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  • Writer's pictureTrisha Bhujle

Sustainability Spotlight: Manjula Krishnamurthy

Updated: Nov 24, 2022

As I meet individuals who are making strides in sustainability, I am continually fascinated by not only their current environmentalist efforts, but also the past experiences that have led them to live greener lifestyles. Civil engineer Manjula Krishnamurthy is no exception. While interviewing her about her chemical-free garden and self-made toiletries, I realized that there is more to Mrs.Krishnamurthy than just her unwavering determination to break from chemical clutter. And as I learned more about her and her childhood experiences, I unearthed a story that illustrates just how adroitly an entire community — cows included — can come together to promote sustainable living. Perhaps you too will be inspired by this insider’s look into a world where “no wastage” is not just a goal, but a reality.


“I really thought about moving out of this neighborhood just so I could get a bigger place to have a cow. That’s how I grew up.”

These words from Mrs.Krishnamurthy, pictured to the right, instantly caught my attention. A cow? In a suburban American backyard? Just the thought of it almost made me giggle. However, when I asked her why she felt this way, I suddenly understood exactly what she meant.

Mrs.Krishnamurthy explained that cows are a natural factory, a “live engine” of sorts. She compared the effectiveness of cows to that of bugs, explaining that while bugs take several days — even weeks — to break down a pile of grass clippings, a single cow can consume, digest, and excrete ten times the amount of grass in the same amount of time. And what happens to the cow’s manure? According to Mrs.Krishnamurthy, “You pile it up, let the bacterial action take place, and viola!” A single cow does the same job as a lawnmower, which saves money while simultaneously enriching the soil with valuable nutrients that last for several months. “Every neighborhood should have some grass-eating creature, like a goat or a cow,” said Mrs.Krishnamurthy. “That is sustainability.”

Having grown up on a farm in rural India, Mrs.Krishnamurthy has had plenty of experience with cows. Well, not just cows. Goats, dogs, chickens, name it. Though farms are often notorious for their environmentally unfriendly practices, with pesticide use being high on the list, Mrs.Krishnamurthy’s farm couldn’t have been more different. Aside from collecting and selling plastics and scrap metals for others to reuse, her family also regularly composted vegetable scraps, eggshells, and other food scraps to enrich the farmland on which they lived. In doing so, they were able to support life in the soil rather than harm the organisms residing in it. “As a child, I had never seen a garbage truck,” said Mrs.Krishnamurthy. Not a single household item reached a dumpster — even cardboard was frequently repurposed to help boil water for bathing. “We technically had zero waste,” she said. “We never needed a landfill.”

To better illustrate this “zero waste” cycle, Mrs.Krishnamurthy gave me an example centered around the dinner table — or in her case, a boisterous gathering of farmers and family who would sit criss-cross on limestone floors smoothened with cow dung and bond over a hearty meal. She explained that rather than using the traditional cutlery during mealtime, her family would serve their food on banana leaves and eat it straight with their hands. “We would clean the leaves and then use them to eat,” she said. And after a meal was over, even the leaf and its contents would find a new home. Once the dogs “licked the scraps off of the banana leaf,” one of the farm’s many cows would devour the leaf itself. This process not only meant that even the makeshift “plates” were consumed (and eventually, were part of the cow’s oh-so-wonderful fertilizer), but also that the entire concept of washing dishes (and wasting bucketloads of water in the process) was nonexistent. “We just washed our hands before and after eating, and that was it,” said Mrs.Krishnamurthy. Even water was, in this way, conserved.

Somehow, our conversation circled back to the heart of it all — the cow. Mrs.Krishnamurthy suggested that if every house was challenged to handle its own trash without throwing it away, more people would purchase cows to make the job easier. “Just like we have garages for cars, people would have a little garage for their cows,” she joked (I giggled this time). It had never occurred to me just how much we waste, from countless plastic containers to piles of misshapen vegetable peels. Mrs.Krishnamurthy’s surprising proposal highlighted the need for us to take responsibility for our wastage and continue to find ways to minimize, even eliminate, it. “If you had to have a landfill in your own place,” she said, “then you would change your way of life.”

“That,” she so rightfully repeated, “is sustainability.”


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