Strawberry Fields In Panchgani
Strawberry Fields In Panchgani
During a trip to Panchgani, Aaron Rodrigues did more than just gorge on cheese sandwiches and milkshakes at Mapro. He explored the beauty a local strawberry farm, and the strong hands that created it.
Here’s his story…
There we were, at Mapro Gardens eating cheese grilled sandwiches and sipping milkshakes, exhausted from seeing the numerous view points at the hills, worn-out from paragliding at the Western Ghats, jumping on trampoline at the Gardens, and visiting dozens of schools at Panchgani. To put it simply, we were jaded (actually the trampoline was fun). From the dining area you could see the greenery this hill station provided. Its verdant green trees and patches of crop farms were clearly visible.
No more would I sit here, I decided to check this town out and not just the tourist hotspots. Walking on the nearly deserted streets, except for dogs which roam, outside Mapro, I headed towards those green trees which I had earlier seen and followed the stoned ridden road of the town. We walked and the dogs followed, not knowing what we would find. We passed some bungalows, until we found it. Its trail hidden by trees only for locals to know. We found a strawberry farm.
It was during the reign of the British, that superintendent John Chesson had made Panchgani a retreat for people to take a break from their hectic schedules. He is credited with planting various plants, including silver oak and poinsettia, which we now see in abundance at Panchgani. The town is known for its educational facilities and tourism, but farming strawberries has become a part of its economy. The moderate weather around Panchgani goes a long way in making it ideal for the production of strawberries.
We Meet Aaji
By now the dogs had already left us or maybe they were shooed away by its owners. An old lady, probably over sixty runs this farm. Aaji, is what we called her, as I recall, invites us in her small house. Her hair mostly grey, her teeth ridden with paan stains all over, and the rough hands which shake my hand, I sense the labour taken into creating this place. The loans she must have asked, the crops she has sown, the sellers she would seek. Running a farm is not easy, it’s a tough business.
Inside, after a glass of tea, Aaji tells us about her history, then the farms, what crops she produces, her methods of irrigation and process of farming. Nearly every fruit and vegetable found on the farm for the diets of health-conscious, often high-minded eaters is picked by hand, she says. She is proud of her farm and the produces it gives her every year. She lets us enter her precious farm to buy some of her strawberries.
As a rule, when picking strawberries, look for clean, dry berries that are plump, firm, and fully red. As far as size goes, it doesn’t matter when it comes to sweetness. Also the caps must be green. Avoid bruised or wrinkled berries, Aaji tells us.
As we start picking our strawberries, Aaji tells us seeds are planted after Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated and the first signs of the crop are generally before Diwali. In March, Mapro will once again organise its annual strawberry festival. During the four day strawberry festival, over 250 farmers from nearby villages open their farms to tourists for a visit and pick their favourite berries. So if you have the time, do check the farms out.
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About The Author
Aaron Rodrigues is a freelance writer from Mumbai, who loves to read (especially Stephen King and Haruki Murakami) and research needless trivia. He also likes travelling and exploring weirder worlds.