Easy Trip: Back to basics in Chennai, Tamil Nadu

You can buy artisanal cheese at the store
Photographer: Supriya Kantak

FARM TO TABLE

WORDS & PHOTOGRAPHS SUPRIYA KANTAK

GREAT FROM Chennai, Puducherry, Bangalore
GREAT FOR A slice of farm life and pizza!

At The Farm, don’t be surprised when the turkey walks up to you to gobble a hello. He hangs out with his friends, the chickens, who aren’t as friendly. They mind their own business, much like the resident cats – except for Gurmeet. She doesn’t care for her fellow felines, and considers herself to be a peoples ‘person’. Or so say Shalini Philip and Arul Futnani, your human hosts.

The couple, a pretty chilled-out duo considering the Chennai heat, has transformed the dairy farm started by Arul’s parents in 1974 into an organic working farm with vegetable and herb gardens, paddy fields and coconut and eucalyptus plantations. Over the last few years, with the help of a sustainability consultant, they have begun practisingpermaculture and have introduced a closed loop system of production that allows them to reuse up to 70 per cent of the waste generated at the farm.

A fine example of these efforts is the restaurant, which is the undoubted highlight of this place. Enclosed in a coconut grove, the thatch-roof is woven out of coconut leaves, while the structure is built out of the wood from the eucalyptus plantations.

The brickwork on the floor allows water to seep back into the soil, while, in the kitchen, the produce, if not directly from the farm, is sourced from producers who also follow organic practices.

You can taste the difference in the food that is served to you (on a table made out of a hand-pitted granite slab!). The rice for the dosa batter comes from the paddy fields, while the lentils and veggies in the sambhar are grown on the farm, as is the coconut in the chutney. Although there’s no filter kaapi here, you won’t miss it, as there’s a brilliant cappuccino on offer, made using organic coffee from a plantation in Kodaikanal. The extensive menu leaves you spoilt for choice. The list of options for its wood-fired pizzas is exhaustive. As if the 34 varieties don’t make it difficult enough, you can also make your own pizza. What makes all the difference is the mozzarella di bufala, also made in-house using fresh milk from the dairy. Do not miss the chicken tikka served with edible flowers from the Honolulu creeper.

It must be pretty clear by now that you should come here for the food, but stay for a slice of farm life. Go for the guided Farm Walk, which begins at the stables, where you can watch chicks scramble for cover as their mother ruffles up a dust storm for a dirt bath. Young ones will delight in playtime with kids (of the goat kind) that skip around, tugging at shoelaces. There are cattle here, too, standing around solemnly contemplating life on the udder side. You will also find them at Lake Inferior, so named as the water is brackish compared to the smaller, but cleaner Lake Superior. Around this lake is a track on which children can indulge in horse rides.

Do also stop by the Big Well. Built in the 1980s, it was once used to swim in. Today, this well feeds the fields and is an ecosystem in itself. Fish, frogs, and snakes live here along with two turtles that bob up to the surface once in a while to blink at visitors.

If you or your kids have never had a chance to visit an actual working farm, this is a fun introduction and an enlightening experience – if only for a day.

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