Nestled in the middle of Neendoor, a small town located about 8km away from Kottayam, is a little slice of heaven known as J Yes Farms. Though a board marks the presence of the farm, nothing prepared me for what lay inside the boundary walls.
As I drive into this popular place of attraction, I am greeted at the gate by a very pleasant Mydhili, who tends to the garden. She quickly writes down my name, gives me a small introduction to the farm and tells me which direction to head in.
J Yes Farms is owned by Joy Lukose Chemmachel, a US-based business man and a native of Neendoor, whose love for agriculture made him start this enterprise back home.
The house where Mr. Joy’s parents stayed is located next to the entrance. In a garden next to the house there are small figurines of Joy, his parents and his nine siblings, something to remind him of a childhood well-spent as a part of an agricultural family.
“In 2004, we built this house for my parents. My father was a farmer. So it was only natural that we converted some of the land into a farm. Those were the humble beginnings of J Yes Farms. Children from the neighbourhood would keep coming here to play. We used to let them in. Then came their parents. We gradually opened it out to the public,” says Mr. Joy.
Slowly, as word spread, more and more people started visiting. On a daily basis, the farm, gets around 10-15 visitors. The number only increases over the weekends. People can witness full-fledged farming activities including dairy, poultry and fish farming apart from paddy and vegetable cultivation. However, what sets this place apart from other popular attractions is that there is no entry fee here. In fact, the staff takes pride in welcoming people from all backgrounds. The words ‘Evarkkum Swagatham’ greet each person at the entrance.
After taking a quick look around the area where ornamental fish is displayed, I proceed towards the dairy farm, one of the highlights of this place. A large enclosure with nearly two dozen Jersey and Holstein Friesian cows, it is from here that almost all of Neendoor gets its milk. People from the locality come with their bottles to the farm at around 1 p.m. to collect fresh milk. The establishment employs nearly 45-50 locals. Apart from them, there is also a couple from Nepal who lives on the farm and is employed to take care of the cows.
From the dairy farm, a small pathway surrounded by nutmeg trees leads me to the restaurant. Here beverages and traditional Kerala snacks like Sukhiyan, Pazham Pori, etc. are served. If ordered in advance, lunch is also provided.
“Like everything else in the farm, the idea of starting a small restaurant also came up because people wanted it. Initially, when visitors would come to spend a few hours here, they felt it would be good if there was some food and drinks available. Most of the produce used to cook the food is grown here,” says Mr. Joy.
After tucking in a delicious meal of rice and fish curry, I head out to explore the rest of the property, all the while thanking Mydhili in my head, as without her directions, this 13-acre farm would be difficult to navigate on my own.
Just outside the restaurant is a pond called ‘Kuthira Kulam’. A few benches are placed around the water body, making it a nice place to enjoy the breeze and lounge after a good meal. Right next to the pond is the agricultural museum, another highlight of the place. Ancient agricultural tools and vessels are proudly displayed here. I was transported back in time when looking at things like Olakka, Ural, Kindi, Montha, Kolaambi, etc.
The plant nursery lies just ahead of the museum. Here, different varieties of medicinal and horticultural saplings and seeds are displayed and sold. After picking up a Chinese Orange sapling, I head towards the poultry farm.
As I walk ahead, I pass through swathes of paddy cultivation. Premium rice varieties are grown here on 10 acres of land in partnership with multiple stakeholders.
The poultry farm at the end of the establishment houses birds like the Emu, Quail, Duck, Turkey, etc. The locals of Neendoor rely on this poultry farm for their daily supply of eggs and meat.
When I asked him if running a set-up like this was financially viable, Mr. Joy says that though it required some investment from his side during the developmental years, today the farm is self-sustaining. He also credits his family for always being there for him.
“A couple of years ago, I faced a financial crunch. At that time I sat down with my four children and told them that if we sell the farm, we will have enough money to lead a comfortable life in the US. But my children told me, ‘We don’t want to sell Appa’s dream’. This is the kind of support my family always gives me,” he says.
There is a small observation tower next to the poultry farm. The three flights of stairs I climb are worth it as the view from up there is spectacular. As I observe the employees who are going about their daily chores, the ducks that are flapping around in the water, and a man at a distance climbing a coconut tree, I realise that there is an undeniable charm to the place.
On my way back to the entrance, I meet Mini who has come with her grandchildren to see the farm.
“My grandchildren live in Dubai. They haven’t seen anything like this before. The fish farm is what the enjoyed the most,” she tells me.
As a lot of children, including those on class trips, visit the place, the management has decided to expand the play area and turn it into a park. The park will have a statue of Mahatma Gandhi and is set to be inaugurated on October 2 this year. A boating service is also on the cards.
I leave with the realisation that urban living seldom grants people a glimpse into the joys of rustic farm life. And thanks to places like these, we still have an opportunity to get back in touch with our roots.
Main photograph via J Yes Farms website.