The Last Methi Farmers [Burn Magazine submission]

A photo essay of the last methi farmers holding out at Versova Beach in Mumbai - prior to the Covid-19 lockdown in India.

Feb 8, 2020. The largest remaining of three separate methi farmer groups at Versova Beach. All images by Craig Boehman

The following essay represent the last of the methi (fenugreek) farmers at Versova Beach in Mumbai, whose plots were razed by city officials in January 2020 in lieu of a coastal road project. Farmers have been growing methi in these sands for more than 50 years. For more background details, see previous posts: "BMC Displacing Methi Farmer Community At Versova Beach" "The Last Methi Plot At Versova Beach" "Have These Methi Farmers Returned To Uttar Pradesh?" What follows are images of the last farmers, who literally camped out for weeks, without income prior to the Covid-19 outbreak, in hopes of winning a reprieve to resume farming. I've dispersed a few images for reference as to how the place used to look when farming was active.

Feb 8, 2020. A smaller group of farmers camping out. Most of the sand in the background would have been full of green patches, resembling astroturf at a distance, during active farming. Several wells would have been present too, giant holes of 6 feet deep or more with a smaller hole in the middle where water was drawn up in buckets.

Feb 8, 2020. Another of the last encampments I visited on this date. These men were camping under a small tree which had originally been planted around a giant well in order to prevent collapse. The tree died not many days after this shot was taken.

April 24, 2019. One of the several wells used for watering the methi crop.

Feb 8, 2020. BMC crew patrolling beach for unauthorized farming. The man in the foreground was carrying a large stick, but threw it out of frame for this portrait.

Feb 1, 2020. Sunrise. On this date, I first learned of the farmers having their plots razed two weeks prior. A bulldozer had been patrolling the beach at 11am in previous days, destroying any new crop.

Feb 1, 2020. This was the last methi plot at Versova Beach, in the traditional growing area. Smaller plots were to appear on the northern and southern reaches of the beach in the weeks to follow in concealed locations. This was a typical scene during active farming - and there were dozens of plots just like this at any given time prior to early January 2020. The methi was hand-picked, washed in blue barrels, and tied into bundles for market. It was commonplace for all family members to help out.

October 14, 2018. Methi seeds carefully scattered. Turn-around time for harvesting was relatively quick at about 5-6 days.

February 21, 2019. Large branches are were placed on plots to prevent excessive sun during the late morning/afternoon hours.

March 2, 2019. During happier times. Makeshift farmer homes in the background.

February 24, 2020. One of the last photos I was to take of the farmers prior to the Covid-19 lockdown in India. By then, few farmers remained. Many of them had returned to Uttar Pradesh, from where many of them came seeking work in Mumbai.

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