Do what you can, with what you have. The story of this wedding photographer from Kerala, Joshy Mathew is a real-life example of the saying whose family has not purchased vegetables from the market in the last five years.
He and his wife Julie T D, a social work student, grow a variety of exotic and indigenous vegetables enough for the family’s needs, and also to give to neighbours.
The daily fish on the dinner table also comes from their two ponds which have more than a thousand fish, which are mostly red tilapia, Assam ‘vaala’ and giant gourami.
Apart from that, the couple has around 60 colonies of stingless bees, 30 varieties of medicinal plants, and another 30 varieties of fruit trees, an indigenous cow, chicken, and ducks. “I tell people that I keep all this on my estate of 25. I don’t tell them it is cents,” says Mathew.
Yes, Mathew and Julie and their two school-going children Rosemary and Joshua grow and maintain all these on a meagre 25 cents. “You can say 20 cents because the house and the courtyard take away at least 5 cents,” he says.
A piece of Eden
You could easily miss Mathew and Julie’s modest but distinctly red house on the side of Cherupuzha-Thirumeni road at Kokkadav in Kannur district. The unplastered laterite stone house is hidden behind the thick foliage of tropical plants.
But everybody at Kokkadav knows Joshy, the photographer, and also Joshy, the farmer, and they would take you to their house.
At the entrance is the calabash tree, whose mature fruit can be dried and used as a vessel. A few steps into the property and you will be greeted by the burbling of a soft brook. “There is a stream in our backyard. It has water till December,” says Mathew. The flowerpots are hand-made and studded with pebbles from the stream.
In the backyard, surrounded by fruit trees is a man-made pond where fish weighing as much as 3kg are swimming in the algae-rich water. “This pond is 12 years old. I sell fingerlings not the big fish to keep it viable,” he says. Last year, when there was a flood and the water from the stream destroyed the pond, he lost around 400 fish. The Department of Fisheries compensated him with a grand amount of Rs 656 for the 400 fish. He rebuilt the pond and set up another one in his courtyard too.
He also has indigenous chicken and ducks. He recently bought an incubator to hatch the eggs. “I prefer selling the chicks and ducklings rather than the adult birds,” Mathew says.
Similar is the case with his plants. “I don’t have a large extent of land to sell fruits and vegetables. But I make saplings of exotic and indigenous plants and sell. That gives me a steady income,” he says.
His strawberry harvests have inspired many in his village to buy strawberry saplings from him.
The terrace is reserved for vegetable farming, for which he uses wick irrigation. “That way we need to just fill the pots under the grow bags once a week even during summer. And pests are also less on the terrace,” he says.
The couple grows at least nine varieties of spinach — from Mayan spinach to Souhruda Cheera — for the daily dose of thoran.
Mathew is also proud of his air potato (adathappu) cultivation. “Before potatoes invaded our kitchens, we were eating this,” he says.
The plot is sprinkled with plants of spices such as pepper, cardamom, and nutmeg. The must-haves such as coconut trees, mango trees, one jackfruit, and arecanut trees are also not lost out.
If the front of the house has hanging plants, the other three sides have beehives hanging from the ceiling. There are around 60 hives of the stingless bee around his house. One litre of honey of stingless bees cost around Rs 2,000. A colony of bees is also sold for the same price.
Making a living from the farm
Mathew began his career as a welder with Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals Limited in Mangaluru. In 1996, when his parents fell ill, he turned home to take care of them. He took to wedding photography to make a living.
But his heart was into farming. Mathew thought 25 cents was too little to venture into farming. “I thought of selling this road-side property and buying bigger farmland in the interiors,” he says.
But he had a friend called Joychan Puttenpura who convinced him that farming can be done on 20 cents too. “Good I followed his advice. Today, even during corona, when all weddings were called off, we had good rich food on our table,” he says.