our table: Through a combination of organically grown diverse food and a vast variety of cuisines, the food at our table rivals most star restaurants. We rarely go out to eat anymore since our food is usually way better!

  • Increase in Birds, Butterflies, Bees, Insects, Worms

  • Improved Soil Health: Our soil is now alive.

  • Change in Temperature: Our land has developed a microclimate that is completely unlike anything around us. The temperature at Nrityagram is approx 4-5 degrees less at any given time.

  1. Can Rainmatter be of help with anything at all

We need help with:

  • Human Resources - Both people who can advise us and also those who are willing to work on the land. This is a priority since we are finding it extremely difficult to work effectively and accomplish as much as we would like to.

  • Sourcing reasonably priced seeds and plants

  • Rain water Harvesting: We need both Experts as well as materials required to make this happen

  • Solar energy: A long standing dream is to go off-grid and truly embrace a low impact life. The funds required to make this happen are beyond our reach. We need help to find partners who would be willing to set this up for us free of cost, as a showcase of their work.

  1. Any additional details you would like to provide

I’ve uploaded a bunch of images for anyone interested in taking a look at the different stuff we’ve been doing here.
But this is an example of Before and After:

This is an image of one of our fruit patches - taken on 13 May 2019

The same section on 30 July 2023 - I had to take a panoramic shot because the reference point of the building was not visible because of the forestation

  1. Please also share any images or videos that you have documented as part of your work Sample Photographs of the ongoing work in the Nrityagram Food Forest

@SlamOutLoud designs open source envt/climate curriculum - RESOURCES - Slam Out Loud perhaps the dancer can check/chat with the team and do this together?

@Durgesh @Mahidhar_SayTrees

Hi @Lynne, thank you for reaching out. We can connect and discuss further.