Marudam Farm School: teachers workshop

A few of weeks ago, a colleague and I visited Marudam Farm School (near Thiruvannamalai), a couple of hours outside Chennai. This is one of the schools that will be part of my Foldscope project.

Just as we started the discussion, a lovely seed floated by. So we decided to look at it under the Foldscope.

The spiney-hair-like things are 8-12 microns in width. Not sure what seed it is.

Anyway, school was not in session yet, but we had Foldscope workshop with some of the teachers and few older students who were already on campus.

Students who attend the school are predominately local: from villages around as well as from the close-by town of Thiruvannamalai. The campus is located in the midst of lovely organic farms, where students and teachers are actively involved in growing what they eat. So we started our Foldscope explorations with pollen of the things that we eat.

Here are some:

This is a pumpkin (Cucurbita sp) flower on a vine.

The pollen is about 85-90 microns in diameter. The left pollen image is with the Foldscope LED set up and the right image is with just using natural light. Notice how you can see much more of the texture with the natural light?

This is a Murungai (Moringa oleifera) flower.

The pollen is about 15 microns in diameter. The flowers are a delicacy and the leaves are cooked as greens but the seed pods or Murangai-kai are a regular staple in South Indian food: often as an addition to lentils in Sambar — which we had just eaten for lunch:

The other common tree on campus was the Papaya (Carica papaya). Papaya is dioecious, i.e. male and female reproductive systems occur on different individual plants. Farmers often prefer the female plants because they are the ones that yield fruit, but the male flowers have a strong sweet smell (and pollen!) that makes them just as attractive to me! Here are flowering female (left) and male (right) plants:

Here is one of the male flowers and the pollen:

The pollen is about 20 microns long. The width seems variable — but that may just be because the colpi?

We also looked at the pollen of this (non-food) tree:

The pollen seemed small and irregular shaped though if you look hard, you can see some evidence of them being tricolpate. The teachers told me the name of the tree — but I didn’t write it down. Will have to find out next time I visit again next month!

Marudam Farm School is run by a non-profit organization, The Forest Way, that in involved, among other things, in afforestation of the Arunachala hill. Students have already been monitoring the flora and fauna on the hill on weekly basis and I hope that Foldscoping can be a interesting addition to their ongoing observations.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. laksiyer says:

    Fantastic. Looking forward to following the kids and teachers. If you think some of them are more comfortable in a native language, say Tamil, please encourage them to use it. The rest of us will crack Tamil with Google translate 🙂 . Also, your meal pictures are fantastic.

    The Moringa leaves have become very popular in the west and there is also a tea sold here. Apparently, the Moringa leaves have insulin-like peptides and given the rise of metabolic diseases, they are likely to gain great currency as a medicinal tree.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27737801

  2. varuni says:

    Hehe… food I like needs to stop being fad-healthy! 🙂

    I heard about about Moringa being SO healthy too! There was even a New Yorker article about it: https://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/meet-the-moringa-tree-an-overqualified-underachieving-superfood

    (Next thing I know, the yummy Vepampoo rasam I had last week is also very good for health!)

  3. Manu Prakash says:

    All the talk of this food is making me really hungry!!

    Beautiful post. Love the juxtaposition of what we grow and lookin at it more closely.

    Manu

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