The man responsible for Auroville’s spirulina farm is a good-looking, tall Dutchman, in his late forties, with remnants of his hippy time still present all over his body: a bunch of mixed metal rings on his right hand, several stone-bead bracelets on the left, a black round stone with a spiral engraved on a rope around his neck (“no, nothing to do with spirulina.., I had it already long before that, just liked the symbol”) and another snake-like figure dangling alongside of it.
“Having finished my schooling in Holland, I made and sold this sort of jewellery on tourist markets on the Spanish Canary Islands just off the northwest coast of Africa, where I lived 12 years from the age of 24 onwards. I have been keeping goats there, making cheese, selling little bead chains and other trinkets at the beach or tourists markets, had a stand with cool drinks and peanuts in high mountainous areas, and so on… I also married a Spanish lady, and we have two sons, now 25 and 16.”
A clear entrepreneurial mind-set, no doubt! After the 12 years in the Canary Islands, Hendrik felt the urge to see some more of the world and hit India at the age of 36. On the bicycle..! And somehow life brought him to an Auroville beach community ‘Simplicity’, where an impish Swiss Aurovilian, Bonaventura, was dreaming of starting a spirulina farm.
“I knew immediately that Auroville was my place! It was the physical thing that did it to me, good energy, good atmosphere. I had never heard of Sri Aurobindo or the Mother but I’m convinced that all folks that come here have been sent here one way or the other, even though you’re not aware of it at all. I had cycled through whole India, stayed in ashrams where people studied and meditated, which is a good thing, - but here I suddenly found a place with people from all over the world that were actually doing things, they were building a city..”
Having found what he was looking for, a 10-day Vipassana course in Pune consolidated matters and Hendrik left to pick up his wife and sons. He returned to Simplicity in 1996 just in time, sadly, to guide the then very sick Bonaventura through the last stages of his life. And there he was, in Simplicity, with just one other new arrival, Tejas Joseph from India, and with Auroville planners suggesting that unless they could come up with a solid and sustainable project proposal it might be best to sell the place now that the resident Aurovilian had passed away.
But Bonaventura’s vision of a spirulina farm was in the air.., enhanced by a mysterious phone call from Madurai inquiring if someone would be interested in a 2-day spirulina training perhaps…
“From the very first day we decided to realise Bonaventura’s vision, we had the feeling that the project was carried by higher hands somehow. We wanted to run the project in the best spirit of what Auroville stands for. Such a strong energy guided it.., just nothing to do wit us. We just happened to be there at the time and did what needed to be done.”
Tejas drafted a project proposal “to study the feasibility of erecting a spirulina farm” and followed up with the paper work, while Hendrik did the running around. When Tejas left the project after a year, Hendrik kept at it and presently, some ten years later the Spirulina Farm is a blossoming commercial unit that entirely runs through income generated from sales, employs an all-women staff of 20 (only the watchman and office clerk are male), contributes to the development of the city, and organises training and nutritional programmes in village-oriented places in and around Auroville. It so provides a free, sweet spirulina health drink several times a week to patients of Deepam centre for handicapped children (20), students of Morattandi’s Arul Vahzi School (100) and of New Creation Bilingual School (208). And fresh spirulina to the solar kitchen
“Spirulina is a food for the future,” Hendrik says earnestly, ‘and it belongs to a city of the future…, it is but natural. And I just fulfil the function of running something that naturally has a place in Auroville. Karma yoga has to do with the mind-set with which you do something. It doesn’t matter at all what you do, but how you do it. You do it because of the doing it. Once you start expecting things, you’re off. Which doesn’t mean you don’t experience any fulfilment! I do what I do with pleasure, there is nothing that I do that feels like a burden. But I have to do things my own way. I run the farm in a way that fits my personality, my being, my life... It’s for instance terribly important for me to remain in contact with matter, I have to feel the spirulina every day, need to touch it, work it.., it is important to me. And, of course, I eat a lot of spirulina myself !!
This is the mind-set with which Auroville’s spirulina is brought about. The farm is daily harvesting, on a small piece of sandy beach land and with brackish water, 5 kgs of spirulina, which nutrition-wise is the equivalent of 5000 kg of assorted fruits and vegetables! Together with the newly erected Windarra farm, located more inland, the total production comes to around 4000 kgs per year. This may increase as more and more people ask for the excellent product.
For detailed description of the qualities and health benefits of the product, see http://www.auroville.org/health/food/spirulina.htm