This serial entrepreneur once wrote code and worked on high-end tech. Today, he works at a farm rediscovering sustainable agricultural practices. This is his #PassionToPaycheck story.
At one time, he lived the typical fast-paced techie life, spending hours in front of a computer, churning out line after line of code in air-conditioned environs. Today, Sameer Shisodia is an advocate for all things slow, steady, sustainable and as close to nature as possible, as the co-founder of The Farming Collective and Linger Leisure.
A computer engineer from the Birla Institute of Technology’s Mesra campus, Sameer began his career as a software engineer. He did stints as the Head of Content, Product Strategist and Lead, and the entrepreneur of a tech startup, all in Bengaluru.
“I wrote lots of code for operating systems, cross-compilers and search engines. I filed patents and led teams which did cutting-edge work. But all of that code went into, what UNIX geeks will recognise as /dev/null. In short, none of it was functional after a point of time. That’s when I wondered if the work I did had any real impact,” says Sameer.
What started as a strong desire to do “impactful work” soon turned into a passion for simple alternative living. “Today you see the smartest people working on solving big challenges. And often the problems that directly impact real people are forgotten. The challenges that India faces is beyond the view of many of us who sit in plush air-conditioned houses or offices. The condition of the soil, the unviability of agriculture, the looming water crisis, the income inequality – there are so many real problems we could be solving. But, we don’t see as many people working to address these issues,” says Sameer earnestly.
Latent passion for slow life and sustainability
In his own words, his transition “was almost accidental”. He began his journey as entrepreneur in 2005. “It was a popular thing to do for anyone who was itching to try out ideas. I considered myself NFFW (not fit for work) after my first startup Ziva, where we created a mobile search engine called Zook. I didn't want to go back to a regular job. Post Ziva, he was also part of a Product Management consulting startup. I wanted to be honest about what I derived satisfaction from. I didn’t want to do anything I did not enjoy, care about or believe in.”
Around this time, he was also constructing a retirement home in Coorg, and some friends happened to visit the site and stayed over in the under-construction building. Sameer says, “That’s when I realised that there are people who do not travel to enjoy a holiday in a fancy place, but value the slow pace of life and the raw experience of local culture, food, and stories. That’s how the idea for Linger Leisure took root.”
Today, Linger Leisure has nearly 11 vacation homes which are carefully hand-picked by Sameer and his team. “We team up with property owners who align with our philosophy of sustainability and slow living, and include the places as they are. The focus is not on maximising revenues but on ensuring that our patrons enjoy the simple joys of travel, savour local experiences, and perhaps do nothing except relish being present at that place at that time. We are not for tourists who love an action-paced itinerary and have a checklist of places to see or things to do. We suggest alternative for least 15 percent of the requests we get, because we feel we may not fit into their traditional vocational requirements.” In 2017, Linger Leisure’s annual revenue stood at Rs 1.2 crore.
A collective for farming enthusiasts
During his visits to India’s countryside to scout for Linger properties, and in conversations with property owners and guests, Sameer found that there was a new-found interest in farming among the city-bred. “Keen on exploring farming as a way of life, people often invested in small plots of land. In the beginning, people would be generous with their time and enthusiasm which would soon wither off and the farm would see a slow death.” His quest to find a solution to this saw the birth of yet another business venture – The Farming Collective.
The Farming Collective aims to create a self-sustaining organic farm inspired by the principles of permaculture, zero budget farming, and other similar philosophies. The first collective near Thagatti, Tamil Nadu, 80 km from Bangalore, enables farming enthusiasts to own a piece of farm, an acre or two, as part of the community that collectively purchases a few acres of farmland in the same place. Land owners can build a small, village-style, low footprint house in the community and also grow their own food by farming in ways that will not harm the earth or its resources, and is economical. The farming practices at the Collective are being driven by the principles of permaculture.
The Collective also aims to provide housing and employment for landless families with farming skills who can work on the farm and ensure that it grows and sustains. There are also plans to develop the hospitality aspect at the farm under Linger Leisure, and add an element of viability to the project. Since its launch in 2017, about 40 people have come on board and signed up for the project.
Making agriculture viable
Wikipedia defines permaculture as a system of agricultural and social design principles centred around simulating or directly utilising the patterns and features observed in natural ecosystems. But Sameer, who calls himself Chief Farming Officer, has an even simpler definition: “It’s basic common sense which people are rediscovering.” And, he explains why.
“Plant the water, then the soil, and then the seed – this is one of the principles of permaculture. It’s something that’s very basic, but also something that is practical and sustainable. What it essentially means is that first even before you begin farming, you have to work towards increasing the water content in the soil, followed by organic activity in the soil, and only then it is ready to receive the seeds and take the circle of life ahead.”
Sameer believes that in an attempt to support agriculture, governments, policymakers, and those with the power to bring about a change talk about aspects such as cheap access to loans and minimum support price, issues which he concedes are important. “But what is more important is to first realise that today, at a fundamental level farming is broken. It is largely unsustainable. The resources are exploited. The land is over tilled. So we have to make the switch to sustainable farming first, the other changes can follow later.”
Living a quality life that many only dream of
Working at the farm on the weekends, learning more about permaculture and ensuring that The Farming Collective doesn’t feel like ‘just another real estate project’ are activities that keep Sameer more than busy. He says, “Initiatives like The Farming Collective will not only help to make farming affordable and self-sustainable but will also become thriving islands of green expanses in an otherwise degraded landscape. I believe that food is a fundamental need, and as we start to recognise its value and care more about what we eat and how it's grown, more people will see value in being part of such communities. Also, it provides a lot of opportunities for micro-entrepreneurship activities.”
Respecting the local, the real and the simpler way of life has been rewarding for Sameer. “I love to travel and read, and the two initiatives (The Farming Collective and Linger) afford me the opportunity to do both. The more I get involved in farming and living outside the city for longer periods of time, the more I realise that the quality of food, air and water I get there is drastically better. I feel much healthier and more active out there.”