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The Aeronautical Engineer who grew Vegetables, Fruits in his backyard during COVID-19 and inspired neighbours

Sijo always wanted to stay in his village and enjoy the backyard gardening and always wanted to get more people to make them involved in the idea of growing food. Covid-19 gave him the best opportunity to start growing food, start his own YouTube channel where he combines culture with food.

Dr. Lakshmi Unnithan
Sijo Zachariah

Covid-19 has been hard on all of us. Many lost business and jobs but for many people like Sijo Zachariah Covid-19 was an opportunity for starting a new business or finally doing the things they always wanted to do but never had time. Sijo always wanted to stay in his village and enjoy the backyard gardening and always wanted to get more people to make them involved in the idea of growing food. Covid-19 gave him the best opportunity to start growing food, start his own YouTube channel where he combines culture with food. Culture revolves around the food says Sijo. Culture and food are interdependent and so he made the channel to educate others about the crops and food associated with it, how to grow it, and how to use it. His Dad was always into farming so we  always had long beans, moringa and tapioca at home says Sijo.  

Sijo was born and raised in Dubai in a place called Al Ain. It is known as the green city of Dubai because there's plenty of land and even the government puts lot of efforts in greening says Sijo. Sijo is a great fan of vegetarian food and he could never be fully ok with eating meat. He did his aeronautical engineering from UK and he simply loved the fresh exotic and organic array of vegetables in UK and he swears they tasted ten times better.  Upon some research, he found that this was due to the lack of chemicals used and lesser transportation time it took to reach consumers. This meant the fruits and vegetables were harvested closer to their ripening time and not early. Thanks to YouTube and Netflix documentaries he learnt about the importance of organic food and how it affects your wellbeing. He also went on a plant-based diet from the second year of his university and been continuing for the past 4 years. 

After his studies he returned to Al Ain with much enthusiasm and knowledge. With the newly found spare time, he experimented with grow bags, raised beds and composting. I was  happy with my harvests says Sijo and  was always surprised to find new saplings showing up from the compost bin.  

He with his family travelled to Kerala, for an event in January 2020 and were supposed to return in March. Unfortunately, that’s when COVID started spreading in India and a lockdown was imposed and they have been stuck there since then. That is when Sijo and his family started growing vegetables in all the three large plots of land they owned but  were taken over by weeds due to years of ignorance. COVID-19 made everybody realise how important it is to consume fresh vegetables and he was in Kerala at that time and it gave him an opportunity to grow and showcase all his vegetables which he started growing in his backyards. He boasts of growing almost all vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes, long beans, tomatoes, tapioca, yams and spinach. The bio-waste was recycled into making compost, onion and banana peels and even starch water. Gardening and working in soil are natural antidepressants and it is all the more enjoying says Sijo.  

Sourcing up food from Karnataka and Tamilnadu became a problem says Sijo during COVID and almost all households in Kerala had started gardening in whatever available land. The plot in which their house is built has a couple of coconut trees and a jackfruit tree. Due to fear of food shortages, he says they started using all their three plots for organic farming. They grew many vegetables from scraps and seeds from the neighbourhood as purchasing seeds wasn’t an option. They used natural solutions such as neem oil, fenugreek/black and white pepper powder, Ash. He didn’t have issues other than ants and weeds. He also preserved the harvests through drying and pickling methods. They had constant rainfalls and he was sad to see the water getting wasted and not being harvested properly while we are fighting drought on other end of our nation. The wastage of Jackfruit is what made Sijo worried. Most of the people did not bother as the tree usually bears many huge fruits and cutting it up and utilising it properly is a task on its own. Jackfruit has a lot of nutrients in it and anti-cancer properties even the seeds are good and it is an excellent source of calories.  

Sijo has started a YouTube channel and blog to document our journey with a limited amount of resources I have. He makes videos talking about the benefits, growing, harvesting and cooking common vegetables. This way the viewer can understand everything about a crop and also learn how to use it. He is also  started educating people about the importance of organic varieties and how to grow organically and  also started  food sharing and seed sharing program in our society. We make sure to share the produce with the less fortunate as they wouldn’t accept money. My relatives and friends aren’t very supportive says Sijo because they think gardening is a waste of time due to lack of harvests and diseases. He loves doing this and eating fresh from the garden and he is  determined to turn every inch of his land into a food forest. 

The only request Sijo has to our readers is to simply grow whatever we can and disperse the seeds of fruits and vegetables whatever we have in our kitchen. Even if we aren’t directly responsible, birds and animals would eat and drop the seed somewhere else and again it would grow helping the mother earth..

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