Here's a bright idea
GUDDA, India (CNN) -- In Gudda, a village with very little, residents are literally beaming. Just two years ago, villagers had never seen light after dark, unless it came from the moon. Then, solar light arrived and changed everything.
Children in Gudda stand on rooftops near a solar panel. Solar power first arrived two years ago.
"When the lanterns first arrived, the villagers asked, 'What is this?' " says Hanuman Ram, the local solar engineer. "I explained to them how it worked. Then slowly, as people saw it, they said, 'Wow, what a thing this is!' "
There are no real roads that lead to the tiny village in the state of Rajasthan in northwestern India, home to about 100 families. There are only thin strips of tar dotted with massive potholes that force vehicles into thick brush. Other times, cars have to maneuver over just dirt.
There is no electricity -- power lines don't extend out here. Water is scarce, too. At the village well, women balance jugs of water on their heads, deftly evading the livestock that saunters along. Visit the sites of Gudda with CNN's Arwa Damon »
It's a simple lifestyle of farming, tending to goats, caring for children and carrying out household chores -- a daily routine that hasn't changed much over the centuries.
That's why light transformed Gudda. Villagers could play music at night. Children could study well past sundown. Watch villagers smile as they light their solar lamps »
As Yamouna Groomis kneads dough for her family's evening meal, she blows through a pipe every once in a while to keep a flame burning in an outdoor clay pit. Her days used to end when the sun went down. She smiles as she proudly flicks on a solar lamp.
• Location: Gudda is about 300 miles southwest of Delhi
• Population: About 500 people live in the village
• Work: Most residents are farmers and sheep breeders
• Main crop: Millet
• Other facts: Water is scarce and there is no power except for solar electricity "When I saw this light coming on for the first time, I was very happy," she says.
The light is powered by a solar panel on her roof that charges a battery. Panels can be seen on almost every rooftop in Gudda. See where Gudda is located »
Ram, the man credited with the transformation, doesn't have a high school degree. But he did attend an institution about an hour away called Barefoot College, established 35 years ago with an emphasis on helping India's rural population find solutions for their problems among themselves.
The college, in part funded by the Indian government, trains villagers all over India who have little or no education, giving them a range of skills to change their lives. The entire campus, which has amenities such as a library, meeting halls, open-air theater and labs, uses solar power.
On a recent visit to the main college campus, a group of village women were hard at work making solar cookers, which can boil a liter of water in eight minutes. They are part of the "Women Barefoot Solar Cooker Engineers Society" -- six women who came together and started their own business.
Barefoot College serves an outlying community of 125,000 people. In a nearby village, women flock to a water desalinization and purification plant set up by the college and maintained by Barefoot graduates. The station, powered by solar panels, provides the area with a rare commodity: clean drinking water.
At the local store in Gudda, owner Ram Swarup puts his solar panels to maximum use. He says the solar lights have allowed him to increase his business by a third. The panels also have powered up the only DVD player and television in the village.
Partly paralyzed by polio, Swarup never dreamed that he would have so much in life. He says it took courage -- and light. The villagers say that they now feel empowered -- less reliant on a far-off government.
Even the village's engineer is amazed. At Ram's house, the solar lamps flicker to life. He smiles as he says that before, he didn't even know what artificial light was, and now, he's a solar power expert.
"I never saw light before," he says. "How could I think that I could bring light here?"
Like most of the Barefoot graduates, he was selected to attend the college by his village elders. Now, every night when the lights flicker on, he says, he feels great.
With the extra earnings he's made as a solar engineer, he's made another of his childhood dreams come true. He purchased his favorite instrument, a harmonium, and now the family can gather around every night and listen to his music.
He says he hopes his daughter, now 14 years old, will follow in his footsteps and become a solar engineer. Ram's 80-year-old mother, meanwhile, beams with pride about her son's accomplishments: "I just wanted him to do something good for the village."
It shows how a small thing can make a big difference in peoples' lives. This does not require massive investments in infrastructure, utilizes off-the-shelf technology, and is financially acessible to people with little money.
Meanwhile, back in the industrial world
we have people exchanging lawns for food. And, once again, it shows how we need to change cultural and social notions. There is something ludicrous about banning people from growing food
and mandating a particular type of landscaping which may or may not be suitable to the local environment.
NEW YORK (AP) -- A dedicated group of vegetable gardeners is ripping out their front lawns and planting dinner.
Historian Nat Zappia takes care of his vegetable parcel at his home in Santa Monica, California.
Their front-yard kitchen gardens, with everything from vegetables to herbs and salad greens, are a source of food, a topic of conversation with the neighbors and a political statement.
Leigh Anders, who tore up about half her front lawn four years ago and planted vegetables, said her garden sends a message that anyone can grow at least some of their food. That task should shift from agribusiness back to individuals and their communities, said Anders, of Viroqua, Wisconsin.
"This movement can start with simply one tomato plant growing in one's yard," she said.
While people have been growing food in their backyards forever, front-yard vegetable gardens are a growing outlet for people whose backyards are too shady or too small, as well as those who want to spread their beliefs one tomato at a time.
Many hope their gardens will revive the notion of victory gardens, which by some estimates provided 40 percent of America's vegetables during World War II.
The topic has gotten more buzz nationally as bloggers chronicle their experiences and environmentalists have scrutinized the effects of chemicals and water used to grow lawns. A book called "Food Not Lawns," published last year, inspired several offshoot groups.
Fritz Haeg, an artist and architect, has done yards in Kansas, California and New Jersey as part of a project called "Edible Estates."
Haeg, who is working on a book, due out in 2008, called "Edible Estates: Attack on the Front Lawn," says he's been overwhelmed by the response. He gets hundreds of e-mails every month from people who want to be next.
"People are obsessed with their homes, creating these cocoons that isolate them," he said. "This project is about reaching out, getting them connected to their streets."
Some of the neighbors are less than thrilled. Some municipal codes limit the percentage of a yard that can be planted with anything other than trees and grass.
"Especially in the first three years, I got a lot of code violations," said Bob Waldrop of Oklahoma City. He planted his corner lot almost entirely with fruit trees, berry bushes and vegetables.
"Now that the plantings have matured, it's pretty," he said. "It wasn't so pretty the first couple years."
Shannon McBride, 47, of Huntsville, Alabama, kept grass borders around her front-yard vegetable beds.
"We promised our neighbor we wouldn't grow corn, because that looks kind of tacky," she said.
The neighbor also thought tomatoes looked "untidy," so McBride and her husband are growing bell peppers, carrots, chives, herbs, two kinds of beans, beets, okra, lettuce and cucumbers. Her corn is off to the side of the house.
An anonymous complaint about Karen Baumann's front-yard garden in Sacramento, California led to a fight by local gardeners against the city's landscaping code, which stated that gardens could take up no more than 30 percent of the front yard.
After a public hearing where Baumann's 11-year-old twin sons testified, dressed as a carrot and a tomato, the city changed the law.
"I'm always asked, 'What will it look like in the winter?"' said Rosalind Creasy, a landscape designer who has been writing about edible landscaping for 25 years. "If you design it well and it has an herb garden, it will look fine. One of the dumbest things I see is dead lawns in the winter. They're brown for six months of the year. How beautiful is that?"
Some front-yard gardeners say that ripping out the sod and putting in vegetables gave the neighbors their first-ever excuse to speak to them.
"It's kind of like having a dog," said Nat Zappia, 32, a graduate student. "No one talked to us until we had a dog."
Zappia turned the front yard of the home he and his wife rent in Santa Monica, California, into a vegetable garden, with his landlord's permission. He estimates it supplies 35 to 40 percent of the food they eat.
Zappia took a master gardening class at the East Los Angeles University of California extension program that was focused on growing food. Other gardeners were inspired by books they've read, such as "Gaia's Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture" and "The Year I Ate My Yard."
The gardens don't cost much to plant. Zappia estimates he spent about $100 on the garden and says he and his wife save about $200 to $300 a year on their food costs.
Waldrop, in Oklahoma City, said the garden's organic fruit allowed him to eat in a way he could never afford if he bought everything at the grocery store.
"It's like money growing in your yard," he said.
Creasy has a 1,000 square-foot edible garden that surrounds her Los Altos, California home. Among the things she grows: Wheat, sesame, paprika peppers and alpine strawberries.
Every July 4, as part of her neighborhood block party, she harvests wheat, lays it down on a tarp on her driveway, covers it with a cloth and has all the neighbors do what she calls, "the tennis shoe twist" to thresh it.
Next, she puts it in a deep wheelbarrow and blows off the chaff with an electric leaf blower. Then she grinds it with an attachment for her mixer, bakes bread and serves it to the neighbors, warm from the oven.
"It's like a sacrament," she said.
Creasy also keeps eight hens and one rooster in her yard and grows sorrel to feed them.
"I would say they're visited at least once a day by some child," she said. Her garden gives kids what grandparents gave children during a more rural time, Creasy said.
"I remember my grandfather slaughtering a chicken and showing me the insides where the egg was growing. I remember finding a potato," she said. "There's a reality to it that sitting and watching TV and watching video games don't have."
And it's a reality people can plant and cultivate themselves, she said.
"People tell me they went to Tuscany and ate outside under a grape arbor," Creasy said. "Well, they can grow their own grapes in their yard... People want meaning in their lives; you don't have to go to Tuscany to get it."